The government has said it continues to pursue legal reforms over the use of punishments like flogging as the UK Foreign Office opts against listing the Maldives as a country of concern for human rights abuses this year.
With foreign governments and international NGOs continuing to raise concerns about a flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old girl in the Maldives, the President’s Office maintained that the matter had already been appealed by the state as part of efforts for wider legal reforms.
However, the government this week maintained its previous stance that any changes to current legal practices over the treatment of victims of sexual offences could not be enforced in the space of a single day – requiring gradual implementation.
The comments were made after UK High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives John Rankin this month said that the Maldives had not been listed as a country of concern in the latest annual human rights report from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
Responding to a question about the omission of the Maldives from the list, High Commissioner Rankin, speaking in his 16th official video message, said the country did not presently fit the criteria of a country of concern in terms of human rights violations.
“In considering which countries to specifically mention in the report, the FCO applies a number of criteria. [These include] looking at the gravity of the human rights situation in a country, the severity of any particular abuses and the range of human rights that might be affected,” he said. “Under those and other criteria, the Maldives was not listed. That’s not to say we don’t discuss human rights issues in our meeting to the Maldives government.”
Rankin said that the FCO has raised two key issues with President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government in recent months. Among these issues was the case of the 15 year-old girl sentenced to flogging by the Juvenile Court after she admitted to having “consensual sex” with an unidentified man during investigations into her alleged sexual abuse.
Rankin added that the FCO had pushed for “a change in the legal framework” in order to ensure the protection of children’s rights in the country.
Another area of concern raised with the current administration was the effectiveness of investigations into alleged police abuse in the aftermath of the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012, he said.
“We continue to raise issues mentioned in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report, in particular the need for substantive results from the investigations into police brutality as called for in the report,” he explained.
Responding to the high commissioner’s claims, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the minor’s case passed by the Juvenile Court had already been appealed, while talks concerning legal reforms were ongoing.
“We cannot go any faster on the matter than this, we don’t want to see any trouble like in the past,” he said. “We can’t just go and ask a judge not to [give sentences like this] anymore.”
Masood added that he was convinced reforms would be made and that talks were gradually being held by state authorities to this end, but recommended further inquiries be made to Gender Minister Azima Shukoor.
Shukoor was transferred to the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights earlier this year on the back of two million people signing an Avaaz petition threatening a boycott of Maldives tourism unless the charges against the girl were dropped and the country’s legal framework was amended to prevent similar sentencing.
Shukoor was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
Masood meanwhile claimed that any questions concerning the UK FCO’s concerns over allegations of police abuse in the Maldives should be forwarded to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).
“They are the ones doing investigations into this matter. I understand they have identified those who have abused these people,” he added.
The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) announced yesterday (May 6) it was pressing charges against two police officers for allegedly assaulting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Mariya Ahmed Didi on February 8, 2012, during a brutal police crackdown.
On that day, thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that his resignation the previous day was made “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying Special Operations (SO) police officers.
PIC President Abdulla Waheed’s phone was switched off at time of press.
In an official release published on December 9 last year, the PIC said 24 individual cases of alleged brutality had been reported to have taken place on during and in the immediate aftermath of the transfer of power.
The cases, said to be based on video footage, witness accounts and public requests for information, were all said at the time to be under investigation by the commission.
The PIC noted at the time that both a shortage of trained staff and “Inadequate cooperation” from alleged victims to provide evidence and witnesses had setback the investigation.
“Tip of the iceberg”
In an Amnesty International statement released last month, despite praising “considerable progress” made by the Maldives during the last few years in promoting and protecting civil rights,the NGO claimed “significant human rights challenges”needed to be addressed in the country.
The NGO has called on the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed to end an alleged culture of “impunity for the arbitrary and abusive use of force by security forces against demonstrators” following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.
Amnesty’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott, speaking to Minivan News at the conclusion of a nine day visit to the country last month, claimed the controversial flogging sentence handed to the 15 year-old girl was just the “tip of the iceberg” in regards to wider issues over how sexual offence victims were treated in the country.