Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has lauded the progress of the Maldives towards human rights, in front of an audience of world leaders at the 13th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Speaking to the UN Council on 1 March, Dr Shaheed said although the situation of human rights in the country was moving in the right direction, it is “still very much a work in progress.”
Dr Shaheed added that the Council had played a very important part in the transformation of the Maldives, and this change could not have been possible without the “strong, mutually respectful and cooperative relationship with the Human Rights Council.”
In 2006, the first year the Human Rights Council met in Geneva, the Maldives was under constant criticism from international human rights NGOs.
“I have frequently addressed the Council since 2006,” said Shaheed, adding that, since then, the human rights situation in the country has become “unrecognisable” as so much progress has been made.
Dr Shaheed said it is “self-evident that much had been achieved” since 2006, thanks to the work the Council has provided for human rights in the country, the change in government and the ratification of the new constitution.
Dr Shaheed also announced the Maldives’ candidature for a seat in the Human Rights Council in the upcoming May elections to be held at UN Headquarters in New York.
“I am here lobbying for candidature,” said Shaheed. “We have very strong support and are very confident of winning [a seat in the Council].”
Besides the Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and Iran are also running in the elections for one of the four available seats in the Human Rights Council.
“The Maldives’ own positive experience with the international human rights system lies behind our decision to run for election” said Dr Shaheed. “We believe in the Council and the work that it does. We understand, through first-hand experience, its value and its capacity to bring about change”.
The minister also mentioned the new bills that are waiting for approval at the People’s Majlis, which he said will “enact a wide-array of crucial legislation in the field of human rights.”
These bills are: a bill on persons with disabilities, an evidence bill, a drugs and rehabilitation bill, a bill on the right to information, a prison bill, a bill on violence against women, and a new penal code.
Minister Shaheed acknowledged that “adopting new laws is not an end in itself” in making positive changes in society. He said the laws need to be enforced, perceptions need to be changed in the government, and the people need to be educated on what human rights mean in practise.
Dr Shaheed also informed the delegates of the Council of the government’s recent decision to withdraw the reservation on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which states that women can run for senior political office.
Dr Shaheed said today was the last day of the high-level address from dignitaries to the Council, and he will be joining the president’s delegation in Germany this Sunday for the rest of his European tour.