The US State Department has described “charges of Supreme Court interference to subvert the presidential elections process,” as among the most significant human rights problems in the Maldives in its 2013 human rights report.
Also highlighted in the report were restrictions on religious freedom, and “corruption of officials in all branches of government”.
No instances of imprisonment on political grounds, unlawful deprivation of life, or disappearance were recorded, while progress was noted with regards to the passage of the anti-torture and right to information bills.
The report accused much of the judiciary of being unqualified and corrupt, and noted that its rulings during last year’s presidential elections had the effect of restricting the independence of the Elections Commission (EC).
The judiciary was described as “not independent and impartial and was subject to influence and corruption”.
It said that a number of judges were “known to base their rulings on cash rewards, and there were reports that lawyers occasionally built the cost of bribes into their fees” while the public generally distrusted the judiciary.
The report estimated that one in four judges have a criminal record, and that two carried convictions for sexual assault.
It was suggested that the outcomes of cases appear to be predetermined, such as the repeated intervention of Supreme Court in the presidential elections where the court directly accepted cases without allowing lower courts to hear them first.
The October annulment ruling and the 16-point guide to conducting elections was reported to have given both the court and political parties veto power over the EC, “curbing its independence and its ability to execute its mandate”.
The report also mentioned the alleged sex tapes of Judge Ali Hameed and his continued presence on the bench.
“Many judges, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. Most magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills,” read the report.
The report noted that security officials employed practices that fell under what it regarded as ‘torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment’.
While proper arrest procedures were found to be in place, the report noted that police did not fully implement them, particularly in dealing with protests. It was also noted that courts sometimes freed detainees “on the condition that they not participate in protests or political gatherings for a specified number of days”.
In regard to the cancelled October 19 presidential election, it was reported that “Police abdication of their responsibility prevented the elections from occurring”.
It was found that six cases of police brutality were sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office in 2013, but that five of these officers remained with the police – with one of them being promoted – and two cases later dismissed for lack of evidence.
Referring to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the report stated that two of three cases where police officers were alleged to have sexually harassed detainees in 2012 were also dropped for lack of evidence.
While the prisons were found to have ‘met most international standards’, it was also found that they were overcrowded.
Flogging, Rape, Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment
The controversial case of a 15-year-old victim of sexual abuse being sentenced 100 lashes was recorded, detailing the fact that her alleged abuser received no sentence at all. The girl’s sentence was annulled by the High Court following a government appeal due to domestic and international pressure.
The penal code does not classify rape as a separate offense, the report stated, while the PG’s Office lost almost all cases of forced sexual assault due to insufficient weight was given to the testimony of the victim.
Spousal rape is not considered a crime under the law, and according to the report difficulties remain in implementing the domestic violence act due to religious beliefs.
While the Ministry of Health and Gender was said to have received just five cases of sexual harassment, the report stated that various forms of harassment were accepted as the norm in government offices. The protracted removal CSC President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan was noted in the report.
While the law stipulates sentences of up to 25 years in prison for those convicted sexual offenses against children, the report said that “if a person is legally married to a minor under sharia, however, none of the offenses specified in the legislation are considered crimes”.
In 2012, a total of 47 underage marriages were registered at the court, of which 35 involved girls and 12 involved boys.
Civil and political rights
Common to human rights reports on the Maldives, restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in order to protect Islam was noted. Media self-censorship in issues related to Islam – for fear of harassment- and in issues relating to the judiciary were detailed.
One piece of legislation criticised through out the report was the the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, which was said to be restricting freedom of expression and the press along with freedom of peaceful assembly itself.
The report said this law “effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner”.
With regards to privacy, the report stated that standards required for court permission to monitor mails and phone conversations was very low.
Discrimination and attacks against Raajje TV, in particular the attack on Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, were mentioned. As the case of the attack against Asward continued, no arrests were made regarding the attacks against journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2011 and 2012. Hilath’s blog continues to be blocked.
The government was found to have failed to enforce applicable laws with regards to workers rights, and the report criticised established mechanisms such as the employment tribunal as “cumbersome and complicated” which violators of employment law often ignore.
“According to the Labor Relations Authority (LRA), there were four strikes. In two cases the employer refused to work with the LRA as mediator and strike participants were fired. In two others, the LRA participated by phone but strike leaders and others who persisted with the strike were terminated,” the report said.
It stated that some undocumented migrant workers were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors, while domestic workers – especially migrant female domestic workers – were sometimes trapped in forced servitude.
Without any laws on refugee or asylum status, a family of four Palestinian refugees from Syria were housed in Hulhulé island without being rehoused upon UNHCR’s request until asylum was granted for them by Sweden.
Read the full report here.