Maldives’ human rights worsening, Amnesty tells UN

The human rights situation has deteriorated in the Maldives over the past four years, says Amnesty International in its report to the UN Human Rights Council.

In its submission for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) titled ‘Republic of Maldives – Ignoring Human Rights Obligations’, the NGO accuses the government of having failed to implement recommendations made in 2011.

“Furthermore, it has effectively been undermining human rights protection by failing to strengthen the independent institutions of the state including the judiciary, which needs urgent reform.”

The report – made public for the first time last week – notes the “emergence of vigilante religious groups”, “fundamental flaws” within the judicial system, and the “feared abduction” of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

It also accuses the government of not defending the independence of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which is currently being prosecuted by the Supreme Court as a result of its own submission to the UPR.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs, and national human rights commissions.

mid-term assessment of the Maldives’ conformity with the 2011 recommendations found that it had “fully implemented” only three of the 145 recommendations – with 12 recommendations “partially implemented”, and 33 “not implemented”, 96 recommendations receiving “no response”.

Abductions and impunity

The report also observes the lack of prosecutions for the perpetrators of a series of abductions reported last year, as well as a failure to bring the investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance to a conclusion.

“Impunity for human rights violations, especially for torture and other ill-treatment and for unnecessary or excessive use of force by police against demonstrators has been a persistent failure of the government,” reads the report.

Amnesty highlights the non-disclosure of information regarding alleged excessive force during the raid on the Anbaraa music festival in April last year, as well as the lack of prosecutions for acts of police brutality carried out on February 8, 2012.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil told the Majlis last August that the cases of five officers were ongoing. The Commonwealth-led Commission of National Inquiry described an “urgent need” for accountability and sanctions more than two years ago.

The report accuses the government of failing to protect the rights of freedom of expression and conscience with regards to the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, the brutal attacks on blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed and journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

“These attacks took a new form in June 2014 when a vigilante religious group kidnapped several young men, held them for hours, ill-treated them and warned them not to promote ‘atheism’.”

“None of the kidnappers have been brought to justice, even though the identities of some of them are allegedly known to the victims.”

Victims of the attacks have identified four individuals familiar with police in two abduction incidents last June, and another in November. The victims were accosted in order to obtain log-in details for online groups in which religion and gang activity were being openly discussed.

The report went on to recommend a moratorium on flogging – which Amnesty regards as “inhumane” and discriminatory in practice, and the death penalty, which the current government has pledged to reintroduce.

“Amnesty International is disappointed that the Maldives did not accept recommendations to remove restrictions in law and practice on freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” it continued.


The report reserves significant space to highlight deficiencies within the judicial system, arguing that a lack of judicial independence and impartiality continued to “undermine fair trials”.

“Since the last UPR, the government has taken no visible action to ensure that standards of judicial independence and impartiality are upheld and monitored,” said Amnesty.

Most importantly, states the report, there has been no action to strengthen the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

“There is a perception in the Maldives, frequently voiced by judicial and government authorities to Amnesty International, that the principle of judicial independence would not be upheld if the government were to scrutinize the conduct of the judiciary.”

After repeated investigations into the alleged appearance of Justice Ali Hameed in a series of sex tapes in 2013 failed to find adequate evidence for disciplinary proceedings, Hameed was himself appointed president of the commission earlier this month.

“While Amnesty International would oppose interference by the executive in the affairs of the judiciary, it considers that statutory state organs entrusted with maintaining judicial accountability, such as the JSC, should monitor and take action against any breaches of impartiality,” read the UPR submission.

The JSC came in for particular criticism for its role in the dismissal of two Supreme Court judges last month. In a decision slammed for its lack of transparency, the commission found Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasin Adnan unfit to sit on the bench.

After Majlis members voted through the JSC’s recommendations, local and international groups expressed concern over the decision’s impact on judicial independence.

After the HRCM’s UPR report – criticising the centralisation of judicial power in the Supreme Court – ‘suo moto’ proceedings were initiated against it last September, prompting Amnesty to call for the commission’s independence to be guaranteed.

Related to this story

Maldives “fully implements” three of UN’s 145 human rights recommendations: UPR mid-term assessment

Women’s rights and treatment of migrant workers needs improvement: UN review

Supreme Court initiates suo moto proceedings against Human Rights Commission


Supreme Court initiates suo moto proceedings against Human Rights Commission

The Supreme Court has initiated suo moto proceedings again the Human Rights Commission of Maldives in relation to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last week.

All five commission members were called to the court this afternoon before being handed a summons for a hearing on Wednesday (September 24).

HRCM members have told Minivan News today that they face numerous charges, though lawyers have advised them not to give further details at this point.

The commission’s report – submitted as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review – criticised the court’s growing powers, suggesting that control of the judiciary by the Supreme Court was damaging the lower courts.

“[D]ue to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility,” read the report.

The Supreme Court’s use of suo moto proceedings – which allow the court to initiate hearings and act as both plaintiff and judge – mirrors proceedings use against the Elections Commission (EC) earlier this year.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz were charged with contempt of court and disobedience to order as a result of testimony given in the People’s Majlis independent commissions oversight committee.

The unprecedented suo moto procedures were used to remove both Thowfeek and Fayaz from their posts just weeks before the Majlis elections in March, with both given 6 month suspended sentences.

Subsequent changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

United Nations

The 2006 Human Right Commission Act lists the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with international conventions along with the assistance and support of relevant NGOs as basic objectives of the commission.

Additionally, Article 27 of the HRCM Act grant members immunity from prosecution in relation to acts carried out as part of the commission’s duties.

Article 27 (b) meanwhile says that a case can only be filed against the commission regarding published reports following an inquiry which proves components of the report to have been false.

UN bodies have been amongst those most critical of the Maldivian justice system in recent months, with a report into the judiciary by a UN Special Rapporteur last year making particular note of the centralised administration and the failure to address human rights violations.

The report was subsequently described by the Maldives representative to the UNHRC as undermining the sovereignty of the country.

Criticism of the Supreme Court’s role in the electoral process by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last October was subsequently described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

Waheed is amongst the delegates representing the Maldives at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, along with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon.

Earlier this week, on the occasion of the Maldives’ 49th year of UN membership, Dunya praised the organisation as “the only forum where every nation in the world, big or small, has an equal say”.

The UNHCR’s periodic review studies the human rights records of all 193 UN member states, aiming to prompt, support, and expand the protection of human rights. After having been reviewed first in 2010, the Maldives will again undergo inspection in 2015.

Speaking to Minivan News last week after receiving her summons for today’s hearing, HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood defended the UPR report.

“It’s the one chance we get to bring the world’s attention to issues that the state chooses to ignore on domestic forums”.


HRCM responds to criticism from the education ministry over UN submission

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has responded to criticism from the Ministry of Education regarding the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.

In a press statement released yesterday (September 21), HRCM denied the accusations made by the Education Ministry that the section on education had been based on an outdated 2008 UNESCO report, saying it had used a joint unpublished report by UNICEF and the Ministry of Gender and Family from 2009.

The Supreme Court has today initiated suo moto proceedings against HRCM members in relation to the document, while the President’s Office has this week suggested that some phrasing regarding the death penalty is misleading.

The HRCM said that the education ministry had been given the opportunity to comment on the draft of the UPR report but failed to make any recommendations.

“A draft of the report was sent to the high ranking officials of the education ministry on August 31 to comment on it. However, we did not receive any inquiries from the ministry on the validity of the data in the report nor did we receive any criticism of the report,” said HRCM.

The ministry has claimed, however, that the commission had chosen not to include information it sent in the report.

The UPR report states that, even though “corporal punishment is prohibited in schools, 8 percent of the students attending secondary schools have experienced violence perpetrated by teachers”.

The Ministry of Education argued that the statement was outdated and that no study had been done during the last six years to identify the changes in the education system.

In yesterday’s statement, the HRCM countered the argument by saying that the UPR is intended to evaluate the situation over the last four years and said that there are numerous studies which would validate the statement including the conclusions sent by international conventions.

The dispute over the report’s content comes at a time of an ongoing investigation by the education ministry and the Maldives Police Service into an alleged bullying case by a teacher at Imaaduhdheen School.

In the report, the HRCM also urged the government to pass the Education Act and to make concrete efforts to eradicate the disparities in the availability of educational services.


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.


HRCM health survey concluded

In preparation for the Universal Periodic Review, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has concluded a survey which explores the status of health services in Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaal Atolls, reports Miadhu.

The information was collected in Dhidhdhoo, Kelaa and Muraidhoo in Haa Alif Atoll, and Kulhudhuffushi and Hanimaadhoo of Haa Dhaal Atoll.

The HRCM has gathered NGOs, health facility chiefs and members of the public to produce a report to assess the status of the government’s medical insurance programme and the availability of services in health facilities.

The report is being prepared for the Universal Periodic Review of the Maldives which will be held in September 2010 at the UN Human Rights Council.