‘Small justice served to small states’: Waheed speaks at UN

“Small justice is being served for a small state,” President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has said during the meeting of the 67th UN General Assembly.

“It is regrettable, but true, that some powerful international actors have come out in public and instructed the Maldives to take certain measures contradictory to our laws,” he said.

The President’s speech came during a high level meeting designed to reaffirm global commitment to the rule of law in order to further the UN’s goals of international peace, human rights, and development.

“We believe that the story of the Maldives needs to be told. It is a lesson to be learnt by other small states. The application of the rule of law is to protect the smaller and the weaker; to prevent small justice being served to small states,” said the President.

“The world’s small states cannot afford to be complacent. Our experience in dealing with the powerful international actors in the past few months has not been pleasant. If we do not stand up, and draw your attention to the injustices, the next could be one of you,” Waheed said.

A draft declaration agreed upon at the meeting included the recognition that the rule of law applies to all states equally.

Referring to the requests received from the international community during this year’s political turmoil in the Maldives, Waheed said that “powerful international actors” had instructed the Maldives to take certain measures contradictory to its laws.

“We were asked bring to an end a Presidential term and hold elections even if they were not allowed under the Constitution. We were asked in no uncertain terms to abide by such instructions even if it meant amending the Constitution,” Waheed told the meeting.

“We are being asked to withdraw certain criminal cases filed by independent state bodies for crimes as serious as the armed forces abducting and keeping in isolation, a serving judge. We were told to take these measures for the good of the country,” he continued.

The most notable group’s calling for early elections following the controversial resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed in February came from the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth.

“When we questioned these instructions, the Maldives was labelled as an uncooperative State, casting doubt on the country’s democratic credentials. We were placed on an international watch-list, without due process,” said Waheed.

Commonwealth experience

Waheed’s visit to New York will also see him attend the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting which is scheduled to deliberate upon whether the Maldives will be kept on its investigative agenda.

The government has persistently questioned CMAG’s ability to place the country on this list of nations – reserved for those suspected of violating the Commonwealth’s core values.

Following last month’s Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report, which appeared to have absolved the current administration of being involved in what had been termed by many a coup, the government has again strongly urged its removal from the agenda.

The composition of the CNI itself was amended after pressure from the Commonwealth.

Waheed’s speech reiterated arguments made in a government statement sent to CMAG earlier this month.

“These are clearly punitive measures against a country whose economy is dependent on its image. The labelling has resulted the Maldives losing significant investments, external loan financing, and foreign tourist arrivals into the country,” he said.

“This has also encouraged domestic unrest. It has choked the country’s governance system and crippled our infant democracy,” Waheed added.

The Maldives’ tourist industry figures show that growth has continued this year, with arrivals increasing by 2.9 percent up to August compared with the previous year.

However, 2012’s year on year growth has slowed significantly when compared with last year’s rate of 18 percent at the same point.

China, whose growing tourists to the Maldives offset falling arrivals from Europe, agreed a package of concessional loans and aid worth US$500million earlier this month.

Concerns over investor confidence in the country have become focused on the airport development deal with Indian company GMR – the largest in the nation’s history. Pro-government political parties have repeatedly called for the airport’s nationalisation.

Significant investment in the renewable energies sector was also said to have been lost this year as a result of the country’s political instability.

“As one of the smallest countries in the world, there is very little we could do politically to counter the pounding that we are subjected to by some international partners. We lack the political and economic might of the larger states to counter the weight of these international players. There is no recourse available for small states like the Maldives. We were not given a fair hearing, or the benefit of doubt,” Waheed said.

“We do recognise that international organisations play a valuable and indispensable role in promoting the rule of law. Small states, like the Maldives, value our membership of international organisations. We depend on them to advance our interests and values. We expect them to work with us in promoting the rule of law.”

International Spokesman for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Hamed Abdul Ghafoor described the speech as a “sob story”.

“CMAG is saying that there are severe structural deficiencies in the country’s democratic institutions. Waheed has taken advantage of this,” said Ghafoor.


CMAG will not remove Maldives from agenda without guarantees: Dr Shaheed

“If the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) agrees to remove the Maldives from its agenda – and it’s a big ‘if’ – it will be based on guarantees of free and fair elections next year in which Nasheed could participate,“ said former Foreign Minister and UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Shaheed explained that he had been in contact with a number of ministerial delegations from the group, receiving assurances that the Maldives would not be removed from the agenda without “very good assurances” that human rights norms would be adhered to.

Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has today said that any direct conditions set by CMAG could infringe upon the sovereignty of the Maldives, telling Minivan News that nothing along these lines had been conveyed to the government by CMAG.

After the release of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) ruled that February’s transfer of power was constitutional, prominent members of the government have argued that the country be removed from CMAG’s investigative agenda.

Conversely, members of the now-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have been lobbying for the Maldives to stay on the group’s agenda, arguing that questions still remain over the country’s ability to adequately observe the values of the Commonwealth.

This campaigning has taken former President – and current MDP presidential nominee – Mohamed Nasheed, to the UK this week, where he met with Foreign Secretary William Hague and asked him to back calls to ensure continued Commonwealth oversight of the Maldives.

“We want to be on someone’s agenda until the elections are through. That’s what we’re trying to do now. I have known William Hague for some time. I know they have difficulties as a government. They have to take on board everything and give proper consideration to the regional sensibilities of British intervention in the Maldives,” the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported Nasheed as saying.

“But we feel now that they have an avenue to help the Maldives through the Commonwealth. What we are asking for is not the sun, the moon and the stars. What we are asking for is very natural and it can be done.”

Nasheed also spoke at the Royal Commonwealth Society on Wednesday, where he pushed for the Maldives to remain on the CMAG agenda, despite the CNI report’s findings.

“I am not for one second suggesting the transfer [of power] was legal… but we don’t have to go there to keep us on the CMAG agenda,” he continued, arguing that the persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s values was ample grounds to keep the country on the CMAG agenda, according to its revised mandate.

Jameel remained confident, however, that CMAG’s role in the this year’s political crisis ended with the CNI’s legitimisation of the current government: “We do not believe that CMAG will take any steps to exceed its mandate as it exercises a defined function.”

Shaheed’s comments regarding Nasheed’s ability to run in next year’s elections come as the government continues to pursue him through the courts, with prominent politicians stating a desire to see the former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience back behind bars.

On Wednesday evening, Nasheed acknowledged his fears of returning to prison.

“I don’t want to be there but we have to face reality of consequences and I don’t see the international community as robust enough to stop that happening – this is very sad… I might not be with you for the next few years but, rest assured, we will come back and democracy will reign in the Maldives again.”

Jameel today argued CMAG could not override domestic legal proceedings.

“The people have decided the criminal justice system of the Maldives. So no foreign party has the authority to dictate or ask to revise that process,” he told Haveeru, referring to charges against Nasheed in relation to the detention of Judge Abdullah Mohamed in January this year.

During his time in London, Nasheed also met with Richard Ottaway MP – Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alistair Burt MP – Parliamentary under-secretary of state at the FCO as well as MPs John Glen MP, Mark Menzies, and Karen Lumley.

A Spokesperson from John Glen’s office said that discussions had included the Commonwealth’s procedures in such cases as well as Britain’s role in dealing with the CNI report.

Dr. Shaheed spoke to Minivan News from London just before boarding a plane to New York, where he will be lecturing on human rights.

He has recently accepted a position at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom as visiting professor of human rights practice for the coming academic year. He will continue his work for the United Nations.

President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan also left for the United States yesterday morning, where he will reportedly be attending the next meeting of CMAG on September 28, at which a decision on the removal of the country from the agenda is expected to be made.

Waheed will also be attending the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which opened last Tuesday.

Despite the Commonwealth Secretariat being based in London, for logistical reasons CMAG also meets annually in New York alongside the UNGA.

The previous teleconference meeting, earlier this month, was expected to produce a decision on whether to remove the Maldives from the agenda.

After an inquiry as to why no decision was made at the teleconference, following local media reporting technical problems, the MDP was informed that the CMAG ministers preferred to conclude such discussions face to face.

Shaheed suggested that Waheed’s attendance at the meeting could be taken advantage of by CMAG members to “wrest concessions” from the president.

He added that sending the president himself was a far better idea than sending other members of his cabinet who had “waged war” on CMAG.

No spokesperson from the President’s Office was responding to calls at time of press.


Maldives’ ambassador supports UN counter-terror strategy

Speaking at the review of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in New York, the Maldives’ Ambassador to the United Nations Ahmed Sareer pledged his country’s continued dedication to the ongoing fight against terrorism.

“Government placed the prevention of violence at the forefront of its agenda. Yet, to succeed in this effort, the Government seeks to establish partnerships for sharing intelligence…and coordinate efforts to eradicate terrorism,” said Sareer.

Sareer then went on to detail his efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, to raise awareness of democratic rights and responsibilities, and to promote development.

The Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, being reviewed for the third time, was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and represents the first time all member states have agreed on a common strategic approach to tackle terrorism.


Maldives gets highest number of votes for Human Rights Council

The Maldives has been officially awarded a seat in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, receiving historic support from the UN General Assembly members.

The votes, which were cast on 13 May at the UN Headquarters in New York, revealed the Maldives came in at the top of the Asian group running for the Council.

The seat was also highly endorsed by a group of international NGOs, with UN Watch and Freedom House reporting that out of fourteen candidate countries from all regions, only five, including the Maldives, have human rights records that merit a seat in the Council.

The report said only the Maldives, Guatemala, Spain, Switzerland and Poland have a worthy human rights record, while the remaining nine countries have either “questionable” or “unqualified” records.

The seat had already been secured after Iran withdrew its candidature last month, leaving four countries–Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and the Maldives–running for four seats.

But the unprecedented support from Member States show the “enormous respect for the Maldives, its government, its people, its national human rights institution, and the work that we have all been doing to strengthen the respect for human rights,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

He said “we topped the whole list. It was the highest number of votes ever on the Council.”

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News last month he believed the Maldives would be number one in the rankings.

Speaking in New York, Dr Shaheed said “this is a proud day for the Maldives,” adding that “five years ago we were a human rights pariah, today our bid to secure a Council seat has won almost universal support from UN Member States.”

Dr Shaheed added he was “delighted” the seat was won on merit; “today the world’s governments and human rights NGOs have joined together to recognise and endorse the enormous strides that the Maldives has taken in the realm of human rights.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said President Mohamed Nasheed was “very happy” about the seat in the Council, “especially because Maldives was elected with a very high award.”

He said he believes the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) “should become strengthened on this kind of endorsement.”

Zuhair added “human rights issues in the Maldives will be more highlighted” and said the votes show “international recognition of the Maldivian government in human rights issues.”

Speaking to Minivan News last month, President of the HRCM, Ahmed Saleem, said winning the seat was “a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”

He added membership in the Council should improve human rights in the country “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”

Saleem noted he was “very delighted” the Maldives won a seat in the Council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”

Human Rights Council

Seats for the Human Rights Council are voted upon by all forty-seven Member States of the Council, and seats are awarded with over 51% of votes, cast on secret ballots, by the General Assembly.

The Maldives secured 185 votes out of 192 Member States, making it the highest number of votes for a state in any region. Coming in second was Thailand, with 182 votes.

The Council, working out of the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, is responsible for promoting human rights, addressing violations of human rights and promoting the effective coordination within the UN system.

This is the first time the Maldives has won a seat in a major UN body. The country will serve a three-year term. Countries are not eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.


Dr Shaheed visits New York to lobby Maldives’ candidature for Human Rights Council

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed travelled to New York last Wednesday to lobby and seek support from UN Member States for the Maldives’ candidature to the Human Rights Council.

This is the first time the Maldives has sought membership for a major UN body. There are four seats for the Asian Group, and Maldives will be running against Malaysia, Thailand, Iran and Qatar.

Dr Shaheed met with representatives from several countries, and held a special meeting with members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to gain support for candidature.

Several countries pledged their support to the Maldives, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq among others.

Dr Shaheed had visited the Human Rights Council in Geneva in early March to announce and lobby the Maldives’ candidature for the post.

The elections will be held during the second week of May at the UN Headquarters in New York.