President forms anti-trafficking steering committee

President Abdulla Yameen has formed an “Anti-Trafficking Steering Committee” as required by the new Anti Human Trafficking Act.

The members of the committee are;

1. Abdulla Saeed, Supreme Court Judge
2. Jeehan Mahmood, Member of Human Rights Commission
3. Mariyam Zoona, Deputy Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sports
4. Aisha Naeem, State Attorney at the Attorney General’s Office
5. Mahmood Saleem, Assistant Public Prosecutor Grade 3 at the Prosecutor General’s Office
6. Mohamed Shifan, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer at the Department of Immigration and Emigration
7. Khadeeja Najeeha, Assistant Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
8. Hassan Habeeb, Assistant Commissioner of Police
9. Mohamed Maseeh, Chief Superintendent at the Maldives Customs Service
10. Aishath Nafaa Ahmed, Assistant Director at the Ministry of Youth and Sports
11. Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Yoosuf, Inspector General of Correction Service at the Ministry of Home Affairs
12. Ali Waheed, Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs
13. Muruthallah Moosa from the Advocating the Rights of Children (a local NGO)

A member from the People’s Majlis will also sit in this committee. As per article 62 of the Act, this committee will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Act, and advising the president on matters related to it’s implementation, and coordinating programs related to countering human trafficking.

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“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed”: 350.org

Global climate justice NGO 350.org has reaffirmed that “urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis” in the Maldives, and that its continued active international leadership is “immensely important”.

In light of the IPCC’s findings and the danger sea level rise poses for the Maldives, 350.org has highlighted the essential international leadership role former President Mohamed Nasheed and the country have played for achieving climate justice.

“The IPCC’s 5th assessment report largely reaffirms what we already knew, and makes it abundantly clear that urgent action is needed the world-over. It is immensely important the Maldives to continue it’s active, leadership stance to go carbon neutral within a decade and advocate for more international action,” Will Bates, Global Campaigns Director and Co-Founder of 350.org told Minivan News.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes’s fifth assessment report emphasised the importance of human influence on the climate change system.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” read the report released last month.

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise [during the 21st century], but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years,” said IPCC Working Group 1 Co-Chair, Qin Dahe.

The IPCC’s report “sounds the alarm for immediate action on climate change,” declared 350.org.

“The report, which is the most authoritative, comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change, finds with near certainty that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and that climate impacts are accelerating… Scientists have upped the certainty that humans are responsible for warming, increasing their confidence to 95%,” highlighted 350.org.

350.org has been building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. It has coordinated over 20,000 climate demonstrations in more than 182 countries since the organisation’s founding in 2008.

350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed”: 350.org

Bates noted that former President Nasheed has been an integral figure for the global climate justice movement.

“President Nasheed’s courageous and creative actions to confront the true scale of the climate crisis in 2009 and 2010 were a powerful wake-up call for the world. Hearing from an entire nation about the imminent threat to their future through their democratically elected president, and seeing their actions to address the crisis was an inspiration for the rest of the world to step up our efforts to address the climate crisis,” Bates stated.

“The world needs more political leaders like President Nasheed who understand the severity of the threat, and who speak and act truthfully in response,” he added.

The NGO also believes President Nasheed’s leadership within the Maldives has benefited the nation’s domestic climate justice movement.

“I believe it was in part thanks to the openness and freedom given to civil society in general during his administration that allows young people and NGOs to organize on climate change above and beyond what President Nasheed was working on at the national policy and international levels,” said Bates.

“No doubt his efforts to have the Maldives go carbon neutral in a decade was a powerful act of leadership that more governments around the world should be following as well,” he added.

“We support human rights and a free and fair democratic process in the Maldives,” Bates noted in regard to Nasheed’s ongoing domestic efforts to ensure these values are upheld.

Although he emphasised that 350.org is not directly involved in Nasheed’s political struggles at home, Bates explained how the non-violent direct action strategy 350.org employs can benefit the Maldives in its fight for climate justice as well as democratisation.

“Social movements around the world have proven the power of non-violent direct action as a means of creating change, political and otherwise,” he said.

“President Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting in 2009 was a particularly creative form of action, and there are countless ways that different non-violent tactics – from marches and rallies to culture-jamming and online memes – can enhance struggles against climate change as well as for promoting democracy and fair elections,” he continued.

“We’ve seen incredibly creative actions in the Maldives by grassroots activists fighting climate change too and with such international concern for the political situation there, similar tactics could be employed at the current time with great effect,” he added.

Nasheed has often spoken of the close interrelationship between climate change, human rights, and democracy, particularly since his February 7, 2012 controversial transfer of power, and 350.org has echoed this belief.

“Human rights and climate justice are very clearly inextricably linked as the climate crisis infringes on people’s access to food, water, health, and general security. Furthermore, the causes of the climate crisis, such as the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and cutting down forests have immense human rights implications. Meanwhile many the solutions, such as more decentralized renewable energy infrastructure, are in many ways a step towards democratizing more of how our world works,” said Bates.

“Although that is not to say that countries that exist with undemocratic systems of government can’t also enact solutions to achieve greater human rights and climate justice,” he added.

Extreme sea level rise threats

“The rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets,” all prospective scenarios in the IPCC’s report projected.

Sea level is expected to rise between 0.26 metres (0.85 feet) and 0.98 metres (3.22 feet) by 2100, depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced this century, it added.

While these projections represent the possible low and high extreme scenarios of sea level rise, small island states – such as the Maldives – are especially vulnerable, the IPCC previously stressed in it’s fourth assessment report.

With over 80 percent of the land area in the Maldives being less than a meter (3.28 feet) above mean sea level, “the slightest rise in sea level will prove extremely threatening,” UNDP Maldives previously declared. “A rise in sea levels by 0.50 meters could see significant portions of the islands being washed away by erosion or being inundated [by the ocean].”

“Even now some islands are seriously affected by loss not only of shoreline but also of houses, schools and other infrastructure,” it continued.

Not only is the Maldives extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, other climate change impacts – including extreme weather events, coral bleaching and acidification – which exacerbate these negative effects, it added.

Earlier this year the World Bank also expressed the urgent need for concerted efforts to support the Maldives in adapting to climate change due to sea level rise projections.

Additionally, the UN’s 2013 global human development report highlighted inequality and climate change vulnerabilities as major concerns for the Maldives, despite the country’s “significant economic growth” in recent years.

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United States, India, HRCM, multiple NGOs back Elections Commission, urge presidential polling to take place Saturday

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has urged political parties to support the Elections Commission to hold the presidential election tomorrow, and called on “as many Maldivian citizens as possible to go out and vote”.

The United States has called on political leaders to ensure participatory democracy is not undermined, and expressed concern about the potential postponement of Saturday’s election.

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential candidates have demanded fingerprint verification of the finalised voter registry, with police refusing to support the election without the candidates’ signatures. After submitting letters to the Elections Commission (EC) soon after midnight, the party’s leaders have been unreachable.

Signing of the registry by the candidates is a new demand contained in the Supreme Court’s guidelines for the election, following its annulment of the first round of polls shortly before midnight on October 7.

“The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) urges political parties to prioritise national interest and support the elections commission in this difficult moment to hold the presidential election as scheduled,” the commission declared in a press statement issued today.

“We call on as many citizens as possible to go out to vote and not to obstruct the vote,” it added.

Earlier this week the HRCM member and acting chairperson Ahmed Tholal told local media that the commission had complete confidence in the Elections Commission’s ability to conduct the upcoming presidential election freely, fairly and in a transparent manner.

Multiple Maldivian and international civil society organisations have also called for the presidential election to be held as scheduled tomorrow.

United States and India

The United States Embassy in Colombo has also expressed concern that the October 19 election may be postponed, and called on political leaders to ensure participatory democracy is not undermined in a press statement today.

“Political leaders must come together to ensure that participatory democracy is not undermined and that free, fair, credible and inclusive elections can take place peacefully and in line with international standards. Further efforts to delay the electoral process could undermine the will of the people to choose their representative,” the US Embassy stated.

“The Electoral Commission has made concerted efforts to comply with the Supreme Court’s requirements for a new first round, including the re-registration of thousands of voters,” it noted. “The United States is concerned that the re-organised first round of the Maldivian presidential election, set for October 19, may now be postponed.”

The US also highlighted the Maldives’ constitutional requirement that a new president be sworn in by November 11, 2013.

India echoed the United States’ “deep concerns” that the presidential election may be further delayed and “once again urged the government of Maldives and presidential candidates” to hold the election tomorrow and uphold the Maldives’ constitution, in a press release issued by the High Commission of India in Male’ tonight.

“We call upon all political parties to show a spirit of understanding, cooperation and accommodation by supporting the efforts for holding elections as scheduled, including by accepting the voters’ register,” stated the Indian High Commission. “Holding of free, fair and credible elections without further delay is essential for fulfilling the political aspirations of the people of Maldives.”

President Mohamed Waheed has meanwhile urged parties “not to act in a fashion that obstructs holding of the election and to prioritise national interest over personal interest”.

Transparency Maldives

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has reiterated its appeal for the presidential election to take place as scheduled.

“We have previously called for the presidential election to be held in the timeframe stipulated within the constitution,” Transparency Maldives’ Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News today.

“In resolving the rising tensions and disagreements in the country, Transparency Maldives appeals to all actors, especially the Supreme Court, to uphold the spirit of the Constitution and electoral deadlines and respect people’s electoral choice,” reads a September 28 Transparency Maldives press statement.

The NGO also previously appealed to “all actors and institutions to refrain from undermining the integrity of and confidence in the election day processes without credible evidence of fraud.”

Rasheed noted that “We have already missed two deadlines: holding a runoff election within 21 days after the first round and holding an election 30 days prior to the expiry of the existing presidential term November 11,” as stated in articles 111 and 110 of the constitution.

“The only deadline that has not been missed is holding the presidential election before October 20,” he continued.

“The Supreme Court’s verdict mandates all state institutions, including political parties, must work with the Elections Commission to ensure a free and fair election,” he explained.

“An election cannot be held without everyone joining together – civil society, political parties, media, state institutions – to support the Elections Commission,” he added.

Meanwhile, the anti-corruption NGO has stated that it is “fully ready for extensive observation of the October 19 presidential election”.

Transparency fielded a team of 400 election monitors during the first round of September 7, stating that the process was fair and credible and that incidents observed on the day would not have had a material impact on the outcome of the election.

In late August, Transparency Maldives expressed doubts over the integrity of the Supreme Court, urging it to “maintain its actions in such a fashion that the court does not allow further diminishing of its integrity and to be transparent in its functioning and sharing of information to strengthen the public trust towards the institution.”

The NGO also recently noted that the failure of parliament and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to address alleged integrity issues of the Supreme Court judges have “created avenues for political and other actors to question the conduct, injunctions and verdicts of the Supreme Court”.

The Home Ministry this month announced that it would be investigating Transparency Maldives for challenging the Supreme Court, prompting the NGO’s international affiliate – Transparency International – to express its concern “grave concern” about staff and volunteer safety and “alarm” over the intimidation and public allegations threatening its Transparency Maldives chapter.

Maldives NGO Federation

In light of the HRCM statement, the Maldives NGO Federation, representing over 60 local civil society organisations, also reiterated its support for the Elections Commission.

“The NGO Federation of course appreciates the hard work of the Elections Commission and we fully trust in the work they are doing,” NGO Federation President Ahmed Nizam told Minivan News today.

“Given the Supreme Court’s verdict, it’s will not be very easy for the EC to go ahead and hold the election without political parties signing the voter registry. We are hopeful that the talks held tonight will help solve the issue,” he noted.

“I would like to believe that the political leaders of this country will be responsible people,” he continued. “And we stay hopeful that we will get the opportunity to exercise our constitutional right [to vote] tomorrow.”

“The EC Chairperson has said that even if the political parties sign the registry by 7:30am tomorrow morning the election can still be held,” he added.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling to indefinitely delay the presidential election’s September 28 second round until a verdict in the JP case against the EC had been reached, the NGO expressed concern over the election delay and urged the Supreme Court to deliver a speedy verdict and to allow elections to proceed as per the constitution.

The Home Ministry subsequently demanded the NGO provide a copy of its press release regarding the Supreme Court.

The NGO Federation also recently expressed its concern that political parties have been attempting to discredit the Elections Commission by inciting hatred toward the institution in an effort to obstruct the holding of a free and fair presidential election.

The NGO Federation declared their confidence in the EC and noted the essential role the commission has played in holding free and fair elections over the past five years.

International Federation of Human Rights

International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) NGO said it is continuing to observe developments in the Maldives, and is calling for the outgoing government to ensure Maldivian people were given their right to vote in a free and fair election held in accordance with international standards.

Expressing concern about “mixed signals” being given to Maldivian people and the international community about holding an election, the international NGO said there was growing anxiety around the world for voting to be held without further delays.

FIDH said it continued to hold particular concern over the decision by the country’s Supreme Court to annul the first round of the presidential election held on September 7 – an order it claimed, in a joint statement with the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), was “unjustifiable”.

“The unjustifiable delay and judicially forceful suspension of the second round of the election, due on 28 September, indicates an encroachment of the judiciary over the powers of the Elections Commission, an independent constitutional body answerable to the Parliament of the Maldives,” read the statement from MDN and FIDH on October 8.

The statement described the court’s verdict as being founded on “materially baseless arguments”, after the first round was “applauded as a success by the international community.”

“Maldivian authorities must swiftly bring the electoral process to an end, in a free and fair manner,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji at the time.

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Religious NGO Al-Minhaj condemns Islamic Foundation President’s allegations against Sheikh Farreed

Local religious NGO Al-Minhaj has condemned allegations made by President of Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzee that Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed had defrauded the religious NGO, reports local media.

In a statement issued to the media, Mihaj claimed the president of IFM was trying to discredit Sheikh Fareed “because he is a person respected and loved by the people”.

The NGO claimed the IFM president had misled people via the media and called on Fauzee to apologise and repent.

Fauzee recently alleged that Sheikh Fareed and Former Vice President of the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) Mohamed Fauzee had defrauded the NGO, and claimed to have evidence he said he would provide to the media.

Following the allegations, Fareed and Mohamed Fauzee filed a defamation case at the Civil Court seeking payment of more than MVR 3 million (US$195,000) and a public apology from Ibrahim Fauzee on local media over three consecutive days.

Last Wednesday (June 12) Fauzee told Minivan News he had evidence to support the allegations including CCTV footage.

‘’They are worried because we can prove criminal charges against them,’’ he said, adding that he would release the footage to the press. “The story in the media is inaccurate.”

Fauzee said Sheikh Fareed had been dismissed from his position as Vice President of the Religious Council of IFM, and Mohamed Fauzee from the position of the NGO’s Vice Presidency following the matter.

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Elections Commission confident of resolving all voter registry issues

The Maldives Elections Commission (EC) has said it remains confident it will have resolved all 2,279 complaints raised by the public over the recently published list of eligible voters, in line with today’s deadline (June 14).

EC President Fuad Thaufeeq told Minivan News that the commission’s work amending the voter registry had so far gone “better than expected”, with all submissions received from the public amended. However, he conceded that challenges still remained in notifying all the complainants about the changes made to the list, as required by regulations.

“The challenge we have experienced so far is delivering the message to all the people who made these complaints that the requested changes have been made,” he said. “It is proving a bit difficult, though our staff are working very hard, in some cases up until 10:00pm at night to get hold of them.”

Transparency Maldives has meanwhile said that it has received only one significant complaint at present regarding outdated voter registry information, adding that all other complaints raised were small and sporadic in scale. However, the NGO said it continued to advocate a simplification of the present law on making further changes to the voter registry.

Thaufeeq said the corrected voter registry will then be published on either June 15 or June 16 in the government gazette and on the EC’s own website.

“What happens next?”

According to Transparency Maldives, anyone who has registered complaints with the EC regarding data on the voter registry will have five days to file a complaint with the High Court should they wish to appeal any decision made by the commission.

Under law, the High Court is then required to rule on any such appeal within 15 days.

Upon publication by the EC of the amended voter registry, any Maldives national over 18 will then be given a further 10 days to lodge any complaints concerning changes made to the list, the NGO added.

Transparency Maldives said the final process would be voter re-registration, where members of the public will be required to confirm or change their present permanent residence either in the country or abroad to confirm where they wish to vote.

The NGO emphasised that this stage will be critically important, as a person from an outer atoll presently living in Male’ will be required to return to their home island unless they re-register their new location with the EC.

A date for voter re-registration to begin has yet to be decided by the EC.

Simplification

Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed said the NGO had so far received only one significant compliant about the registry, which was made by members of Fuvahmulah council concerning the amount of outdated details of islanders on the list.

“The last time we spoke to the EC we raised this issue and they had a rational explanation for what had occurred. It seemed that people who moved house on the island or left for Male’ had not been updated,” he said.

Aiman said the EC had dealt with the issues where possible, with other corrections expected to be made during the re-registration process that will be announced at a later date.

“Apart from this, there have been no major complaints beyond some small, sporadic issues,” he added.

Aiman said that with an estimated 25 percent of the population living away from their registered address in the Maldives, re-registraton was expected to be a much larger issue towards ensuring the vote to everyone in the country eligible to do so.

He argued that the NGO still believed the voter registration could be simplified by requesting the public to check their permanent address at the same time as other details on the registry.

“The argument against this has been from the section of the population employed as fishermen, as they do not know where they will be later on in the year. It was therefore easier for them to wait nearer to the election,” Aiman said. “There is a challenge there, but we still feel [voter registration] should be simplified. This is of course not the EC’s fault though, this relates to the law.”

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High Court appeal of 15 year-old rape victim’s sentence begins

The High Court appeal case for a 15 year-old rape victim sentenced to flogging and house arrest after she was found guilty of fornication began today (April 29).

The 15 year-old was convicted of premarital sex at the Juvenile Court on February 26 and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest, after confessing to fornication with another man. The confession was made during a separate investigation which was launched following the discovery of a dead baby buried in the outdoor shower area of her home.

The High Court trial that began today (April 29) was not open to the public, as the presiding judge exercised the authority to exclude the public “where the interest of juveniles or the victims of a crime so require”, as stated in Article 42 of the Constitution, according to local media.

High Court media official Ameen Faisal told local media that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) had also intervened in the case.

The victim’s state-appointed attorney filed the appeal with the High Court on April 1.

At the time, former Attorney General Aishath Azima Shukoor told local media the case had to be appealed because the Juvenile Court had taken statements from the witnesses in violation of procedure.

Shukoor also said the Juvenile Court ruling was in violation of Islamic Sharia as it had not considered psychological reports produced to the court.

Additionally, the child’s defence claimed her testimony was taken in violation of constitution and the charges against her were filed in violation of criminal procedure.

Sources from the girl’s island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll previously told Minivan News that concerns had been raised by islanders since 2009 that the minor was allegedly the victim of sexual abuse not just by her stepfather, but an unidentified number of other men on the island.

In June 2012, the girl gave birth to a baby which was later discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her home. Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder. Her mother was meanwhile charged with concealing a crime and failing to report child sexual abuse to the authorities.

Council heads and senior civil society figures have slammed the judiciary, state authorities and welfare groups over their systemic failure to protect the 15 year-old girl.

Sentencing controversy

The 15-year-old’s case has brought international attention to the Maldives’ legal system, including the launch of an online Avaaz.org petition signed by over two million people that has threatened to put pressure the tourism industry. The sentencing of the minor has also come under high-profile public criticism from British multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group of companies.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s government previously criticised the verdict, pledging earlier this year to review the use of flogging as a punishment for sexual offences – a practice it alleged in some cases actually serves to punish victims of rape and abuse.

Following the Juvenile Court’s ruling in February, Waheed stated on his official Twitter account: “I am saddened by the sentence of flogging handed to a minor. Govt will push for review of this position.”

However, the religious Adhaalath Party (AP) – which largely makes up the ranks of the Islamic Ministry and with which President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithiaad Party (GIP) entered into a coalition in March – endorsed the sentence.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” read a statement from the party.

“If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath,” the Adhaalath Party stated.

Inadequate child protection measures

A Maldivian children’s rights NGO recently criticised child protection measures currently in place as “inadequate”, while urging government authorities to incorporate several key human rights obligations into domestic law.

NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) told Minivan News earlier this month that although the Maldives has signed and agreed to be legally bound by the provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols, the commitments have yet to be adopted into law.

ARC claimed that provisions outlined in the CRC had not been fully adopted by the state into domestic legislation, thereby limiting the promotion and protection of child rights.

“The recent case of a 15-year old girl, whose rights were violated and abused by her stepfather is a clear example of how domestic judicial and legal mechanisms failed to address and rectify the violation over a substantial period of time, at different levels,” ARC said.

“This is a situation where an individual complaint to the UN Committee could hold the government accountable even if the ‘domestic remedial system’, including judicial and legal mechanisms, fail to address the issue of abuse.

“Ratifying this optional protocol will help protect the rights of children as it could help reduce the number of cases in the Maldives where a lack of legislation, clarity and commitment to international human rights law allow serious injustices to proliferate,” ARC added.

Meanwhile, neglect and abuse of children were reported to have increased to an “alarming level“, compelling the the Maldives’ Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights to submit an amendment (April 7) that would transfer parental guardianship of children in cases of negligence.

Earlier this year, ARC called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims. The NGO also raised concerns over the potential impact on the state’s ability to prevent sexual offences following reductions to the state budget approved by parliament in December 2012.

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Maldives faces “significant” human rights challenges, despite “considerable progress”: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has announced that “significant human rights challenges” need to be addressed following a nine day visit to the Maldives, where it met with senior government figures and civil society organisations.

In a statement released Thursday (April 25), Amnesty International said that despite the country making “considerable progress” during the last few years in promoting and protecting civil rights, it retained concerns over issues like freedom of expression and wider accountability in the criminal justice system.

The findings were made as part of initial observations by Amnesty’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott and the NGO’s South Asia Researcher Abbas Faiz following a visit to the country between April 16 to April 24 this year.

Speaking to Minivan News at the conclusion of her visit this week, Truscott detailed some of the key human rights challenges facing the country.  Among her observations was the controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old girl over charges of ‘fornication’, which she believed to be just the “tip of the iceberg” in regards to wider issues over how sexual offence victims were treated in the country.

The current government has already appealed the flogging sentence, while also pledging to move ahead with wider legal reforms concerning the possibility of reviewing the use of flogging as a punishment.

“On a positive note, Amnesty International welcomes the efforts now made by Maldivian authorities, in particular the President of the Maldives, to strengthen measures to ensure that any child who has been sexually abused receives protection, not punishment,” the NGO’s statement read.

“These include a review of all cases of children who have been investigated for ‘fornication,’ that is, sex outside marriage. Under international human rights law no one who either engages in consensual sexual activity or who is a victim of sexual assault, should be criminalised or punished, regardless of their age.”

Amnesty said it also held concerns over a lack of “effective investigations” into several high-profile attacks on media personnel, as well as the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The NGO has called on the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed to end an alleged culture of “impunity for the arbitrary and abusive use of force by security forces against demonstrators” following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

Amnesty International said its calls regarding allegations of “excessive force” by police were in line with recommendations included in the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) released last year.

The full Amnesty International statement can be read here.

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India “monitoring”, UK “puzzled”, Canada “deeply concerned” by Nasheed arrest

The Indian government has said it is “closely monitoring” the situation in the Maldives following the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed yesterday (March 5).

The court warrant to produce Nasheed before the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court ahead of his hearing on Wednesday at 4:00pm was signed by Senior Judge Usman.

At 1:30pm the same day, several dozen police wearing riot gear and balaclavas escorted Nasheed from his family home in Male’ to the jetty, where he was taken to the detention centre on Dhoonidhoo island.

A video of the arrest released by police shows Nasheed being mobbed by several dozen riot police in balaclavas outside his home, one of whom reads from a piece of paper.

Nasheed’s Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) bodyguard attempts to remain beside the former President, but is pushed away by the police. He is seen to follow the group, arguing with the officers.

Nasheed had evaded earlier court summons by seeking refuge in the Indian High Commission for 10 days, prompting calls from the UK, US, EU, Commonwealth and UN that the government ensure elections in September were “free, fair, and inclusive”, and that all parties be free to field the candidate of their choosing.

Nasheed emerged from the High Commission only after a purported “understanding” was reached between the government and a high-level Indian delegation including Joint Secretary of the Indian External Affairs Ministry Harsh Vardhan Shringla, that Nasheed would be “allowed to continue his social and political life” ahead of the September 7 elections.

Yesterday, the government denied such an understanding, the arrest of the former President sparked protests in Male’, a blockade of the main street, an assault on the President’s brother, the upturning of several vehicles, and by 7:00pm, 47 arrests, including 16 women.

“India expects due process and the Rule of Law would be followed; We would urge all concerned to exercise caution and restraint and not to resort to any violence or extra-constitutional means and steps which would weaken the democratic system,” said India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement, following Nasheed’s arrest.

“We have received information that former President Nasheed was taken into (police) custody following an order issued by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to produce him at 1600 hrs on March 6, 2013. We have been informed that former President Nasheed’s lawyers and family are going to meet him now as allowed by the authorities,” the statement added.

“We are monitoring the situation closely.”

“Puzzled”

Parliamentary Under Secretary of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth office, Alistair Burt, meanwhile informed the British parliament that the UK was “puzzled” over the arrest of Nasheed.

“At present we remain puzzled about the turn of events. It was widely believed that an arrangement was in place following former President Nasheed leaving the Indian high commission a couple of weeks ago, in relation to his trial and his part in the forthcoming elections,” said Burt, in response to a query from MP Karen Lumley.

“We are watching the situation carefully and have made it clear to the Maldivian authorities that no harm must be orientated towards the former President,” Burt said.

The Canadian government meanwhile issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the “violation of clear commitments made by the current President, Mohammed Waheed, at Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meetings in New York City last September.”

“[Nasheed’s arrest] also violates key Commonwealth values and principles and directly threatens the prospect of fair and inclusive elections in the Maldives this fall.,” warned Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird.

“Canada calls on President Waheed to release the former president and to guarantee his safety while also committing to free and fair elections. We continue to encourage Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma to engage fully in defence of Commonwealth principles in the Maldives,” Baird stated.

“These developments of serious concern reaffirm the need to maintain the situation in the Maldives on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which will have its next formal meeting in London in April,” he added.

Amnesty International meanwhile labelled Nasheed’s arrest an example of “selective justice”, which “highlights the failure of the Maldives authorities to investigate other serious human rights abuses in the country.”

“Of course political leaders, including Nasheed, should be held to account – but the targeting of Nasheed is an example of selective justice,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher.

“Amnesty International, and many others, have documented a wide range of human rights violations committed by security forces following Nasheed’s resignation. These include police violence against peaceful protesters and the deliberate targeting of Nasheed’s supporters.

“No one has yet been held to account for these abuses despite the huge amount of documentary evidence available. The Maldivian authorities must carry out a full investigation into alleged abuses by anyone, and not just target political opponents.

“Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978-2008) has never been investigated or held to account for alleged abuses committed during his rule. All leaders should be held to account for alleged abuses and in fair trials,” Faiz said.

The United States also expressed concern at “ongoing events in Male”, stating that “the integrity of and public confidence in the Maldivian electoral process must be maintained.”

“Accordingly, we note that all parties participating in these elections should be able to put forward the candidate of their choice. We also call upon the Government of the Maldives to implement all the recommendations of the Commission of National Inquiry (CONI) report, including the recommendations related to judicial and governmental reforms. We continue to urge all parties to chart a way forward that strengthens Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the US Embassy in Colombo said in a statement.

Hulhumale Court challenged

Several recent reports produced by international bodies have challenged both the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the charges against the former President – of detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court during the final days of his presidency in 2012.

Last week, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, criticised the “arbitrary” appointment of the judges in the Nasheed case “outside the parameters laid out in the laws.”

Knaul furthermore stated that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – responsible for establishing the Hulhumale Magistrate Court and appointing the three member panel of judges – was politicised, subject to external influence, and hence unable to fulfill its mandate effectively.

The UK’s Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) also recently published a report based on its observation of the first hearings of the Nasheed trial.

“BHRC is concerned that a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives,” the report concluded.

Police video of the Nasheed arrest on March 5:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gK_YSHtcbvI&feature=youtu.be

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Disappointment over low government turnout at One Billion Rising event

Organisers at One Billion Rising in the Maldives have expressed disappointment over the number government officials who failed to attend the event, aimed at ending violence towards women.

The international campaign was launched in the Maldives on Thursday (February 14) by NGO Hope for Women at Jumhooree Maidhaan in Male’.

The One Billion Rising campaign began after research revealed that one in three women around the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

The gathering in Male’ featured live music and dance performances, and saw many young men and women in the crowds dancing together.

Despite the event’s popularity with youth in Male’, Chair of Hope for Women, Aneesa Ahmed, said the poor turnout from government officials “showed their lack of commitment” in tackling the issue of violence against women.

“We have been working alongside the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, and they have invited all government agencies and ministries, but I have hardly seen any of them here,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to say – the commitment is just not there. In the last few years nothing has really been done to help this particular cause,” Aneesa said.

Speaking to Minivan News, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the government was a broad entity consisting of many ministries and that he had not been aware of any specific invite to members of the government.

“As I understand, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights] Dr Mariyam Shakeela attended. Some other ladies from the the government were there,” he said.

Masood said a member of staff from the President’s Office had also attended the event, as he had “skipped a meeting he was supposed to attend”.

Last month a study by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) found that support for women’s equality in the country had experienced a “significant drop”.

The report found that fewer respondents – compared to the 2005 survey – believed that women should have equal rights to men.

Aneesa said that the event was aimed towards the younger generation in the Maldives as they do not possess the “prejudices” elderly people have in regard to equality.

“I am particularly happy because there were so many young people here, it is very encouraging. These people will stand up against violence, they are going to be a very strong force.

“In the past few years we have this increasing influence of conservatism in the country and because of this the older generation are more cautious about coming to such an event. Things like dancing, as you see today, we are not supposed to do this,” Aneesa added.

Speaking at the event, Heat Health and Fitness Managing Director Aishath Afra Mohamed spoke about her concerns regarding violence against women in the Maldives.

“Some men are trying to keep their wives in the house, they don’t want women to work and socialise with their friends. They are very possessive.

“The rate of violence is going up and women are keeping quiet about it here. But this event is good to see, the more we make light of the matter, the better it will be,” Afra added.

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