Civil society groups slam government for “failure to ensure conducive environment for elections”

Prominent NGOs have released a joint human rights brief accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections, ahead of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting to be held in London this Friday.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) reported that with less than six months before the presidential elections “there are clear signs indicating that the coalition government in power since February 2012 has so far failed to set the conditions for free and fair elections in which ‘all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns’.”

“The most critical matter in this regard is the continued interference of the executive on other branches of power, as manifested by the trial of several opposition members to prevent the opposition from running in the upcoming elections,” the brief reads.

Authorities have both failed to ensure a ‘free and fair’ atmosphere with respect to freedom of information or freedom to assembly, as well as made no efforts to inform and educate voters on electoral rights and responsibilities, the report claims.

FIDH and MDN highlight that promoting and protecting human rights has suffered from a “substantial lack of progress” and that a “culture of impunity for perpetrators of past human rights violations” has been institutionalised.

While “human rights abuses reduced drastically” following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s election in 2008, past and present police brutality, torture and impunity have gone unaddressed, states the brief.

Institutions such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and a Presidential Commission – created in 2009 and disbanded in 2012 – failed to investigate and address human rights abuses, including torture committed by the police services, given their limited mandates.

“The coalition government established in February 2012 has been accused of a wide range of human rights violations, from violent repression of street protests, arbitrary arrests, sexual harassment of female protesters, torture, harassment of pro-opposition media, to legal and physical harassment of members of the opposition,” states the brief.

“Since the HRCM made public its reports on these allegations in August 2012, no action has been taken for investigation or redress,” the brief continues.

Systematic omissions have been identified in the the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) “serious enough to raise fundamental questions about the accuracy of the report’s conclusions.” Furthermore, recommendations made by the CoNI on August 30, 2012 regarding human rights abuses, torture, and impunity “were immediately dismissed by senior government officials; this could only encourage the security forces to disregard the rule of law and commit further human rights abuses in impunity,” the brief reads.

“Uncertainties” have caused a “new phase of slowdown” in the country’s legal reform process as well.

“Women have suffered and still suffer from the absence of a strong legal framework… and women’s rights remain at risk of being curbed by religious parties influencing the governing coalition and pushing for the full implementation of Sharia,” the report states.

Rising tensions regarding interpretations of Islam is “particularly an area of concern” given the “fundamental views being introduced by the Adalath party and some religious groups, mainly those that are being linked with Shari’a and harsh punishments,” claims the brief.

“Bearing in mind that there is absolutely no public trust in the judiciary to have the capacity to deliver justice under these circumstances, those critical of these [religious] interpretations have faced violent consequences,” reads the brief. “To date, there are no reports of an investigation or any on-going effort to find the perpetrators of these crimes [of murder and attempted murder].”

Following Nasheed’s claim he was deposed in a coup d’état, the Commonwealth suspended the Maldives from the CMAG, and said it had decided to place the Maldives on its formal agenda in February 2012 because of “questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in the Maldives.”

In September 2012, CMAG decided the Maldives would remain on the agenda under the item “Matters of Interest to CMAG”, however its suspension from the international body’s democracy and human rights arm has now been revoked.

CMAG recommendations

FIDH and MDN emphasised that the newly reformed CMAG mandate includes “situations that might be regarded as constituting a serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth values”, and the “systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression.”

“These situations have continuously characterised the political environment of the Maldives especially since the change of power of 7 February 2012.”

FIDH and MDN provided CMAG with five key recommendations in regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives.

They compelled CMAG to raise concerns regarding human rights violations in the Maldives, especially allegations of police brutality and torture, and request government authorities take all necessary measures to prevent violence, respect the due process of law and prevent arbitrary arrests.

A review of CMAG’s position on CoNI report should be conducted, especially in reference to “later developments”.

CMAG should also advocate for the preservation and consolidation of democratic achievements and take all necessary steps to guarantee the conditions for free, fair and inclusive elections in September 2013.

Providing technical assistance to the Maldives’ government is recommended. This is necessary to strengthen the rule of law and support the development of public institutions, in particular the judiciary, as well as independent commissions such as the HRCM, the PIC, and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Finally, provide support to civil society organizations to raise public awareness about the role of public institutions and the importance of separation of powers, develop human rights education programs, and play a key role monitoring democratic and independent institution building.

Maldivian government recommendations

FIDH and MDN also provided the Maldivian government with a list of 11 recommendations to improve the country’s human rights failures.

This includes strengthening independent commissions, such as the PIC, JSC, and HRCM, in accordance with CoNI report recommendations. Reforming the judiciary should also be prioritized.

The physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition must be also guaranteed in all circumstances.

Initiating a national campaign to address past human rights violations (1978-2008), including “accountability for perpetrators, acknowledgement, truth-telling mechanisms, reparations, and legal and institutional reforms to prevent occurrence of new violations” is recommended.

“Such mechanisms would also act as a deterrent to prevent any future form of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest or ill-treatment by State security personnel,” the brief states.

Additionally, the Majlis (parliament) should “urgently enact” pending legislation, ensure civil society is consulted, and that the bills “fully conform with international human rights commitments and obligations of the Maldives.” Furthermore, the death penalty should not be enshrined in those texts.

FIDH and MDN also recommend the government fulfill its various international commitments. This includes investigating allegations of torture, adopting implementing legislation for the International Criminal Court statute, as well as guaranteeing the human rights and protections enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Additionally, the scope of the Maldives’ reservation to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – which aims to eliminate discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, and ensures gender equality – should be significantly reduced.

Adhering to the recommendations of various UN Special Rapporteur’s, which have addressed some of the systemic problems within the judicial system and various human rights issues, is also recommended. As is arranging future Rapporteur’s missions regarding transitional justice and additional human rights challenges.

Government reaction

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon told local media yesterday (April 23) that Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah had left for London April 22 to participate in the CMAG meeting.

Maumoon highlighted that this marks the first occasion the Maldives has been invited to a CMAG meeting since its removal from the agenda.

“The opportunity for the Maldivian Foreign Minister to participate in a CMAG meeting was a great achievement, and one which resulted from the efforts by President Waheed’s government in cooperation with the Commonwealth,” said Maumoon.

“Now Maldives will have the opportunity to partake in discussions at CMAG. But the Maldives delegation will not be present when the group discusses the Maldives,” she added.

Maumoon also reiterated the government’s position that the Maldives should not have been on CMAG’s agenda and that “the move was prompted by a lack of understanding of the true events that transpired in the Maldives.”

“Some countries” had realized this error and accused Nasheed of influencing CMAG members, Maumoon claimed.

While Maumoon admitted “there was always a fear of instability in Maldives due to the rather infant democracy in the country,” she also highlighted that “international partners have acknowledged the positive strides the country has made brought about in a relatively peaceful manner.”

In April 2012, Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.


Former Police Commissioner Adam Zahir faces corruption charges

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has asked the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to press corruption charges against former Commissioner of Police Adam Zahir over the alleged embezzlement of MVR65,817 (US$4,268) from the police budget.

According to the ACC, the funds were released in 2008 to purchase return tickets for Adam Zahir’s wife from Manchester, England to Male’ to attend a function to mark the police golden jubilee.

The ACC investigators however found that Zahir’s wife was not out of the country at the time.

While a payment voucher for the trip included an Emirates Airlines ticket slip dated April 7, 2008, immigration records showed that Zahir’s wife was in the Maldives between March 26 and April 9 that year.

Immigration records also showed that Zahir’s wife did not travel on Emirates Airlines at all in 2008. The ACC discovered that she had arrived in the Maldives on a British charter flight from First Choice Airways.

The commission therefore asked the PGO to prosecute the former police chief for abuse of authority and embezzlement.

A senior officer of the now-defunct National Security Service (NSS), Zahir became the first Commissioner of Police when former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom established the Maldives Police Service as a civilian law enforcement agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

During the reform movement led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Zahir was accused of overseeing torture and custodial abuse, making his resignation a perennial opposition demand.

He resigned in November 2008 after the election of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Wikileaks cables from the American Embassy in Colombo meanwhile revealed that the former police chief was seen as part of the “old guard” opposed to political reforms under President Gayoom.

In December 2005, Sri Lankan police raided the Colombo office of the then MDP-affiliated Minivan News publication upon request from the Maldivian authorities, which alleged that Minivan staff were engaged in seditious activities and gun-running.

In a December 29 meeting with poloff [political officer], an American contractor who works with law enforcement officials in Colombo said that his police contacts informed him the request for the investigation had been signed by Maldivian Chief of Police Adam Zahir and sent to the Interpol Liaison Desk. The contractor said the Sri Lankan police suspected  the charges were politically motivated, but were compelled to  follow up because of their serious nature,” the cable read.

In January 2006, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed – part of the ‘New Maldives’ group of young ministers associated with Gayoom’s reform package – told the US Embassy political officer that the raid on the Minivan office was “utterly shameful.”

Shaheed expressed  concern that the raid undermined the ‘New Maldives’ agenda he and several other reform-minded ministers are promoting. Describing the police chief as ‘someone we are at war with,’  Shaheed added that he had encouraged the president to shift  Zahir from his current position,” reads the cable.

In 2006, reformist magazine Adduvas exposed a number of MPs and regime officials who had taken soft loans from former President Gayoom, including Zahir, who had obtained loans totalling MVR8.7 million (US$677,000).

In August 2009, Zahir was summoned to the presidential commission set up by former President Nasheed to investigate allegations of corruption and misappropriation of state funds under the former regime.

At a ceremony on March 29 this year to commemorate the 80th anniversary of police, Zahir was awarded a special plaque by President Dr Mohamed Waheed “in remembrance of his dedicated and invaluable services rendered to MPS.”


Maldivian man alleges beating in Indian prison after attempting to export peacock feathers

A Maldivian man arrested in Trivandrum, India for attempting to take a bag of peacock feathers back to Maldives has alleged he was beaten in prison, local media reported.

Ahmed Rufwaan Ali, 23, was arrested at Trivandrum Airport in December 2012 before spending 13 days in an Indian prison.

Speaking to media on his arrival back into Male’ yesterday (January 26), Ali alleged that officers in the prison tortured him due to his refusal to “subject himself to their instructions”, Sun Online reported.

Rufwaan subsequently clarified that he had been “beaten” in custody.

“Using the word ‘torture’ insinuates that I was exposed to extreme violent treatment which was not the case. It is also the ‘cultural’ language barrier that the Dhivehi language consists of limited vocabulary which when translated to English, can fit to a variety of synonyms,” he said, in a subsequent statement.

Rufwaan said he had been asked by reporters as to whether he was beaten in custody, to which he “regretfully responded, “It is a jail after all, and we will get beaten. Yes I was beaten. The rules of the officers there is that, once jailed we have to beg for mercy at their feet. I refused to do that, which is why I got the beating.”

Ali blamed the Maldivian consulate in India for the way he was treated in prison, claiming that Indian authorities had been about to release him before the Maldivian Consulate “communicated to Indian Customs authorities in an inappropriate manner”.

He also claimed the Maldivian consulate in India did not help to  bail him out of prison, and instead he had to rely on his family for the money.

“I first paid 25,000 rupees, and then 10,000 rupees as fine. All the help I got came from my family. The consulate there did not concern itself with me,” Ali was quoted as saying in local media.

Ali claimed that he was not aware of the ban on buying and selling peacock feathers, adding that he was unaware if the feathers were fake or not, according to local media.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Clarification: Initial reports in local media quoted Rufwaan as saying he had been “tortured” in custody. Rufwaan subsequently issued a statement claiming he had been mistranslated and that he was in fact only “beaten”.


MDP MP submits resolution to form commission to investigate torture

Parliament on Monday began preliminary debate on a resolution submitted by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Kubey’ to form an independent commission with foreign judges to investigate torture and custodial abuse during the 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In a preliminary statement in July following an appraisal of the Maldives’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) expressed “grave concern” about the lack of investigations and redress for cases of torture, which it noted was “systematic and systemic.”

The UN treaty body urged the Maldives to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct criminal investigations and ensure compensation for all victims of torture.

Article 7 of the ICCPR, which the Maldives acceded to in 2006, states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


Introducing the resolution to parliament on Monday, MP Mohamed Rasheed said the purpose of the resolution was to facilitate investigations to identify perpetrators and ensure that they face justice.

During the ensuing debate, MDP MP Ali Waheed argued that the Maldives could not consolidate democracy and move forward without acknowledging or investigating the human rights abuses of the past.

MDP MP for Gaaf Dhaal Dhaandhoo, Mohamed Riyaz, accused the judiciary of blocking attempts by the former administration to investigate allegations of torture against former prison guards and senior officials of the former National Security Service (NSS).

In May 2011, the High Court overruled a warrant issued by the Maafushi magistrate court for the detention of former chief prison warden ‘Isthafa’ Ibrahim Mohamed Manik on allegations of overseeing torture of inmates.

MDP MP Ahmed Rasheed, representing Haa Alif Hoarafushi constituency, meanwhile claimed that every family in the country had at least one young male incarcerated for drug abuse and tortured. MDP MP for Shaviyani Komandoo, Hussain Waheed, concurred and suggested that most youth with criminal records “would have received unjust punishment at jail some years ago.”

“After being put in jail, they were treated as animals for the entertainment of the people in charge of the jail,” Waheed said, contending that torture exacerbated crime rates as victims “lost all inhibition” as a result of their experiences in prison.

Monday’s parliamentary debate was interrupted seven times due to loss of quorum.

Apart from Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ali Azim and Independent MP Ahmed Amir, all MPs who spoke during the debate were members of the former ruling party.

MPs of former President Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) did not participate in the debate.

The DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru said he did not support parliament forming inquiry commissions as such investigations fall under the mandate of institutions such as the police and independent commissions.

“Therefore, for this honourable Majlis to institute a committee or form a commission every time something like this happens I would say is an obstacle to doing things responsibly,” Azim said.

Azim went on to say that he does not support a commission to investigate “only physical torture” as other forms of torture, such as “psychological torture,” were prevalent during the three years of the MDP administration.

An example of “psychological torture” was pay cuts for civil servants introduced in October 2009 by the MDP government, Azim said.

Independent MP for Dhaal Kudahuvadhoo, Ahmed Amir, meanwhile praised former President Gayoom for ratifying the new democratic constitution and “granting” freedom of expression.

Amir claimed that efforts to investigate allegations of corruption or wrongdoing by Gayoom had “turned up nothing,” suggesting that those who accused the former President should “tire at some point and give up.”

“Imagination” the only limit

Men chained to coconut palms

In May 2011, a torture investigation committee led by former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal was formed by Presidential decree to investigate torture allegations and obtain information concerning custodial abuse.

In June 2011, police began investigations of 51 cases forwarded by the new office.

The committee meanwhile released photos of men tied to coconut palms, caged, and bloodied. One of the photos, of a prisoner lying on a blood-soaked mattress, had a 2001 date stamp.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said at the time that some of the complaints concerned “inhumane activities” and violations of human rights within the prison system, while others related to people “who were imprisoned for a long time without trial, or were kept in custody despite a court order [to the contrary].”

Meanwhile, in considering the Maldives’ reporting on the ICCPR in July this year, the UNHRC drew on a report submitted by international anti-torture NGO REDRESS, containing testimonies of 28 victims of torture while in state custody.

“Forms of torture and ill-treatment included the use of suspension, lengthy use of stocks, being beaten withfists and bars, kicked, blindfolded, handcuffed, the dislocation of joints and breaking of bones, being forced to roll and squat on sharp coral, being drowned or forced into the sea, being put in a water tank, being burned, having bright lights shone in eyes, being left outside for days while tied or handcuffed to a tree, being covered in sugar water or leaves to attract ants and goats, and in one case being tied to a crocodile’s cage. Sexual assault and humiliation was also routinely used. Many testimonies suggest the only limit to the torture and ill-treatment imposed was the imagination of those whose control they were under,” a UNHRC panel member read.

“Surely this is something that refers to before 2008,” the panel member stated, “but the [present government] has a responsibility to pursue and investigate and bring to justice if these [allegations] are indeed correct. If there is an atmosphere of impunity regarding torture, I would offer that the present situation would not be treated differently by those who would want to violate the office they have, and abuse those under their care, or those going peacefully about their business.”


Crowd confronts police after officers arrest “wrong suspect”

Residents living in Bodurasgefaanu Magu behind the football stadium in Male’ on Monday night confronted a group of uniformed police from the Special Operations (SO) and Drug Enforcement Department (DED), alleging the officers had beaten and arrested a young boy in a case of mistaken identity.

A police officer was attacked by group of young men on Dhonadharaadh Hingun some time between 10-11pm. The residents of Bodurasgefaanu Magu claimed that the officers had returned in a group and “sought revenge” against the wrong person.

The group, consisting of 30-50 men and women, confronted the police bus and shouted at the officers.

“We were all here when a group of boys went beating a police officer, and a few minutes later this huge group of police officers came running over and severely beat the wrong boy who just arrived in the area minutes ago,’’ an elderly man in the area said, at the scene.

“We all cried and shouted to let them know that it was the wrong boy, but they would not listen they carried on hitting him in the back and head with their batons, and pushed him really hard into the bus,’’ the man said.

A second police bus later arrived in the area, where the crowd were still gathered, officers tried to talk with the people.

“Is it that you are blind or deaf that you did not hear or see all these people around here that were yelling at the top of their voice that you are beating the wrong boy,’’ a middle-aged man told the officers. “This is too much,” he said.

People gathered around the bus and began shouting at the police. The bus left the area and did not come back.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that he will clarify the matter and inform the media. However he had not responded at time of press, and was not answering further calls.

Police have previously responded to similar cases by requesting that such allegations be referred to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), which is mandated to investigate complaints of police misconduct.

President of the PIC, Shahinda Ismail, expressed concern to Minivan News this week about a growing culture of police impunity.

“It is really upsetting – a huge concern – for me that the police leadership is showing a trend where unlawful officers are acting with impunity,” she said. “This can only lead to further violence.”


MDP commemorates ‘Black Friday’ anniversary

The former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) commemorated the eighth anniversary of the brutal crackdown of the pro-democracy demonstration on ‘Black Friday’ August 12 and 13, 2004 with a special rally last night.

The rally featured video presentations about systematic torture under the regime of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and testimony of victims of the crackdown on the unprecedented 22-hour public gathering at the Republic Square.

Addressing a capacity crowd at artificial beach last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed said that Black Friday was the day that the Maldivian people started to believe that they could assert their will and power over the government.

August 12, 13
Black Friday gathering

“It was the day when the Maldivian people found courage,” he said. “It was the day when the people started to believe that they could come out and reverse the autocratic rule of this country and eradicate torture and brutality.”

The former Amnesty International ‘prisoner of conscience’ paid tribute to the hundreds of demonstrators and reformist MPs arrested and beaten by the former National Security Service (NSS) on August 13.

Nasheed urged reformists to “continue the journey” begun on August 12 and 13 with the lessons of the past eight years, vowing not to stop the fight “until true freedom and independence is established in this country.”

The hopes of the Maldivian people for a better future was “tied to forming a civilised security forces,” Nasheed said, adding that everyone in the police and army were not “bad and ruthless people.”

It was MDP’s “duty” to work with numerous youth and experienced officers “of a national spirit” in the security services to reform the institutions, he continued.

Nasheed said he was “certain beyond doubt” that the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report would note that a number of mutinous officers of the security forces committed crimes and unlawful acts on February 7.

“After CoNI’s report, we should only go back home after bringing them to justice,” he said.

He added that the nation could not be held as the “spoils of war by a few police and army officers.”

‘The hidden baton’

Speaking at the rally, former Male’ MP and first president of MDP, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, argued that the “biggest success for the people” on August 12 and 13 was to show the outside world as well as the Maldivian people “the culture of brutality concealed by Gayoom.”

“The hidden baton” was made exposed through the efforts of reformists, said Ibra, which was put away after Gayoom’s election defeat only to be brought out again on February 7, 2012.

“This is not something the Maldivian people will accept. You cannot tie the tongues of the Maldivian people again. Today, the Maldivian people no longer fear that baton,” he said.

In a video message aired at the rally, Naushad Waheed – brother of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – spoke of torture in jails during President Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Naushad, former deputy high commissioner to the UK, warned that those in power would not willingly relinquish it regardless of the conclusions of CNI’s report, urging MDP to remain vigilant and within legal bounds.

Former Special Majlis MP Mohamed ‘Nafa’ Naseem meanwhile said that the reformists drew courage from the months spent in Dhoonidhoo detention island following the crackdown on August 13.

“If I remember correctly, more than 300 people were put in jail for a long period,” he said. “I never saw anyone cry out of fear. Everyone was smiling. [We] crossed the threshold of fear.”

In a video interview, Mariyam Manike – mother of Evan Naseem, who was beaten to death in Maafushi prison on September 19, 2003 – recounted her treatment at the hands of NSS officers after her arrest outside her residence on August 13.

Manike said she was beaten by NSS officers after being taken to the main army barracks and was kept for hours with her hands cuffed behind her back.

NSS officers threatened to kill her while one officer told her that “this is the handcuff your son was wearing when we killed him,” Manike said.


Maldives “needs radical changes”: UN Human Rights Committee

The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has recommended “radical changes” to Maldivian law to ensure compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These changes include the abolition of the death penalty, compensation for “systematic and systemic torture,” withdrawal of reservations to the ICCPR’s Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, and reforming the country’s judiciary.

Following a “Incendiary” session focused on the state of human rights in the Maldives on July 12 and 13, the committee published a preliminary statement calling on the Maldives to “be serious about bringing itself into compliance with all aspects” of the ICCPR as a “critical step” to respect and protect human rights of all the people in the Maldives.

The Human Rights Committee will make a final report at the end of its session on July 27.

The Maldivian delegation to the UNHRC was headed by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, a former Justice Minister during the 30 year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and co-author of a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, published in January 2012.

Dr Jameel was accompanied by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon – Gayoom’s daughter – as well as the Maldives’ Permanent Representative in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam.

Article 18

The UNHRC raised concern over the state’s reservation to Article 18 regarding freedom of religion and belief, claiming the reservation “implicates a host of intertwining social, political, and cultural issues” which will not be resolved until the state agrees to withdraw this reservation.

During the committee session, Dunya had said the Maldives did not plan to withdraw the reservation to Article 18 as the Maldives Constitution stipulated that rights and freedoms be interpreted according to Islamic Sharia.

However, the statement noted that allowing Islamic tenets of the Constitution to definitively supersede the human rights enshrined in the ICCPR “will mean a continued lack of protection for the human rights of the people of the Maldives.”

The Maldives delegation had stressed that the country was a homogeneous society and spoke one language and followed one religion, adding there was therefore no debate in Maldivian society regarding the removal of the provision relating to freedom of religion.

“This is not dogmatic government policy or preference, but rather a reflection of the deep societal belief that the Maldives always has been and always should be a 100 percent Muslim nation. Laws, like government, should be based on the will of the people,” Dunya said.

“Systematic and systemic torture”

Incidents of torture in the Maldives “appear systematic and systemic,” the UNHRC statement noted, and expressed “grave concern” about the low number of cases that have undergone investigation.

The committee has urged the Maldives to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct criminal investigations and ensure compensation for all victims of torture.

The panel also drew on a report submitted by anti-torture NGO REDRESS, containing testimonies of 28 victims of torture while in state custody.

“Forms of torture and ill-treatment included the use of suspension, lengthy use of stocks, being beaten with fists and bars, kicked, blindfolded, handcuffed, the dislocation of joints and breaking of bones, being forced to roll and squat on sharp coral, being drowned or forced into the sea, being put in a water tank, being burned, having bright lights shone in eyes, being left outside for days while tied or handcuffed to a tree, being covered in sugar water or leaves to attract ants and goats, and in one case being tied to a crocodile’s cage. Sexual assault and humiliation was also routinely used. Many testimonies suggest the only limit to the torture and ill-treatment imposed was the imagination of those whose control they were under,” a UNHRC panel member read at last week’s session.

“Surely this is something that refers to before 2008,” the panel member stated, “but the [present government] has a responsibility to pursue and investigate and bring to justice if these [allegations] are indeed correct. If there is an atmosphere of impunity regarding torture, I would offer that the present situation would not be treated differently by those who would want to violate the office they have, and abuse those under their care, or those going peacefully about their business.”

In response, Jameel said any citizen could bring their grievances before the judiciary and said any question of compensation could jeopardize the Maldives’ state budget.

Death Penalty

The UNHRC has asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty. “The state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime,” the statement noted.

Jameel himself has previously stated the government was prepared to implement the death penalty following the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb. Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor and the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz have publicly endorsed their support for implementing capital punishment to deter increasing crime rates.

However, Jameel told the UNHRC no official government discussion existed on the matter.

“This year alone we have had seven murders in a country of 350,000. The country is really struggling to address this surge of crime. It is in the light of these occurrences that this debate has occurred. There is no official government discussion, but there are scattered debates across every section of society,” Jameel said.

Judiciary Reform

The committee is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” the statement noted.

“The state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised.  The Committee has said the judiciary is desperately in need of more serious training, and higher standards of qualification,” the statement read.

The Supreme Court in particular needed “radical readjustment,” the committee said.

“As 6 of 7 Supreme Court judges are experts in Sharia law and nothing more, this court in particular is in need of radical readjustment.  This must be done to guarantee just trials, and fair judgments for the people of Maldives.”

A panel member during the UNHRC session also noted the “troubling role of the judiciary at the center” of the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

“The judiciary – which is admittedly in serious need of training and qualifications – is yet seemingly playing a role leading to the falling of governments,” he observed.


Jameel and Dunya to defend Maldives’ human rights record at UNHRC

The Maldives’ government will on Thursday defend its human rights record to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva.

The delegation will be headed by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel, former Justice Minister under the 30 year rule of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and co-author of a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, published in January 2012 while in opposition.

Dr Jameel will be accompanied by State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon – Gayoom’s daughter – as well as the Maldives’ Permanent Representative in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, Counsellor Marc Limon (formerly of PR firm Hill & Knowlton), Third Secretary Muruthala Moosa, and four interns: Marie Gabrielle Glock, Katherine Hamilton, Jessi Challis and Rinaldo Foncesca.

The UNHRC has already identified key issues to be taken up with the Maldives, concerning its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) commitments. A document outlining these issues – drawn from the country’s Universal Periodic Review (with submissions from government, HRCM and civil society), was published in August 2011 – prior to the controversial change of government and fresh allegations of police brutality and attacks on journalists.

Issues identified in the 2011 document include counterterrorism measures, commitment to reducing discrimination (including on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and religion), and prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

One specific issue identified was the move in parliament to make the enforcement of the death penalty mandatory where such a verdict is upheld by the Supreme Court, which would place the Maldives in breach of its ICCPR commitments.

Dr Jameel last week stated he was willing to implement death penalty in his capacity as Home Minister. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz also said he was willing to enforce such verdicts, as the Maldives struggles to come to terms with a sudden wave of violent crime and murder this year.

The ICCPR document asks whether prison personnel responsible for the death of Evan Naseem – a watershed moment in Maldivian political history that sparked democratic reform – had been investigated, and faced justice.

The document challenges the Maldives’ commitment to combating domestic violence and sexual assault in general: “According to information before the Committee, in the absence of a confession, a man can only be convicted of rape if there are two male or four female witnesses to the act. How does this comply with the Covenant?”

It also asks the Maldives to clarify its position on corporal punishment, whereby flogging sentences are routinely given for offences under Islamic sharia. The topic is sensitive in the Maldives, with UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay widely condemned in the Maldives following her call in parliament for a moratorium on the flogging of women as punishment for extramarital sex.

The UN document – produced in August 2011 – also calls on the government to clarify matters surrounding the nine-day detention without charge of MP Abdulla Yameen, then “leader of the opposition”, and challenges the government on issues relating to prison conditions, overcrowding, and lack of a legal aid scheme.

The document calls for the government to explain the country’s treatment of migrant workers, and in particular, “explain the measures being taken to deal with the trafficking of individuals from Bangladesh and India, who are mainly trafficked into the State party for labour and commercial sex exploitation.”
The document also requests the Maldives justify its reservation to article 18 of the ICCPR concerning freedom of religion, specifically the practice of religions other than Sunni Islam by the country’s largest population of foreign nationals.

It also calls on the Maldivian government to respond to allegations of “widespread harassment and intimidation” of journalists.

On June 4, well-known blogger and journalist Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed had his throat cut in what appeared to be the first targeted assassination attempt of a media figure in the Maldives. Rasheed, who had been attacked multiple times prior to the attempt on his life, survived, and has since fled the country. Rasheed claimed he was attacked by radicalised gang members who were operating with the consent of “senior political and religious figures.”

Government response

The government of the Maldives responded to the list of issues earlier this month, ahead of its session with the committee later in July.

It acknowledged “efficiency and effectiveness” challenges with the local Human Rights Commission (HRCM).

“Notwithstanding, the government believes that HRCM already possesses necessary human and financial resources. It is worth noting that at a time of severe
economic difficulties in the Maldives, the HRCM has a budget of 22 million rufiyaa ($1.4 million – an extremely large sum considering the small economy and small population of the Maldives) and a staff of over 50 officials,” the response noted.

The Maldives had made considerable progress on issues of gender discrimination, the government stated, and towards addressing domestic violence with the introduction of a relevant bill.

On the subject of discrimination based on sexual preference, the Maldives had no specific law banning homosexuality, the government noted, however “article 10 of the Constitution of the Maldives states that the religion of the State of Maldives is Islam and Islam shall be the one of the basis of all the laws of the Maldives. Therefore, no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

“This excludes the possibility of enacting any law protecting the rights of persons based on their sexual orientation,” the government stated, adding that 23 people had been formally charged for homosexuality between 2007-2011.

With regard to article 18 on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, “the reservation states that the application of the principles set out in article 18 will be without prejudice to the Constitution of the Maldives,” the government stated.

“Chapter II of the Constitution on fundamental rights and freedoms does not include, among the rights guaranteed, freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Regarding concerns over the introduction of the death penalty, the government noted that the referred bill was a proposed amendment to the Clemency Act “which will make performing the death penalty mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

“The amendment is proposed in an effort to stop crimes of murder and violence. The death toll in the Maldives has increased recently to a level of great concern and it is in the view that if death penalty or capital punishment is enforced it would reduce crime rate,” the government stated.

While corporal punishment was not explicitly prescribed in the penal code, it was administered for “certain offences prescribed in Sharia.”

“The government is, however, looking at ways to ensure that the punishment is not applied in a discriminatory manner. At present, women are far more likely to be publicly flogged than men – mostly because of outdated court procedures such as reliance on confessions rather than forensic evidence – though as noted above this is changing,” the government stated.

Yameen’s detention on the Presidential retreat at Aarah by the government of President Mohamed Nasheed “acted in contravention of the prescribed 24 hour rule and did not follow due process in dealing with political opponents on a number of occasions,” the government stated.

“Mr Yameen Abdul Gayoom‟s arrest and detention – by the police on an isolated island [Aarah] without access to a lawyer or to his family, were arbitrary and unlawful,” the government said.

On human trafficking, the government outlined measures it was taking to address international concerns and provide support for victims, including “a 24/7 toll-free help line to be announced shortly.”

“Language training is to be provided for the staff of Department of Immigration and Emigration and Labour Relations Authority (LRA) or translators are to be placed at borders to assist in identification of victims and providing necessary assistance to the victims,” the government stated. The country recently appeared on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year running.

The government denied harassment and intimidation of journalists. Instead, “media freedom has remained steady with the constitution protecting freedom of expression but also restricting freedom of speech contrary to the tenets of Islam.”

While the government blocked websites controversial to Islam, ”the government is working to ensure the media is free to tackle any subject. It was by the current administration of President Dr Waheed Hassan who took office in February 2012 that Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation was handed over to the Parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation that had ended executive control of the media.”

A number of NGOs, including Redress, the Helios Life Association, the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and social services veteran and former State Health Minister Mariya Ali have submitted reports and evidence to the panel, which is to be webcast live.

Minivan News will review these submissions this week ahead of the Maldives’ appearance in Geneva.


Police Integrity Commission requests PG prosecute former Deputy Commissioner Rishwan

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has concluded its investigation into complaints filed by several individuals claiming they were unlawfully arrested and mistreated in custody in July 2010, requesting former Police Deputy Commissioner Mohamed Rishwan be prosecuted for alleged violation of the Police Act.

According to local media citing the PIC investigation report, Rishwan admitted to giving the order to his subordinates to cut the hair of several individuals arrested during a special operation, including minors.

PIC Chairwoman Shahindha Ismail did not respond to Minivan News at the time of press.

Rishwan meanwhile resigned from the post of Deputy Commissioner on July 12 this year, informing local media that he wished to spend more time with his family.

In July last year, police and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) arrested almost 60 people, including children, in a joint special operation launched to curb the rise in gang violence.

Many arrested at the time claimed that their mobile phones and personal belongings were confiscated and not returned when they were released.

Almost everyone arrested in the operation was released without any charges.

A number of those arrested claimed they were mistreated and abused in custody, including being forced to remove their clothes, blindfolded and beaten.

“I was arrested while I was on the way to Dharumavantha Scool to get a document,” one of those arrested told Minivan News in July 2010. “While I was waiting near the traffic lights on Sosun magu, two policemen and two MNDF officers told me to be freeze, came up behind me and handcuffed me and my friend.”

“I asked them on what charges they were arresting me, and where they were taking me, and they said they needed me to clarify some information.”

He said the officers pushed him into a police bus and blindfolded him with his hands tied with clips.

“They took me to a place and removed my silver ear-rings, my bracelets, necklace and sunglasses,” he claimed. “Then they took me to a place and removed the blindfold on my eye, and ordered me to remove my clothes. I refused, but I had no other choice so I did, and they told me to bend over. They harassed me verbally and physically.”

He said the officers were covering their faces.

“After checking me they blindfolded me again, and then took me to somewhere else. I asked them where they were taking me, they said that I should speak only when I am spoken to,” he said. “They pushed me into another room, where they trimmed my hair. When I tried to refuse, they hit beat me.”