“Torture should not be happening in a democracy,” says Shakir

Torture is a principle area of concern for the Maldives, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Aslam Shakir has said, appealing for support from the international community.

Shakir delivered his message at the closing ceremony of the National Dialogue on the Implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), held last Thursday in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Shakir emphasised that the country needed to improve existing policies for torture elimination, and find new methods to sustain a torture-free Maldives.

Torture was considered a byproduct of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government, Shakir alleged, stating that the practice “has no place in the Maldives today.”

“In the past it happened, but we got rid of that government. We are now in a democracy, and in a democracy torture should not be happening,” he said.

The minister called on the international community to provide support: “We don’t the either the funds or the experience to implement the systems we need to improve the issue of torture. The international community  could help us by providing money, personnel and guidance,” he said.

Shakir claimed that the international community had been hesitant to engage with the Maldives on the question of torture.

“Part of the international community thinks that as a Muslim country, we have a tradition of violence and doing things our own way. But we would like them to let us explain our position,” he said. “We are struggling to build a democracy, and we would like the guidance of the international community.”

Former President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, told Minivan News in an interview last year that the Maldives continued to have a pervasive “culture of torture”.

Former State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed Adil, who previously handled the Department of Penitentiaries and Rehabilitation, told Minivan News today that the government was successfully improving human rights issues.

“I would say, compared to the previous government, that we have reduced the issue of torture in the Maldives by 80 percent,” Adil said.

Adil said that even though the number of torture cases in the Maldives had fallen in recent years, it was important to continue working towards a torture-free society. He noted that the communication system between the public and the police had been improved.

“With the help of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the public is very much aware of what is happening in the prisons,” said Adil.

Concerns over prison and custodial torture were recently raised when President Nasheed appointed a special commission to re-investigate the 2003 shooting at Maafushi Jail. A source who was present at the time of the shooting told Minivan News that torture was a daily activity for prison guards.

Three of the Maafushi officers, who were convicted in the original investigation but released in 2004, have been put back in jail.