Yameen congratulates Sirisena as government denies arrival of unseated Sri Lankan officials

President Abdulla Yameen has congratulated recently elected Sri Lankan President Maithiripala Sirisena while the foreign ministry has quelled rumours that senior members of the outgoing government have “fled” to the Maldives.

In a message to his new Sri Lankan counterpart, President Yameen offered congratulations on behalf of himself and the people of Maldives.

“Through the election, Sri Lankans have demonstrated yet again the strength of the country’s democracy and the resilience of its institutions. The election result is a testament to the trust and confidence that Sri Lankans have on your policies, your leadership, and on your commitment to the advancement of Sri Lanka,” said Yameen.

Former health minister under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sirisena took 51.3 percent of the vote on Thursday (January 8), ending the incumbent’s ten-year rule – which had looked sure to continue just weeks earlier.

“Let me take this opportunity to invite you to make a State Visit to the Maldives at your earliest convenience. Such a visit would give us the opportunity to exchange views in taking our relationship forward,” continued President Yameen’s message.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed speculation that key figures from the outgoing Sri Lankan government had “fled” to the Maldives.

“The Government of Maldives confirms that no senior official in the previous Government in Sri Lanka travelled to the Maldives after the Presidential election,” read a press release from the ministry today.

The foreign ministry’s statement came after the Colombo Telegraph cited reliable sources as saying that the former Sri Lankan defence minister Gothabaya Rajapaksa had travelled to the Maldives as soon as his brother’s defeat was confirmed.

Former President Rajapaksa has said that he looks forward to a peaceful transition of power.

President Yameen last week transferred all Sri Lankan prisoners held in the Maldives upon a request from Rajapaksa, who cited humanitarian grounds for the move.

Just under ten thousand Maldivians live in Sri Lanka, with bilateral trade said to have grown by 40 percent in 2013.

Related to this story

Maldives to transfer 15 Sri Lankan prisoners upon request of President Rajapaksa

No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister


Maldives to transfer 15 Sri Lankan prisoners upon request of President Rajapaksa

President Abdulla Yameen has instructed authorities to hand over all Sri Lankan prisoners in the country to the Government of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs has said that the move comes in response to a request from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on humanitarian grounds.

“Fifteen Sri Lankan prisoners are currently serving sentences in Maldives. They had appealed to President Rajapaksa for their transfer to Sri Lanka in order to be close to their families,” explained the Sri Lankan government.

The transfer of the prisoners comes two days after the ratification of the Maldives’ first Extradition Act and one day before Sri Lanka’s presidential elections – though it is unclear if the decision is linked to either.

After having appeared certain of victory, President Rajapaksa now faces stiff opposition from his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena in tomorrow’s poll.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from the President’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office, though legal experts have explained that prisoner transfer has been carried out on an ad hoc basis even before the introduction of extradition legislation.

The Majlis passed the Extradition Act on December 25, which requires the criminals to have exhausted all appeal processes and to have agreed to the transfer.

Presidents Rajapaksa and Yameen were said to have discussed expediting the exchange of prisoners during the latter’s official visit to Sri Lanka 12 months ago.

The Sri Lankan government has said that the prisoners will complete their sentences in their home country – a point that is also mandated under the new legislation

“President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka are most appreciative of this timely goodwill gesture by President Yameen and the Government of Maldives,” read the ministry’ statement.

The case of Rubeena Buruhanudeen – an Indian national held in pre-trial detention for four and a half years in the Maldives – has this week prompted the Chief Minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy to promise steps will be taken to ensure prospective job-seekers to the Maldives are aware of the legal complications they may face.

Related to this story

President considers access for Sri Lankan vessels, rejects US military deal

Indian national Rubeena held for four and a half years without charge


New beginnings – The Weekly Review

June 21st – 27th

This week saw a number of fresh starts – in particular for Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed who was cleared of misconduct charges.

With the police’s investigation of the judge in relation to his alleged appearance in multiple sex tapes already suspended, the Judicial Services Commission’s decision appeared to close all investigations into the issue.

JSC members past and present called the decision a contravention of Islamic principles, suggesting that the commission had clear grounds to remove the controversial judge.

The Supreme Court this week also ruled that sitting judges can vote in the appointment of a lawyer to the vacant position on the JSC – overruling current regulations prohibiting their involvement.

After a previous request from the Supreme Court, the Home Ministry this week dissolved the Maldives Bar Association – the single largest lawyers’ group – for failing to change its name.

Meanwhile, the government’s legislative agenda seems poised to begin in earnest after the People’s Majlis reached a compromise on the composition of standing committees this week – an agenda that will no doubt be assisted by the defection of another opposition MP to the government’s camp.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz was called to answer questions regarding developing plans for Addu City.

Speaking with Minivan News this week, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb defended the government’s first legislative proposal – the special economic zones bill – against accusations that it will do little to alleviate regional disparities in development.

Adeeb argued that giving the government flexibility in negotiating relaxed regulations for new investors would be the best way to bring quick developments to the atolls.

The government also promised a new options for the tourism sector, with the launch of the country’s first guest house island – though critics questioned the real benefit of the scheme to local communities.

The enactment of anti human-trafficking legislation was acknowledged this week as the US removed the Maldives from its watch list, while local employers of undocumented workers in Laamu Gan were also given a second chance as the government’s removal of illegal migrants continued.

As the administration announced its intention to seek US$600 million from China or Japan for assistance with the new start for Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, the Maldivian Democratic Party revealed its decision to sue former President Dr Mohamed Waheed for his role in the termination of the previous development deal.

While Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa made an official visit this week – offering assistance in a number of areas – former President Mohamed Nasheed suggested India ought to assist Maldivians by helping the MDP remove the current government.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy suggested that sometime government ally Gasim Ibrahim’s candor regarding judicial and security service pressure in his political decisions further supported the MDP’s coup theories.

Theories of a health service in crisis were given additional support this week by the death of a 31-year-old pneumonia patient en route to Malé as well as angry protests outside Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital.

Finally, Malé City Council this week revealed the extent of the littering problem blighting the streets of the capital, while experts revealed hopes for resurrection of the country’s reefs after in the face of a potentially devastation el nino.


Three MOUs signed on President’s Sri Lanka trip

After promising the signing of four agreements during his three day state visit to Sri Lanka, President Abdulla Yameen has today signed three MOUs with the Sri Lankan government.

Deals were signed concerning transnational crime and developing police cooperation, vocational training and skills development, and sports cooperation.

Accompanied by the first lady, President Yameen also met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, following a 21 gun salute in honour of the visit.

Sri Lankan media has also reported Yameen as saying that the two countries would be looking to promote joint tourism packages.

Elsewhere, External Affairs Minister Professor GL Peiris was reported to have praised the Maldives recent political transition as a sign of maturity and foresight in all parties.


President Yameen invited to visit Sri Lanka by Rajapaksa

President Abdulla Yameen has been invited to visit Sri Lanka by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The letter of invitation was given to Yameen today when Sri Lankan High Commissioner Dickson Sarathchandra Dela paid a call to the President’s Office today.

“The High Commissioner also praised the smooth and peaceful manner in which the presidential election was held in the Maldives,” the President’s Office reported.

Meanwhile, local media today reported that Maldivian tourists visiting Sri Lanks had increased by 83 percent in the 12 months leading to October this year. Sun Online reported that 46,805 Maldivians had visited Sri Lanks in the first 10 months of 2013.

After discussing the increasing bilateral relations in the fields of health, education, and security at the President’s Office today, Sarathchandra expressed Sri Lanka’s eagerness to work with the new Government of Maldives.

Yameen’s first official visit as president will be to India on December 22.


Vice President meets Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa during UN General Assembly

Vice President Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan has paid a courtesy call on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Vice President’s Office later refuted reports that Dr Waheed discussed the Sri Lankan human rights situation with Rajapaksa during the meeting, following media reports quoting Sri Lankan officials to the contrary.

Haveeru on Tuesday quoted a senior Sri Lankan official as saying that during a meeting between Rajapaksa and the Vice President, Dr Waheed “assured that he will be supporting Sri Lanka’s stance on the human rights issue.”

The Vice President’s office later claimed the meeting was a courtesy call during which Dr Waheed said it was refreshing to  hear the Sri Lankan President talk about trade unions and north-south cooperation in his speech [to the UN], and that there was “no mention of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka is currently conducting an internal investigation of these allegations, which refer to acts of violence committed by both government and rebel forces in the final phases of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have rejected Sri Lanka’s investigation on the grounds that its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) does not meet international standards.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported that human rights groups found the commission flawed because “its members were appointed by the government, it has no real mandate to investigate war crimes in the last stages of the conflict, lacks any mechanism to protect witnesses and falls short of minimum international standards of a commission of inquiry.”

The Sri Lankan government has denied committing any offenses. The Maldivian government said it supports Sri Lanka’s wish to solve internal issues without external involvement.

Today, the Maldives President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair issued a statement expressing support for the Tamil people.

“The President of the Maldives would like to express his good wishes to all Tamil people. The Tamil people have always been like brothers to Maldivians. The President would like to see peace and harmony in our region and has expressed his desire for all people to live peacefully together.”

Human Rights Watch recently applauded the Maldives as one of the seven most important countries on the UN Human Rights Council. It expressed puzzled concern, however, over the Maldives’ “regrettable” support of Sri Lanka at this time.

“The Maldives should revisit its approach on Sri Lanka in order to bring it in line with its otherwise principled approach to human rights at the Council,” said the report.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said he did not wish to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has appointed a panel to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, reports the BBC. The Sri Lankan government rejected the panel, however, and said it would not issue visas to UN panel members visiting Sri Lanka.

The UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) today said they are urging Sri Lanka “to ensure there is a genuine accountability process to address the serious violations believed to have been committed during the last months of the  war in Sri Lanka.”  The OHCHR is waiting to see how member states take action on the issue, “but, of course, the United Nations hopes Maldives – like other UN members – will encourage Sri Lanka to address this important issue.”

Late last week, President Mohamed Nasheed met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne regarding the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, due to be held in Addu City in November. The heads of state also discussed ways to strengthen ties between the two countries.

The SAARC summit could afford the Maldives an opportunity to promote human rights in south asia, a region that is reportedly slower than others to adopt international human rights standards.

The Maldives recently became the 118th member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a close partner of the UN.

“As a chair of the SAARC summit, Maldives will have quite an influence on South Asian countries attending this year’s event,” she said previously. “It will certainly be constructive in reviewing human rights, a key point we plan to address at the summit.”

Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the ICC’s advocacy NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), called the Maldives’ accession to the Rome Statute a significant step for human rights in south asia.

She noted that Sri Lanka is “a long way” from membership at the ICC.

ICC membership requires the Maldives to uphold ICC standards and rulings. “The Maldives cannot do anything if the ICC decides to investigate and put into trial the perpetrators of crimes in Sri Lanka,” said Balais-Serrano. “If suspected criminals from Sri Lanka seek refuge in the territory of the Maldives, as a state party to the ICC, the government is obliged to cooperate with the Court by arresting  the criminals.”

Sri Lanka’s findings are due for release on November 15.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a clarification from the Vice President’s Office that human rights were not discussed at the meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.