Police used excessive force against demonstrators, says HRCM in UPR report

Police used disproportionate force against demonstrators during street protests in the aftermath of the transfer of power in February 2012, states the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ (HRCM) Universal Period Review (UPR) report.

HRCM observed during dispersal of demonstrations [Maldives Police Service] used disproportionate force which was at times discriminatory towards political parties, excessive and disproportionate use of pepper spray at protestors, inconsistency in issuing warnings before dispersal and obstruction of media,” reads the report.

“It was evident that some demonstrators were subjected to torture at the time of arrest.”

In June 2012, the Maldives Police Service (MPS) denied allegations of police brutality by Amnesty International, which had condemned the “excessive use of force” against demonstrators.

Amnesty’s statement followed its investigation of a police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest against the dismantling of the opposition party’s Usfasgandu protest camp on May 29 – a crackdown which included “beatings, pepper-spraying, and arrests”.

“Those attacked include peaceful demonstrators, members of parliament, journalists and bystanders,” said Amnesty.

The HRCM meanwhile recommended “action against officers who violate the laws, eliminating room for impunity.”

Last month, Attorney General Mohamed Anil told parliament that five police brutality cases from February 2012 were ongoing at court.

While it had concluded that the transfer of presidential power was constitutional, the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry had found that “there were acts of police brutality on 6, 7 and 8 February 2012 that must be investigated and pursued further by the relevant authorities.”

Anil explained that the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) had investigated 45 cases of alleged police brutality and made a recommendation to the home ministry to dismiss six police officers.

After the ministry instructed police to take disciplinary action against the officers, the police disciplinary board sacked one officer.

However, the disciplinary board decided there was insufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing by the other five officers and decided not to dismiss them pending the outcome of a trial.

On February 8, 2012, thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé in a protest march after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared his resignation the previous day had come “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO).

Following an investigation, the HRCM concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning.”

Torture and prisons

The HRCM revealed in the UPR report that a total of 304 torture allegations were filed at the commission, “of which 74 allegations have been investigated from 2010 to July 2014.”

“However, none of these cases were sent to prosecution due to lack of enough evidence to prove them in a court of law,” the report stated.

On pressing issues concerning the prison system, the report highlighted “the lack of categorisation, unavailability of rehabilitation and reintegration programs, unnecessary strip‐search and disproportionate disciplinary measures towards male prisoners and minors.”

“In custodials, issue of overcrowding, handcuffing for indefinite periods, extended detention for investigation purposes and failure to collate data in a systematic way are areas suggested for improvement over the years,” the report noted.

“In the only psychiatric institution of state, despite continuous recommendations for change, geriatric patients and patients enduring mental illnesses and [persons with disabilities] are accommodated without proper categorisation. Institution for children under state care is heavily under‐staffed. Inappropriate disciplinary measures against children under de facto detention persist in most institutions sheltering juveniles.”

Gang violence and juvenile justice

The HRCM also noted that gang violence and murders “increased at an alarming rate” in recent years.

“A study shows that many of these gang related violence are linked to politicians or business persons who pay gangs to carry out violent acts. Yet, state has been unsuccessful in effectively addressing this issue. So far 21 murder cases were recorded since 2010, most of which were gang related,” the report explained.

The reasons why youth join gangs include the “search of identity and protection” and unemployment, the report noted.

“With criminal records or inability to exit gang life makes it difficult for youth to find employment, rehabilitation opportunities and remain stigmatised by society,” the report stated.

“Although, human resource, rehabilitation and support programs remain limited for proper functioning of a juvenile justice system; the lack of political will along with resource constraints impacts addressing these issues.”

Referring to new regulations on enforcing death penalty, which allow minors convicted of murder to be executed once they turn 18, the HRCM called on the state to “abolish death penalty for minors.”

“The age of criminal responsibility is 15 years and minors can be held for hadd offence,” the report explained.

“Bills such as Criminal Procedure Code, Evidence Bill and Witness Protection needs to be enacted and state is yet to establish an independent forensic institution to provide accurate information to make an impartial decision on matters concerning administration of death penalty.”

Health sector unprepared for potential HIV outbreak, warns HRCM

The health sector is unprepared for a potential outbreak of HIV in the Maldives in the absence of prevention programmes and specialised care for population groups at risk, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has warned.

“[The Health Protection Agency] mandated with HIV/AIDS prevention/control is not adequately funded and lacks capacity to lay down such a system,” reads the HRCM’s submission for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

“There are no prevention services for high risk groups, increasing the risk of spreading HIV. High risk factors including sharing of needles to inject drugs, high sexual activity among adolescents and youth could contribute to an increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS. It is alarming that there is no screening system for HIV/AIDS and STI in the prison system; considering some of the identified HIV patients go in and out of prison as repeated offenders.”

In May, the health ministry issued new guidelines on preventing the transfer of HIV from mother to child while the Health Protection Agency warned of an HIV “time bomb.”

A series of protests over regional healthcare services occurred earlier this year after it was revealed that the state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) had transfused HIV positive blood to a patient in February due to an alleged technical error.

The HRCM report also noted that health services were “not easily accessible and available in atolls and lack healthcare professionals such as gynaecologists and paediatricians.”

“Public has no trust in the healthcare system due to many avoidable health incidents and sensitive medical information of patients being leaked,” the report stated.


HRCM raises concern over growing religious conservatism in Universal Period Review

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has submitted its Universal Period Review (UPR) report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), raising concerns over a growing tide of religious conservatism.

“There are roughly 400 children being withheld from attending school by their parents due to religious beliefs,” revealed the report made public yesterday, referring to an estimate from the education ministry in a 2011 assessment by the HRCM on child participation.

In a section titled ‘religious extremist ideologies,’ the HRCM referred to “reports of unregistered marriages encouraged by some religious scholars claiming that registering marriages with the courts are un‐Islamic and unnecessary.”

“State institutions acknowledge this information and raised concerns that children born to such marriages could face serious legal issues. Similarly women in such marriages are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the report stated.

“Conservative beliefs that promote women as inferior to men are being spread at an alarming level. Many women believe that their role in society is to be submissive wives and in raising children.”

In addition to outlining 18 thematic areas, the report provides updates on implementation of recommendations of the first UPR review in 2010, the HRCM noted.

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 human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.


Increase in religious conservatism, cultural norms and stereotypical roles depicted by society inhibit women’s equitable participation in public life,” reads the section on women’s rights.

“Women remain under represented in all branches of the state and efforts to secure legislative quotas remain unsuccessful.”

The enforcement of the anti-Domestic Violence (DV) Act was meanwhile hampered by absence of procedures, inconsistencies in application by institutions, and “lack of sensitivity among law enforcement and judiciary”.

The police also failed to meet a legislative deadline on submitting a report to the family protection agency (FPA), the report noted.

“Limited capacity of investigators and their belief that such cases are family matters inhibit victims from getting redress,” it continued.

“FPA with a mandate to combat DV is not provided with necessary financial and human resources. Reporting of DV cases remain low as a result of lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation by perpetrators, stigmatisation and inadequate information on protection measures. There is no proper reintegration mechanism.”

Despite reports to the contrary from the state for the mid-term assessment of implementation of UPR recommendations, the HRCM said there were “no strict punishments to perpetrators of DV”.

The report observed that children born out of wedlock faced discrimination.

Paternity testing is not admissible evidence in court and such a child would be denied father’s name, inheritance and child maintenance,” it stated.

While most reported cases of child abuse did not result in convictions, victims often “remain re‐victimized due to systemic failures” including “delays in obtaining evidence and overly strict evidentiary requirements.”

“The legal age of consent, along with societal attitudes to treat child abuse as private matter or to force child abuse victim to deny testimony in court to protect family honour as perpetrator is usually a family member providing financial support are factors that cannot be disregarded,” it explained.

“Moreover, state has fallen short to publish child sexual offender‘s registry. Additionally, overall functioning of victim support system is effected due to a weak child protection system that is under resourced, with inconsistencies in capacity and coordination.”

The report also noted that child marriages were registered in some cases as “the Family Act allows marriage of minors under specific conditions.”

Children were also “involved in commercial sex work,” the report noted.

“Many children migrate to Malé from atolls for education, remain vulnerable to domestic servitude and sexual harassment by host families,” the report stated.

Civil and political rights

The report noted the absence of laws to guarantee freedom of expression despite its assurance in the Constitution.

“Parliament Privileges Act can be used to force journalist to reveal their source, which could undermine the constitutional protection that journalists currently enjoy,” the report observed.

“There have been many reports of death threats to media persons and parliament members. State is yet to take realistic action to address these threats. The recent disappearance of Ahmed Rizwan Abdullah, a journalist and human rights advocate is of critical concern.”

The HRCM also raised concerns regarding the Freedom of Assembly Act, including “provisions of geographical limitations, lack of guidance on control of counter assemblies and requirement to accredit reporters.”

Human rights NGOs have faced intimidation from the state, it continued, while worker’s association perform the role of trade unions.

“Union members face numerous difficulties in exercising collective bargaining, tripartite consultations and work stoppage, as proper legal mechanism is not in place for dispute resolution,” the report stated.


Three Bangladeshis charged in first criminal prosecution for human trafficking

Three Bangladeshi men are on trial at the Criminal Court in the first criminal prosecution for human trafficking in the Maldives since the enactment of Anti-Human Trafficking Act in December.

The three Bangladeshi nationals identified by the court as Baadshah, Abdul Malak and M D Saim Mohla are accused of trafficking a Bangladeshi woman who arrived in the Maldives in December to work as a house maid.

The three defendants could face 10 years in jail if they are convicted.

M D Saim Mohla is also facing charges of possession of pornographic material, which were found on his phone when he was arrested.

In June, the Maldives was removed from the US State Department’s tier two watch list for human trafficking following the passage of the legislation last year.

In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council and made public yesterday, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) recommended “concerted efforts” to enforce the law.

There are countless reports of exploitation of migrant workers through fraudulent recruitment practices by their agents, withholding of wages and confiscation of passports,” the report stated.

“Shelters to accommodate trafficking victims and support services are not operational. Lack of resources and capacity appear to be a challenge faced by authorities in establishment of institutional mechanisms and to implement the Anti‐Human Trafficking Act. Thus efforts to facilitate redress to victims remain disproportionate to a deteriorating situation.”

In a section on migrant workers, the HRCM noted that expatriate workers were often subjected to “inhumane conditions like being accommodated in overcrowded places which lack proper ventilation, adequate sanitary facilities and limited accessibility to water.”

“Maltreatment and negative attitudes towards migrant workers are a concern. Accessing services from [Labour Relations Authority] is a challenge for migrant workers based at atolls due to transportation difficulties as many remain reluctant to seek assistance for fear of deportation due to undocumented status.”

The HRCM also recommended ratification of the International Convention on Migrant Workers.


Supreme Court controls the judiciary, says HRCM report to United Nations

The Maldivian judiciary is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court to the detriment of superior and lower courts, states the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ (HRCM) report to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review (UPR).

“Judicial system is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court, weakening judicial powers vested in other superior courts and lower courts,” the HRCM contended.

“Supreme Court issued a circular ordering all state institutions not to communicate to individual courts regarding any information relating to the judiciary except through the Supreme Court. HRCM is facing difficulties in gathering information related to judiciary due to lack of cooperation.”

The UPR 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.

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Maldives Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

The new regulations require Supreme Court approval for judges seeking transfer to a different court and the court’s permission for judges and judicial employees to attend overseas workshops, seminars, conferences, or training programmes.

In May, the Supreme Court enacted new rules stipulating that the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) – tasked with management of the courts and public relations as well as providing facilities, training, archiving systems and security for judges – will function in accordance with policies set by the apex court bench and under the direct supervision of a designated justice.

Former Judicial Service Commission (JSC) member Aishath Velezinee told Minivan News at the time “the appointment of a Supreme Court judge to [oversee] the DJA is tantamount to control of the courts.”

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, wrote that centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court “has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”

She also referred to “several complaints about internal tensions in the judiciary, where lower courts are left with the feeling that the Supreme Court only works for its own interests, without taking into account the situation of other judges and magistrates.”

Access to justice

In the ‘access to justice’ section of its report, the HRCM noted that the enforcement of a new penal code would be “a positive development towards a better legislative framework.”

“However, due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility,” the report observed.

“State responded to UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers as trying to undermine the country’s court system. [International Commission of Jurists] has issued a number of recommendations to build competency of judiciary with no progressive action by the state,” it continued.

“According to [Transparency Maldives], majority of public lack confidence in the court system. Majority of cases, both criminal and civil, often get delayed for more than a year, and is prosecuted in the capital which forces plaintiffs and defendants from atolls to travel to and stay in capital, which is costly.”

The HRCM recommended implementation of recommendations by both the Special Rapporteur and the ICJ as well as codification and harmonisation of Shariah law and common law in accordance with the Constitution.

“Enact important laws leaving no room for inconsistencies in judicial decision making,” read the recommendations.