US and Maldives hold first bilateral trade talks

The first official trade talks between the Maldives and US governments took place this morning at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malé.

The meeting was the first bilateral discussion since the signing of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2009 to provide a forum in which bilateral talks can proceed.

“The first meeting discussed procedures for more robust engagement, as well as touched on topics such as labor, intellectual property, and the investment climate,” said the US following this morning’s meeting.

Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed told the US delegation at today’s meetings of the government’s plans to diversify the economy away from its reliance on tourism, as well as the recent changes to the investment climate with the Special Economic Zones Act.

He also noted that further changes to legislation were planned that would ease foreign investment. The US State Department has previously noted that “the ambiguity of codified law acts as a damper to new investment” in the Maldives.

Despite the council not having met before today, total trade between the two countries has more than doubled between 2009 and 2013. Saeed told press today that the Maldives’ major export to the US was fish products, expressing his hope that Maldivian fishermen could take advantage of marketing opportunities within the US.

Speaking at a press conference after today’s meeting, Saeed said the government had plans to more than triple the current amount of fish exports to the US by 2018.

Part of the initial agreement, signed five years ago, stated that both parties would endeavour to hold talks at least once a year. The United States-Maldives Council on Trade and Investment – established by the TIFA – is designed to monitor trade flows, investigate new opportunities, and remove impediments to further investment.

Economic development minister Saeed represented the Maldives alongside State Minister for Economic Development Faris Maumoon, while the US delegation was led by Assistant Trade Representative for South Asia Michael Delaney along with Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Colombo Andrew Mann.

“Our team comes from multiple U.S. government agencies and has been looking forward to returning to the Maldives to learn more about both the trade and investment conditions and the labor environment,” said Delaney in a press release from the Colombo embassy.

The press release noted that the US has TIFA agreements with almost 50 countries in every region of the world.

(SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade)

Not traditionally a key contributor to the Maldives’ billion dollar tourism industry, US visitors represented less than 2 percent of the market share in 2013.

US engagement with the Maldives has traditionally concerned foreign assistance to enhance maritime security, counter terrorism, and counter narcotics cooperation with Maldivian forces.

Officers and crew from the USS Rodney M Davis visited the Maldives earlier this month, with Vice Admiral Robert Thomas noting the critical nature of the Indian Ocean to regional security.

Rumours of a Status of Forces Agreement – opening up the possibility of US forces being stationed in the Maldives – surfaced in 2013, before incoming President Abdulla Yameen announced that any such deal would be likely to damage relations with neighbouring countries.

The US has also pledged to help the Maldives adapt to the negative effects of global climate change, pledging US$7.2 million (MVR111 million) for a global climate change adaptation project last year.

2013 also saw US private equity firm Blackstone acquire both the Maldives’ major seaplane operators for an undisclosed sum, as well as the introduction of the US designed PISCES border control system.

The PISCES system was utilised in the controversial arrest of alleged Russian hacker Roman Seleznyov by US security personnel while in the Maldives in July. Seleznyov was subsequently transported to the US via Guam where he awaits trial.


Slow Loris spared euthanasia by UK conservationist group

The slow loris illegally trafficked into the Maldives has been spared euthanasia after Monkey World – a center for abused and neglected primates – offered to re-home the animal at their sanctuary in Dorset, England.

“This has never been done before, to move endangered species overseas from the Maldives. This has been an amazing, unprecedented international effort,” Dr Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World told the press in Malé today (August 13).

The small primate, which is an Appendix I listed species of CITES – giving it the highest level of protection in international trade of wildlife – was discovered during a police raid in the capital in January.

Shazra Shihab from the Ministry of Environment and Energy explained that the government had been trying to rehome the animal ever since, but had struggled due to issues relating to costs, transportation, and the loris’s unknown country of origin.

“However, with tireless dedication from one party, and cooperation from all relevant government organisations of both countries, as well as dedication from other involved parties on both sides, we have now found a home for the slow loris,” she added.

“I first heard that the Bengal Loris had been confiscated in the Maldives by colleagues who work in Asia rescuing wildlife,” Dr Cronin told Minivan News.

The animal will now be taken back to the UK and paired with another of its species, she explained.

“We believe this to be a male Loris, and we have a home for it in England with a female Loris, so he will have a wife,” Dr Cronin added.

“We’ve been doing this work around the world for more than 25 years and I was impressed, heart-warmed and felt that everybody here deserved support and encouragement for what they’ve done.”

Echoing Dr Cronin’s sentiments, Gabriella Tamási from the International Airline Group IAG Cargo remarked, “this is totally unprecedented, what we have done to transport the slow loris, as currently our travel operations in the Maldives are not approved for live animal transport.”

Illegal slow loris trade

The illegal Loris pet trade boomed after video clips which depict the animals as a cute and docile pets went viral. However, the video craze has obscured the trauma and suffering that the animals endure at the hands of illegal traffickers.

Far from its cuddly depiction, the Loris secretes toxins on its wrists which – when combined with their saliva – deliver a toxic and very harmful bite, Dr Cronin explained.

“Most commonly what happens is they get grabbed and somebody forces their mouth open, and they take large fingernail clippers and simply cut the animals teeth off at the gum line.”

“It’s a very bloody, painful and horrible process, leaving the animal crippled,” revealed Dr Cronin.

According to Dr Cronin, the Bengal slow loris in the Maldives has not been checked over yet, as she prefers to minimise the stress for the animal during the transportation process.

“The last thing it needs is more stress,” she stated, “we’ll wait until we get it back to Monkey World.”

Dr Cronin also revealed plans to check the slow loris’ DNA once back in the UK, to find out the animal’s country of origin, which may then present the possibility to a return to the wild.

“Everybody in the Maldives can feel pleased and proud of both the law enforcement and the government ministry for bothering to stick with this for so long,“ Dr Cronin concluded.


Maldives and UAE sign customs agreement

The Maldives has signed a customs agreement with its largest trade partner, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which will result in enhanced bilateral cooperation.

The MoU signed yesterday will involve the exchange of data and expertise on consignments, customs policies, and general capacity building as well as cooperation to ensure the security of international supply chains.

The Commissioner General of Maldives Customs Service, Ahmed Mohamed, signed the agreement with Acting Director-General of Federal Customs Authority (FCA), Khalid Ali Al Bustani in Dubai.

Ahmed Mohamed expressed his confidence that the MOU will enable Maldives customs to translate the experience of its UAE counterparts for valuable use as the Maldives works to modernise its operations both in trade facilitation and customs enforcement.

29 percent of the Maldives imports came from the UAE in 2013, making the country the Maldives’ largest source of goods.

UAE authorities reported that two-way trade between the Maldives and the UAE reached AED943 (US$256 million) between 2009 and 2013 – 1.7 percent of which represented exports from the Maldives to the emirates.

The Maldives spends 30 percent of its GDP on importing fossil fuels – with make up around 90 percent of the UAE’s trade – with US$486 million on oil imports in 2012.

The figure is estimated to increase to US$ 700 million by 2020, although the current government is seeking foreign investors for the resumption of oil exploration projects in the Maldives.

As an island nation heavily dependent on imports, the Maldives Monetary Authority’s latest balance of payments projections estimate that the country’s current account deficit will widen to US$562.5 million in 2014, which is equal to 22 percent of GDP.

During the visit to Dubai, the commissioner general along with the accompanying delegates is scheduled to visit Rashed Port, Airport of Dubai, and Jebel Ali Port to witness and learn from the best practices of the UAE, said a Maldives Customs Service press release.


EU refuses to extend duty-free status of Maldivian fish imports on human rights grounds

The European Union has declined to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives, following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

The Maldives exports 40 percent of its US$100 million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value.

Until January 2014 those exports were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) program, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.

Maldives’ Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shafeeu said the government’s application for a year’s extension under the ‘GSP Plus’ program was declined as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions.

“The Maldives has reservations to the freedom of religion component. Constitutionally we will not be able to remove these reservations,” Shafeeu said.

EU officials confirmed that the transitional period of trade concessions for the Maldives was due to expire as the Maldives from 2011 was not longer considered a developing country.

The Maldives applied for an extension under the ‘GSP+’ program, a unilateral trade concession of the EU given to a limited number of countries on the basis of good implementation of human rights are labor conventions, officials said, however did not qualify due to the country’s reservations to ICCPR on religious freedom and CEDAW concerning women’s rights.

Under the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions is criminalised. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport, while politicians frequently use allegations of ‘consorting with missionaries’ as as a political attack.

Foreigner workers such as teachers accused of missionary activity have previously been sentenced but are more usually swiftly deported without trial.

The few Maldivians have publicly tested the religious citizenship provision have faced charges of apostasy, calls for the death penalty and religious counselling while incarcerated, while one journalist who publicly called for religious tolerance narrowly survived having his throat slit in July 2012.

Fisheries Minister Shafeeu warned that the sudden imposing of a 14-20 duty on fish imports would lose the Maldives its competitve advantage over the larger fishing fleets of nearby Sri Lanka and Thailand, and reduce profits to “a marginal value”.

Minister of Economic Affairs Ahmed Mohamed said that at average prices per kg Maldivian companies exporting to the EU would face a loss of US$1.66 per kg once duty was imposed.

“Internationally market price for fish fluctuates,” said Shafeeu. “In good times fish can fetch MVR 150 (US$10) a kilo, while sometimes this falls as low as MVR 45 (US$3) a kilo. Fishermen might not notice the impact [of the duty] immediately,” he said.

Most of the fish caught and exported in the Maldives is skipjack or yellowfin tuna, either processed and canned or sold fresh to overseas markets at a premium due to sustainable pole-and-line fishing techniques.

Shafeeu said the new duty was not unexpected as Maldivian fisheries had been given a three year extension of its duty-free status after graduating from the UN’s definition of a ‘least developed’ country to ‘middle income’ in 2011.

The lack of a year’s extension would force the fisheries industry to speed up exploration of other markets, he said.

“We have looked to the US where we also don’t have to pay duty, also the Russian market. With the Chinese market we have been able to get the health certification we require from them. But the US involves higher flight costs, and the highest value so far has been the EU,” he said.

While tourism is the Maldives’ largest economic sector, indirectly responsible for up to 70 percent of GDP and up to 90 percent of foreign exchange, fisheries is the country’s largest employer at over 40 percent.

The total fish catch has been declining each year since 2006 reaching 83.1 thousand metric tonnes in 2011, leading to fears about the impact of climate change and overfishing by better equipped fishing fleets on the borders of the Maldives’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).


Trade deficit widens to MVR 1.1 billion

The trade deficit in the Maldives rose to MVR 1.1 billion (US$70.9 million) in the last year, according to statistics from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA).

Statistics show that US$ 314.4 million had been received as revenue from exports. However US$1.4 billion was spent on imports – an 11percent increase to the overall trade deficit.

Local media reported that while there had been a reduction in overall exports, fish exports had increased.

According to MMA’s statistics, the 2013 trade balance is MVR 1.5 billion (US$96.7 million).


Indian Aviation Minister urges resolution of GMR dispute

Indian media outlets have reported that the country’s Minister for Civil Aviation Ajit Singh has asked the Maldives to consider ways to resolve ongoing disputes with Indian company GMR regarding the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The Economic Times reported that the issue arose during a meeting with the Aviation Minister and a Maldivian delegation led by the Maldives’ Minister for Transport and Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed.

The paper said that an official statement from the Civil Aviation Ministry had highlighted the major issues discussed:

“The contentious issues include provision of airport development charges provided for in the agreement with the GMR, but termed as unauthorised by a local court in the Maldives, and a demand for an additional runway not provided in the agreement,” the statement is reported to have said.

The development of the airport – expected by the company to total US$511m in costs – is the largest foreign investment project undertaken in the Maldives’ history and includes commitments to complete the renovation of INIA’s existing terminal this month.

The issues detailed during the meeting have been compounded in recent months by government aligned parties calling for nationalisation of the airport as well as orders to halt construction work following allegations of missing permits.

CEO of GMR Maldives operations Andrew Harrison today told Minivan News that the government had informed the company it had complied all regulations, but had not yet given it the go-ahead to resume work.

“We have not done any work since August 2,” said Harrison.

During a visit to India last month, leader of the government aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali warned of serious repercussion for investor confidence should the country renege on the GMR deal.

Sri Lankan media this week has also reported Business Council leader Hussain S Hashim as saying that a lack of trade dispute mechanisms in the Maldives was stifling bilateral trade.

Travel Daily India reported that additional measures to strengthen bilateral ties in the aviation sector were discussed during the meeting.

Increasing air links between Indian cities and the Maldives was a topic reportedly discussed. It was reported that Island Aviation, Spice Jet, and Mega Maldives are all planning to connect Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai with Male’.

Changes to the countries’ aviation agreement was also mentioned in Travel Daily, with the current rules only allowing flights with carrying capacities of less than 150 passengers.

“India will relook the agreement which will help in boosting tourism between the two countries,” Singh is reported to have said.

During his official visit to India in May, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan spoke of his desire to bring more Indian visitors – who currently represent only 2.9 percent of the market share – to the Maldives.

“Not enough Indian tourists are coming to the Maldives and that is a matter of concern for us. I am sure it is also a matter of concern for India, particularly when you realise that there are so many Chinese tourists who are coming to the Maldives now,” Dr Waheed told India’s Business Line.

Whilst Dr Shamheed is in India, a number of his fellow cabinet ministers have accompanied President Waheed on his official state visit to China.

Yesterday, the President’s Office website reported that Waheed had met with members of the business community in Shanghai.

Waheed is reported as having said that investors were always welcome in the Maldives.

“Maldives is open for business,” Waheed told those in attendance at the opening of the China-Eurasia Expo & the 2nd China-Eurasia Economy Development and Cooperation Forum.

The highlight of Waheed’s first trip to China as President has been the finalising of a $500million (MVR7.7billion) package of aid, concessional loans, and loans for housing construction.


Sri Lankan Business Council president calls for support mechanisms to enhance Maldives trade

“Lack of support or mechanisms to solve legal issues faced by Sri Lankan companies dealing with Maldivian counterparts [is causing] serious frustration in trading,” writes the President of the Sri Lanka – Maldives Bilateral Business Council, Hussain S. Hashim.

“It is necessary to establish a commercial mediation centre as an alternate means of trade dispute resolution,” he said, reports Sri Lanka’s Daily News.

Hashim was reported as saying that there had been a marked increase in Sri Lankan exports to the Maldives between 2010 and 2011, resulting in a positive trade balance for Sri Lanka.

He also noted that Maldivian visitors to Sri Lanka has increased from 35,791 in 2010 to 44,018 in 2011 .

“We anticipate a positive solution for the shortage of US dollars in the Maldivian market which has caused an impact on trade,” Hashim said.


Comment: US needs to strengthen ties with South Asia

Last week, the United States and India concluded the fourth strategic dialogue on Asia-Pacific regional affairs, illustrating the importance that Washington places on its relationship with New Delhi. India’s surging economy has deepened interest among US policymakers eager to advance bilateral ties with a large country in the region that shares a democratic identity. Factors contributing to this shift include China’s ascent as an economic and strategic power and the possibility that the US military may favor an offshore strategy in the future.

However, India should not be the sole hope on which US security strategy rests in South Asia. US relations with this new strategic partner are guaranteed to experience bumps, as evidenced by the recent rejection of US firms in the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition. Moreover, India has long maintained a strong non-aligned foreign policy tradition, enforced by policymakers who face continual domestic political pressures not to appear too pro-American. This is not to say that the US-India strategic partnership appears ready to fail. Still, one possible scenario could find relations with India not progressing as quickly as desired, while relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in tatters, leaving minimal US relations with other South Asian states. Even if this scenario does not occur, the United States cannot afford to ignore the need to forge deeper strategic relationships with the smaller countries in the region.

Relations with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal hold many unexplored possibilities and reasons for expansion.

First, as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake pointed out in Congressional testimony earlier this year, all these countries are governed by democratically elected leaders. As with the “shared values” discourse supporting greater relations with democratic India, the United States has a similar foundation for fostering ties with these nations.

Second, three of these countries are maritime states. Given the importance of securing Indian Ocean sea lanes, through which 50 percent of the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of the world’s crude and oil products transit, it is in US interests to promote maritime security cooperation among South Asian countries and deepen defense ties with these navies as a form of burden-sharing in the Indian Ocean.

Further, smaller countries provide better test cases for realizing new strategic visions and more permissive environments in which to experiment than do the larger states of India and Pakistan, where constraints are omnipresent and the stakes are much higher. In the Harvard International Review, Doug Lieb has discussed the importance of analyzing international relations in “marginal states” that are often overlooked in a structural realist worldview that privileges the study of large countries. The smaller countries of South Asia could be easy wins for the United States, especially in the face of increasing Chinese dealings there.

US ties are probably the strongest with Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority and democratic nation. Given the country’s vulnerability to nontraditional security threats such as cyclones and earthquakes, the Bangladeshi military would appreciate increased help with weather forecasting technologies and cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief issues. Before the next environmentally related cataclysm occurs, the United States should further develop security relations with Bangladesh.

The Maldives, like Bangladesh, is a relatively pro-American Muslim democracy. It faces the challenge of countering Somali pirates and Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Pakistan seeking harbor on any one of its 26 atolls. The Maldives National Defense Forces would likely not be equipped to handle a potential Mumbai-style attack on its tourism industry and could benefit from US counter-terrorism assistance.

US relations with Sri Lanka have been strained due to charges of human rights violations during its defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. Yet as Sri Lanka’s economic and diplomatic ties with China grow, the United States must try not to alienate Sri Lanka given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. In fact, the US Navy could benefit from exchanges with the Sri Lankan military. For example, learning the swarm attack tactics that were employed during the country’s civil war could help the United States prepare for the threat it may face from Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. In addition, the Sri Lankan navy could benefit from US assistance in transitioning its patrols from the north to the south, where roughly 300 ships pass the tip of the island daily.

Regarding Nepal as it draws down its forces and integrates Maoist rebels into the military as part of its peace process, US security cooperation and expertise could be critical in this operation.

Finally, judicial capacity-building would be another low-cost way to advance US ties with all these countries.

By comparison, China has been strengthening its ties to South Asian countries, especially in the form of infrastructure development. Chinese port construction in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Hambantota, Sri Lanka; Gwadar, Pakistan; and Kyaukpyu, Burma have all been cited as prominent examples of a supposed “string of pearls” that China may be seeking to build in an area outside its traditional sphere of influence. Regardless of actual Chinese intentions in South Asia, Indian analysts have voiced concern about being “encircled” by China’s economic, military, and diplomatic inroads with these countries, including Nepal.

In recognition of the growing challenges South Asia presents to the United States, experts are beginning to discuss ways of reorganizing the US government’s bureaucracy to address the region’s new realities. Bruce Riedel and Stephen Cohen have proposed the creation of a “South Asia Command” (SACOM) to overcome the seam issues posed by Pacific Command (PACOM) and Central Command (CENTCOM) separating India and Pakistan in US defense policy. Others have suggested an Indian Ocean Region Command (IORCOM). With such talk and broader discussions about a realignment of US force posture in Asia, now is the time to also examine relations with the smaller countries in South Asia and the prospects for building partner capacities in the region.

As the United States winds down its commitment in Afghanistan, while confronting unbounded uncertainty in its relationship with Pakistan, it can look to the promise of partnership with India only to a certain extent. If disappointments such as the MMRCA rejection happen too often, or if India tests nuclear weapons again and Washington re-imposes sanctions, the United States would be left without strong security partners in the region. For too long, the United States has ignored the potential benefits of fostering relations with the smaller countries in South Asia. Prospects for advancing US security ties with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal deserve serious examination.

Nilanthi Samaranayake is an analyst in the Strategic Studies division at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Virginia.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Vice President meets Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa during UN General Assembly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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