US Senators call for ex-president’s release

The US Senators chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee have urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The letter by US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed adds to the growing calls for Nasheed’s release, and warns that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”

Mc Cain, a Republican, and Reed, a Democrat, have also filed today an amendment to the annual military policy bill, which expresses Congressional support for Nasheed and other political prisoners’ release.

The bill, now on the floor of the Senate, tops US$600billion in costs. Important provisions include authorising and funding lethal arms for Ukrainians against Russian-backed separatist forces.

In their June 2 letter to the Secretary of Defence Ash Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, the senators had warned that a deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives “would greatly impact our ability to work with the government of Maldives and to engage on a host of issues, including military to military activities. ”

The president’s office was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

President Abdulla Yameen insists that Nasheed was granted due process, and said he has no constitutional authority to release the former president.

He has now called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. But there has been no substantial progress yet.

Kerry had previously said there were “troubling signs that democracy is under threat in Maldives, where former President Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” and added this “is an injustice that must be addressed soon.”

Strong message

McCain and Reed noted a police crackdown on a historic anti-government protest on May 1, and said: “the political space in the Maldives is quickly closing as democratically-oriented opposition political parties, civil society groups and journalists have come under increased pressure.”

The letter urged the state department to “reemphasise importance of the rule of law in the Maldives, and the damage this is causing to the U.S.-Maldives bilateral relationship.”

The US must “increase high-level engagement with the government of Maldives and send a strong message that the country should abide by its international commitments, especially to the rule of law.”

“In short, while the Maldives may be a small island nation, there are big principles at stake,” the senators said.

The parliament of the European Union in April passed a resolution urging the Maldives to free ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

The government dismissed the resolution as “non-binding.”

Nasheed’s international legal team is lobbying for the former president’s release, and is seeking a ruling from the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment to be illegal.

The lawyers are: Jared Genser, the founder of the renowned campaign group for political prisoners Freedom Now, Ben Emmerson, former UN rights chief on counter-terrorism and human rights, and Amal Clooney, who has advised the UN and is the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.

The working group’s decision on Nasheed’s detention will affect the international community’s policy towards the Maldives, and would inform decisions on possible sanctions, lawyers have said.

Genser has represented Nobel Peace Prize laureates Aung San Suu Kyi and Liu Xiaobo, while Clooney has counselled political prisoners such as the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy.

Emmerson, meanwhile, is currently the British judge on international tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.


Government’s respect for religious freedom declined in 2013: US State Department report

The Maldivian government’s “respect for religious freedom declined” last year, according to the US State Department’s 2013 International Religious Freedom Report published on July 28.

“The authorities did not recognise or respect freedom of religion and it remained severely restricted,” the report observed.

“Governmental pressure to conform to a stricter interpretation of Islamic practice increased, particularly in the lead-up to presidential elections.”

Moreover, press freedom was curtailed by the government using religious grounds, the report found.

“Some Muslims expressed concern about increasing ‘Islamic radicalism,’ though advocates of religious freedom generally believed the public was becoming more aware of the issue,” it added.

The report also noted incidents of “societal abuse and discrimination” based on religion, “including incidents against Maldivians who did not want to conform to a strict, conservative interpretation of Islam.”

“There was an increasing trend among political leaders to call for greater limits on religious groups and activities, and impose criminal punishments in accordance with Islamic law,” the report stated.

“The use of religion in political rhetoric increased substantially, which led to derogatory statements about Christianity and Judaism and harassment of citizens calling for a more tolerant interpretation of Islam. Anti-Semitic rhetoric among conservative parties continued.”

Religious freedom in the Maldives is restricted by law and the constitution, the report explained, which was enforced by the government.

“Restrictions were not enforced for foreign tourists on ‘uninhabited’ resort islands,” it added, noting that foreign workers were allowed to practice their religion in private while congregations, however, were banned.

Officials from the US embassy in Colombo meanwhile emphasised the importance of religious freedom to the authorities, the report noted.

“The embassy advocated the right of all residents of the country to practice the religion of their choice in the manner of their choosing, and encouraged efforts to promote religious tolerance.”

“Government practices”

Among incidents from 2013, the report highlighted the case of a 15-year-old rape victim sentenced to 100 lashes for fornication, which Amnesty International called the “tip of the iceberg” of the country’s treatment of victims of sexual abuse.

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs exercised control over religious matters, the report noted, and set standards for imams to “prevent ‘extremist’ teachings from gaining ground.”

The report referred to Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed claiming in February 2013 that Islam was threatened by a “strong psychological war” conducted by Christians and Freemasons.

In his Eid sermon last week, Shaheem reportedly warned of efforts by elements within and without to “destroy” the Islamic ideology of the Maldives through psychological tactics.

The report also noted the Maldives Media Council’s investigation of Minivan News in late 2012 at the behest of the Islamic ministry concerning an alleged breach of the religious unity law by allowing a comment deemed anti-Islamic.

Meanwhile, during 2013, “discrimination, intolerance, and harassment of individuals calling for any discussion of a different kind of Islam increased,” the report observed.

“Politicians manipulated the public discourse by calling into question the Islamic values of political rivals and effectively stopped constructive discourse on social issues,” it explained.

“This created a culture of self-censorship and fear as politicians, civic figures, and journalists were unable to initiate discussions on Islamic values or basic human rights.”

The NGOs Jamiyyathul Salaf and the Islamic Foundation of Maldives “worked closely with the country’s political parties to promote strict, conservative Islam” while the Adhaalath Party (AP) “further limited the civil, political, and religious space for any outlook that did not align closely with Sunni Islam.”

The report referred to street protests in April led by the self-titled ‘National Movement – comprised of NGOs and the AP – “calling for presidential candidate and ex-President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to be ‘hanged’ for apostasy.”

It noted that former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed observed at the time that anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance were “deeply entrenched” in the political discourse.

Moreover, a group of religious scholars issued a pamphlet in October urging Nasheed to “repent” for his alleged anti-Islamic policies, the report noted.

“The religious/irreligious rhetoric grew wider in the lead-up to presidential elections,” the report continued, referring to “laadheenee (irreligious) graffiti targeting MDP supporters” spray-painted on walls across the capital.

“Public pressure for women to conform to a narrow standard of appropriate dress intensified, and women who did not wear a veil were reportedly harassed,” the report observed.

“On the other hand, those who wore a full face-covering veil were subjected to public harassment and derogatory comments.”

Press freedom NGO Reporters Without Borders meanwhile labelled local extremists groups “predators of freedom of information,” the report noted. Such groups were accused of “misusing free expression to promote a religious agenda, using religious arguments as a ‘political and social weapon,’ and ‘resorting to violence, and even murder, to silence dissenting opinions.'”


Corruption, religious freedom, and judiciary biggest human rights problems in Maldives, say US report

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.


International opinion “firmly behind” second round as scheduled: Commonwealth Special Envoy

International opinion is “firmly behind” the need for a second round of elections to proceed as planned on September 28, Commonwealth Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon declared in a statement today.

“There are always losers in every election everywhere, but the winners here must be the people of Maldives. The results of their votes must be paramount to the process and the result,” McKinnon said.

Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Gasim Ibrahim is seeking to annul the results of the first round in the Supreme Court, after narrowly missing the run off with 24.07 percent of the vote.

The Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has sided with the JP in court, while Attorney General Azima Shukoor has intervened on behalf of the government and called for police to investigate the Elections Commission (EC).

The EC has so far disputed allegations of electoral impropriety, noting that allegations raised so far even if factual would have no material effect on the outcome of the first round.

The commission also pointed to unanimous positive assessments of the first round polls by local and international election observers.

However the JP’s lawyer and election running mate, Dr Hassan Saeed, declared yesterday in court that these election observations did “carry not much weight”, and sought a delay of the second round pending the court’s decision on whether to annul the polls.

“I was very pleased by the positive findings of the national and international observers, including those of the Commonwealth Observer Group,” said Sir McKinnon today.

“This election marks a renewal of the country’s democratic credentials, with an 88 percent voter turnout. This displays a determination to get the country back on to a sound democratic foundation,” he said.

“I sincerely call on all political leaders to respect the intentions and expectations laid out in the constitution. I look forward to remaining closely engaged with Maldives as the country affirms its commitment to Commonwealth democratic values in the coming days and weeks, in the lead up to the inauguration of a newly elected President on 11 November 2013,” he concluded.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma also issued a statement, declaring that the international body “looks forward to seeing a smooth and peaceful continuation of the electoral process already underway.”

“The Secretary-General emphasised that the expression of the will of the people through the ballot box is fundamental to Commonwealth values,” Sharma stated.

Commonwealth observers will be returning to Maldives for the run-off round of the presidential election, he added.

Don’t undermine elections without evidence: Transparency

Transparency Maldives has called on parties to the presidential election not to undermine the credibility of the results without evidence.

Transparency deployed the single largest team of election observers with 400 monitors across the country.

“In view of the cases submitted and allegations made at the High Court and Supreme Court of the Maldives regarding systematic vote rigging, Transparency Maldives notes that it did not find any evidence that support allegations of systematic election day fraud during the nationwide observation,” Transparency stated.

Transparency Maldives appeals to all actors and institutions to refrain from undermining the integrity of and confidence in the election day processes without credible evidence of fraud.

Parties must “respect the democratic process,” says US

The United States has also issued a statement calling for all political parties to “respect the democratic process and continue to allow for a free, fair and peaceful vote to take place.”

“The first round of the Maldivian presidential elections on September 7 was widely hailed as a success and represented a victory for the democratic process in Maldives. The Commonwealth, United Nations, and local Maldivian observers joined the United States in congratulating the Maldivian people and the Election Commission for this successful process,” said Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department Marie Harf.

“We encourage all parties and all presidential candidates to respect the results and work together for a peaceful transition for the benefit of the Maldivian people,” she added.


US encourages all parties to accept first round results

The US has hailed the results of the first round of the presidential election in the Maldives as a “victory for the democratic process”.

In a statement, Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department Marie Harf noted that the results had been “widely hailed as a success” by the Commonwealth, United Nations, and local Maldivian observers.

The comment comes as Jumhooree Party candidate Gasim Ibrahim, who placed third with 24.07 percent and narrowly missed a place in the run-off, contests a case in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the results, alleging electoral irregularities.

The JP was supported in the ongoing court case by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), while Attorney General Azima Shukoor also intervened and criticised the conduct of the Elections Commission.

“As the country prepares for the second round on September 28, the United States and the international community again stand ready to assist Maldivians as they exercise their fundamental right to choose their own government,” declared the US State Department.

“For this final round to be as successful as the previous round, all political parties must respect the democratic process and continue to allow for a free, fair and peaceful vote to take place. We encourage all parties and all presidential candidates to respect the results and work together for a peaceful transition for the benefit of the Maldivian people,” the statement concluded.


Maldives being used as a transit point by illegal recruiters: Philippines

The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration has declared it is tightening monitoring of Filipino nationals traveling to the Maldives, over fears the country is being used as a transit point for labour trafficking of its citizens.

The government of the Philippines, which depends heavily on remitted income from its massive expatriate workforce, restricts its nationals from working in countries with a record of poor treatment of low-wage foreign workers, such as Lebanon and Jordan.

However the Bureau’s Immigration Minister Ricardo David Jr issued a statement revealing traffickers were circumventing this restriction by obtaining ‘legitimate’ employment papers for workers in Dubai and the Maldives, and routing workers to restricted countries through these destinations.

David revealed 17 Filipino workers were victimised in such a fashion by illegal recruitment agencies in June, noting that none of the workers had employment contracts and had instead only been ‘promised’ salaries of US$300-$1500 a month once they reach their destination.

The Maldives is recognised as a destination country for labour trafficking, and to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Various reports into the practice have identified key appeals to traffickers in the form of poor oversight and monitoring of work permit requests, and a near-total lack of enforcement or investigation of traffickers in favour of swiftly deporting victims – many of whom go into substantial debt paying bogus ‘recruitment fees’ of up to US$4000.

However the statement from the Philippines suggests the country’s lack of oversight of foreign worker employment is also being exploited by traffickers to transit victims.

Domestically, “Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers”, read a recent report from the US State Department’s human trafficking monitoring office.

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the practice and the government’s submission of a draft anti-trafficking bill to parliament in December 2012, the Maldives still has no specific laws prohibiting human trafficking and “the government of the Maldives made minimal anti-trafficking enforcement efforts during the year.”

While forced labour was prohibited under the 2009 Employment Act, it was not penalised, the report noted.

“The government reported investigating four and prosecuting two sex trafficking cases in 2012, compared to no prosecutions recorded in 2011,” the report stated.

However “the government did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses [and] the absence of government translators prevented foreign trafficking victims from pursuing recourse through the Maldivian legal system.”

The Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, and faces mandatory downgrading to Tier 3 next year along with Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand unless it addresses the problem.

Tier 3 countries are defined by the State Department as those which “neither satisfy the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor demonstrate a significant effort to do so”, and are open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.


Maldives given final chance to avoid tier 3 in human trafficking report, face possible sanctions

The Maldives has been placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

As with last year’s report, the country avoided a downgrade to the lowest tier “because [the] government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

However US Ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, noted during the release of the report that the six countries again spared a downgrade would not be eligible next year – including Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand and the Maldives.

This was, he noted, intended to prompt action in countries that were “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount, not really doing all that much, not on the upward trajectory of a Tier 2 or a Tier 1 country.”

Tier 3 countries are defined by the State Department as those which “neither satisfy the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor demonstrate a significant effort to do so”, and are open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.

Human trafficking in the Maldives

The Maldives is a destination country for human trafficking, including sex trafficking and particularly forced labour and debt bondage. Maldivian children were also trafficked within the country, the State Department noted.

“An unknown number of the approximate 150,000 documented and undocumented foreign workers in Maldives – primarily Bangladeshi and Indian men in the construction and service sectors – face conditions of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage,” the report stated.

“Migrant workers pay the equivalent of approximately US$1,000 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees in order to migrate to Maldives, contributing to their risk of debt bondage inside the country.

“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in Maldives.

“Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.”

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the practice and the government’s submission of a draft anti-trafficking bill to parliament in December 2012, the Maldives still has no specific laws prohibiting human trafficking and “the government of the Maldives made minimal anti-trafficking enforcement efforts during the year.”

While forced labour was prohibited under the 2009 Employment Act, it was not penalised, the report noted.

“The government reported investigating four and prosecuting two sex trafficking cases in 2012, compared to no prosecutions recorded in 2011,” the report stated.

However “the government did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses [and] the absence of government translators prevented foreign trafficking victims from pursuing recourse through the Maldivian legal system.”

Deport first, ask questions later

Instead, the government focused on deporting undocumented immigrants without screening them for indications of human trafficking.

“Some of these immigrants subsequently were identified by a civil society group as trafficking victims,” the report noted. “Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, trafficking victims may have been inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.”

The State Department report specifically noted that between March and December 2012 the government “arrested, imprisoned, and deported 29 foreign females for prostitution at beauty salons without first identifying whether they were sex trafficking victims.”

“The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Police officers reported that suspected trafficking victims were fearful of being arrested or deported by the police,” the report stated.

The focus on deportation was noted, with government officials even observing that the Maldives “had not meaningfully addressed the role Maldivian recruitment agents play in facilitating human trafficking.”

Police were reported to have fined three local recruitment agencies found to have engaged in fraud and forgery, however “no labor recruiter or agency was criminally prosecuted for fraudulent recruitment practices”, despite the creation of a recruitment agency oversight body in April 2011.

Sex trafficking

The report noted that a “small number” of women from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, China, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet countries, as well as some girls from Bangladesh and Maldives, “are subjected to sex trafficking in Male.”

Domestic trafficking involved the transport of children from their home islands to the capital Male for the purposes of forced domestic servitude, with some also facing sexual abuse.

The report noted that while the 2009 Child Sex Abuse Act criminalised the prostitution of children with a penalty of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violations, Article 14 of the same act “provides that if a person is legally married to a child under Islamic Sharia, none of the offenses specified in the legislation, including child prostitution, would be considered a crime.”

“The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year,” the report noted.


The Maldives’ entry in the State Department’s report concluded with a long list of specific recommendations for the Maldives to combat human trafficking, and avoid the now otherwise inevitable downgrade to Tier 3 in June 2014.

These recommendations included:

  • Pass and enact legislation prohibiting and punishing all forms of trafficking in persons;
  • clearly distinguish between human trafficking, human smuggling and the presence of undocumented migrants in legislation, policies, and programs;
  • develop and implement systematic procedures for government officials to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as undocumented migrants and females in prostitution;
  • ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked;
  • increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses respecting due process;
  • work to ensure that identified victims of trafficking are provided access to victim services;
  • enforce prohibitions of passport retention by employers;
  • raise public awareness of human trafficking through media campaigns;
  • provide translators to police and other law enforcement authorities to ensure foreign workers are able to participate in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers;
  • improve inter-ministerial coordination on human trafficking issues;
  • ensure that changes to labor migration policies for the purpose of reducing human trafficking do not restrict legal migration;
  • take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers do not abuse labor recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labor;
  • accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Maldivian President joins calls for Mubarak to step down

President Mohamed Nasheed has joined the first wave of world leaders calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and “heed the will of the Egyptian people,” after hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets and demanded the end of autocratic rule.

“Egypt is a mature country. It contains many reasonable people who are capable of ruling reasonably,” President Nasheed said, during an interview with the BBC yesterday.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has warned Mubarak that his actions now would determine his legacy.

“Mr Hosni Mubarak: I want to make a very sincere recommendation, a very candid warning… All of us will die and will be questioned over what we left behind,” Erdogan said, in a party speech broadcast in Arabic and reported by Reuters Africa.

“As Muslims, where we all go is a two cubic metre hole,” he said. “Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change.”

Mubarak has meanwhile offered to step down at the next election, during an appearance on Egypt’s state-run television network.

“In the few months remaining in my current term I will work towards ensuring a peaceful transition of power,” Mubarak said. “I have exhausted my life in serving Egypt and my people. I will die on the soil of Egypt and be judged by history.”

However, demonstrators have called for Mubarak’s immediate departure, given the extraordinary expression of public anger taking place in the country.

Egypt’s opposition leader, Nobel peace laureate Mohamed El Baradei, yesterday noted that demonstrators were increasingly calling for the President to not just resign but be put on trial, and urged him to leave at once “if he wants to save his skin”.

In another development, after initial prevarication US President Barack Obama appears to have withdrawn support for the Egyptian leader, praising the protesters and calling for an immediate transition of power following a 30 minute conversation with Mubarak.

The US has been a key ally of the embattled Egyptian President, pumping US2$billion of aid in the country annually since 1979. Much of this – US$1.3 billion in 2010 – is military aid, mostly Pentagon castoffs, making Egypt the second largest such recipient of US military assistance after Israel. This has seen a good deal of public anger aimed at the US within Egypt.

Mubarak’s other public allies – Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – have been noticeably silent since the protests began.

Remarkably, the Egyptian military appears to have turned on Mubarak, stating publicly on state media that it would not obey orders to use force against the protesters.

“The presence of the army in the streets is for your sake and to ensure your safety and wellbeing. The armed forces will not resort to use of force against our great people,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has published a leaked confidential cable between Washington and the US Ambassador to Cairo, Margaret Scobey, sent on December 30, 2008, outlining conversations with an unnamed “activist” concerning “regime change” in Egypt prior to the elections in September 2011.

“According to [the source], the opposition is interested in receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government prior to the 2011 elections. [The source] asserted that this plan is so sensitive it cannot be written down,” the communication revealed.

“[The source] asserted that Mubarak derives his legitimacy from US support, and therefore charged the US with ‘being responsible’ for Mubarak’s ‘crimes’,” wrote Scobey.

“He accused NGOs working on political and economic reform of living in a ‘fantasy world’, and not recognising that Mubarak – ‘the head of the snake’ – must step aside to enable democracy to take root.”

Scobey, however, did not appear optimistic about the source’s chances of success, describing its goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections as “highly unrealistic”.

“Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. [The source’s] wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists,” Scobey wrote.

In his interview with the BBC, President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed called on Western powers “not to fear a democratic Egypt”, because this, he claimed, “is the best guarantor of fundamental liberties and human rights.”

“Suppressing people with extremist views through repressive means only makes them stronger,” he said.

“Fundamental rights and freedoms are human aspirations… things that all of us want. These forces are playing out on the streets of the Middle East today.”

The Maldivian government has asked Maldivians in Egypt to leave the country as protests escalate. Haveeru reported that 107 Maldivian nationals were leaving the country today on an Indian flight va Mumbai, arranged by the government.


Democratic Maldives an important global symbol: US State Department

The Maldives is a powerful symbol of a tolerant and democratic Muslim society, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said yesterday during a visit to the country.

Steinberg was responding to a question regarding the extensive US interest in a such a small and isolated island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean – an interest apparently not extended to nearby countries such as the Seychelles.

“We have very practical interests in common, such as dealing with the challenges of climate change and piracy – security in this region is of enormous importance to us,” Steinberg said, in likely reference to US military interests in Diego Garcia, south of the Maldives.

However as importantly, Steinberg said, the Maldives’ embrace of democracy showed that convictions such as democracy and freedom of expression “are universal values that transcend culture, history and religion.”

“The Maldives comes from very different traditions and history, but people here aspire to the same goals that people around the world aspire to. That’s a powerful symbol, and shows that these are not just American ideals or Western ideals, but universal ideals,” he said.

Such a symbol, he explained, was of great value to the State Department.

“As I travel around the world and see the different ways in which different societies and cultures interpret democracy and human expression, I can point to the Maldives as an example – that’s as important as the practical cooperation.”

The Maldives, he explained, represented an emerging model for “a tolerant and democratic Muslim society”, and “could have enormous influence in the thinking of countries around the world, as you try to build this new model.”

Steinberg expressed admiration for the “remarkable efforts” on the international stage “for such a small country at the early stages of economic and political development.”

The upcoming local council elections, he said, we an “important step” in building that democracy, “and we have confidence that they will be calm and respectful.

Speaking to press assembled at the American Centre in the National Library, Steinberg noted that freedom of expression was “the oxygen of democracy.”

Challenged as to whether this moral position contradicted the US government’s pursuit of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who published hundreds of thousands of State Department diplomatic exchanges in a call for greater political transparency, Steinberg replied that the State Department “has a legitimate interest in protecting the confidentiality of some of the conversations we have, not the least of which [concern] human rights when we engage with people who are persecuted.”

“We place high emphasis civil society – unlike in the Maldives where I can meet freely with civil society, there are other far more repressive countries where we have to meet in confidence. People take great risk to meet with us and share their ideas. There is a responsibility to protect those confidences – there is an appropriate place for confidentiality in government but we also believe in the maximum openness that can be achieved. We have a strong commitment to freedom of information, and President Obama has worked hard to reduce our reliance on classified information. That’s very important to us.”

Concerning the State Department’s listing of the Maldives on its tier two watch-list for Human Trafficking last year, two weeks after the Maldives was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Steinberg reiterated that “we recognise there are challenges, particularly labour trafficking and making sure people seeking economic opportunity are not exploited.

“This region, quite frankly, has particular challenges in dealing with forced labour and related issues on trafficking. What we are looking for is a road-map and a way forward. The watch-list is not intended to punish, but to motivate efforts to go forward.”

Specific areas raised with the Maldivian government by the senior US diplomat included the challenges of economic development, the need to strengthen education and build educational opportunities, as well as the challenges of confronting growing extremism “and how we can help promote tolerance in the Maldives.”