MPs of several government-aligned parties have expressed concern over a UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) report calling for freedom of religion, sexual orientation and several other commitments in the Maldives, claiming the document is “biased” and “against the will of the people”.
Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir told Minivan News today that he had “reservations” about the UN’s conclusions, claiming they appeared to single out former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government for alleged human rights abuses, while also contravening the constitution and laws of the Maldives.
Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ahmed Mahlouf also hit out at the report’s conclusions, which he claimed were both “political” and “biased” as a result of the influence of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), according to local media.
The UNHRC findings urged Maldivian authorities to guarantee citizens’ right to democracy, permit freedom of religion, reform the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), abolish flogging and the death penalty, and deal with human trafficking, among other recommendations.
A core concern of the committee involved the Maldives’ reservation to Article 18, concerning freedom of religion, the validity of which was questioned by the committee on the basis that it was “not specific, and does not make clear what obligations of human rights compliance the State party has or has not undertaken.”
However, Jabir today contended that the stipulation within the Maldives constitution that the nation was 100 percent Islamic reflected the views of the Maldivian people, with not a single political party in the country having called for religious freedom.
“It is the Maldivian people who have decided that if you are not a Muslim, you are not a Maldivian. There is not one party here calling for this to change,” he said. “Maybe this is not what is practiced in many other countries around the world, but it is what he have decided here by law. It is our sovereign right.”
Aside from calls for freedom of religion, Jabir also said he was concerned about the issue of establishing an independent inquiry into “all human rights violations, including torture” that were allegedly conducted prior to the 2008 election.
He claimed this appeared to single out the 30 year autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was voted from office during the 2008 presidential elections.
“We have had other presidents in this country before Mr Gayoom and I do not understand why they are not also being focused on. Why only Gayoom’s time? This shows there is bias in this report,” he said. “Before President Gayoom, we had President [Ibrahim] Nasir. It should look at all abuses from the country’s first president onwards.”
Jabir added that he had personally been one of the 12 member body who had drawn up the present constitution, that had in turn been approved by the Maldivian people. He claimed that despite the UN calling for freedom of religion and sexual orientation – as well as other commitments designed to address concerns about human trafficking and judicial reform – the organisation was unable to overrule the laws and regulations of a sovereign nation.
“When the UN asks for freedom of religion, this is what former President Nasheed has been trying to promote in the country,” he claimed.
Jabir’s concerns about alleged political bias serving to influence the UNHRC’s conclusion were also raised by the PPM, a party formed last year by former President Gayoom.
PPM MP Mahlouf reportedly told the Sun Online news service yesterday that items raised in the UN report seen to contradict Islam would not be implemented in the Maldives.
He claimed that the findings had been influenced by the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and “foreign associates” linked to the party.
“MDP encourages the destruction of our sovereignty and our religious values,” Mahlouf was quoted as telling Sun Online.
Mahlouf reportedly pledged that the PPM would work to stand against allowing any changes relating to the national religion under Maldivian law as a report on how the Maldives will implement the Committee’s recommendations is due to be delivered to the UN during the next twelve months.
Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayythithunge Party (DRP) was not responding to calls today about the report. Both DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef and MP Dr Abdullah Mausoom could also not be reached at the time of press.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who has alleged that he was forced to resign from office on February 7 this year in a “coup detat”, had denied advocating for freedom of religion during his time in office. The former president has faced strong criticism from political opponents over his commitments to protecting the nation’s Islamic faith.
However, during a gathering of former opposition political figures, NGOs and other civil society organisations on December 23 last year to “defend Islam”, Nasheed held a counter-rally for those he claimed practised a “tolerant form” of the faith that he contended been traditionally followed in the Maldives.
“We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant,” he said back in December, 2011.
The President also called on leaders of political parties to explain their stance on religious issues to the public ahead of a scheduled 2013 presidential election.
“Should we ban music? Should we circumcise girls? Should we allow 9 year-olds to be married; is art and drawing forbidden? Should we be allowed to have concubines? We have to ask is this nation building? Because we won’t allow these things, we are being accused of moving away from religion,” he said at the time.
Nasheed also urged MPs at the time to discuss the inclusion of Sharia punishments in a revised penal code “without calling each other unbelievers.”
The December 23 coalition also raised concerns over calls by United Nations Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay during a visit to the Maldives last year that flogging be abolished as a punishment for extra-marital sex in the country.
Pillay’s comments further fuelled tensions across the nation late last year over concerns about the erection of monuments in Addu Atoll to commemorate the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that were deemed as “idolatrous” by some.