US shines spotlight on missing Maldives journalist

The US state department has highlighted the unresolved disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in a campaign ahead of international press freedom day on May 3.

Acting spokesperson Marie Harf called on the Maldives to “credibly investigate the disappearance” during a press briefing in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in a Malé suburb in the early morning of August 8. The 28-year-old reporter wrote on politics, criminal gangs and Islamic extremism.

Rilwan had received clear threats to his life in the weeks prior to his disappearance, and an investigative report by a local human rights group has implicated radicalised gangs in the abduction.

Harf called on the government “to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work without fear of violence or harassment, including ending impunity for attacks and intimidation against journalists.”

Police investigations has been slow despite nine months passing since the disappearance was reported.

In a statement last week, the police said they are continuing with the investigation, and have received some forensic analysis reports of samples from three different cars that may have been used in the abduction.

“The investigative team is now reviewing how we may continue with the investigation based on the results of some of the forensic analysis reports,” the April 23 statement said.

In October last year, the police arrested five individuals over the disappearance, but all have been released. Local media reported that several suspects left the Maldives in January, ostensibly for the war effort in Syria.

Home minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged the involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

His family has accused the police of negligence, saying officers failed to stop and search the car used in the abduction, despite eye witnesses having filed a report with the police immediately after observing the abduction.

Police officers had reportedly confiscated a knife from the scene.

Maldives journalists have repeatedly raised concerns over death threats to the press by Malé’s criminal gangs, but the police have failed to take substantive action against threats.

In March, local media cited a blog and reported that Rilwan had died fighting against the Islamic State in Kurdistan. However, the police said the blog was fake.


Commonwealth, Canada express concern over denial of legal representation for former President Nasheed

The Commonwealth and Canada have expressed concern over the denial of legal representation to former President Mohamed Nasheed at his trial on terrorism charges yesterday.

The Commonwealth spokesperson noted in a statement yesterday that the intergovernmental organisation was closely monitoring developments in the wake of the opposition leader’s arrest on Sunday (February 22).

“The Secretary-General is concerned to note reports that former President Nasheed was denied the right to legal representation at the court hearing that took place on 23 February. The Commonwealth has also noted the arrest of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on 10 February,” reads the statement.

“The Secretary-General raised his concerns today with the Foreign Minister of Maldives, Hon Dunya Maumoon, and has stressed the importance of ensuring that the rule of law is respected, with adherence to due process, and in accordance with the Commonwealth Charter.”

The statement added that Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma also “reiterated his offer to provide Commonwealth expert assistance in relation to upholding the separation of powers in Maldives, consistent with the Commonwealth’s Latimer House principles on the separation of powers between the three branches of government.”

Nasheed appeared in court for the first hearing of the trial yesterday with his arm in a makeshift sling after police officers manhandled the former president outside the court building when he attempted to speak with journalists.

Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson meanwhile put out a statement yesterday expressing “grave concern” at Nasheed’s arrest.

“Developments in Maldives and the brutal and unjustified treatment of the former president call into question Maldives’ commitment to due process and democratic principles,” reads the statement.

“Mr. Nasheed’s unlawful detainment and the denial of his constitutional rights, including to legal counsel and appeal, under the politically charged allegation of ‘terrorism’ are abhorrent.

“We expect that Mr. Nasheed will receive medical care without delay. Canada calls on the Government of Maldives to reaffirm its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and it urges that differences be resolved within the constitutional framework of Maldives. As tensions rise in the country, Canada urges calm and restraint on all sides.”

Official spokesperson at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, also expressed concern yesterday over the recent developments, “including the arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed,” and appealed for peaceful resolution of the political crisis.

Meanwhile, the US State Department revealed yesterday that Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Biswal had spoken to Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon to express concern over Nasheed’s arrest and subsequent developments.

“She urged the government to take steps to restore confidence in their commitment to democracy, judicial independence, and rule of law, including respect for the rights of peaceful protest and respect for due process,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a regular news briefing.

Right to legal counsel

The Criminal Court yesterday refused to register any of the former president’s five lawyers to advocate on his behalf at the terrorism trial.

Citing new regulations, the Criminal Court informed the legal team on Monday morning that the lawyers had to register at the court two days in advance despite being unaware of the trial until the former president’s arrest less than 24 hours ago.

“How can we submit forms two days ahead for a trial we did not know would take place two days before? It is clear to any sane person this is absolute nonsense,” Nasheed’s lawyer, Hisaan Hussain, told the press.

The legal team was also unable to appeal the Criminal Court’s arrest warrant – which they contended was “arbitrary” and riddled with irregularities – after the court informed the lawyers that the new appeal form was as yet unavailable.

Concluding the first hearing of the terrorism trial yesterday, Judge Abdulla Didi granted Nasheed three days to appoint a lawyer and prepare his defence on charges of ordering the military to detain Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The judge also ordered police to hold Nasheed in pre-trial detention until the conclusion of the trial.

Related to this story

Former President Nasheed arrives in court with arm in makeshift sling

Nasheed denied right to appoint lawyer and appeal “arbitrary” arrest warrant, contend lawyers

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Police complete first response to terrorism incidents training

The Maldives Police Services has completed a three-day training on first responses to terrorism this morning.

The programme held in partnership with the US State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security trained 71 police officers.

A Sri Lankan counter-terrorism analyst told Indian Media last week that Maldives is a target of regional terrorists.

Rohan Gunaratna who heads the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University said a Sri Lankan national arrested in Chennai on suspicion on terrorist activities had been planning to launch attacks on locations in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

Meanwhile, The Maldives government has said funds are being raised in the country to support terrorism abroad, a recent US State Department country report on terrorism said.

The report also noted growing concern since 2010 “about the activities of a small number of local violent extremists involved with transnational terrorist groups.”

“There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalized and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world,” the report stated.


Funds raised in Maldives to support terrorism abroad: State Department

The Maldivian government believes that funds are being raised in the country to support terrorism abroad, according to the US State Department’s 2013 country report on terrorism.

The report however noted the absence of “reliable information regarding the amounts involved.”

“While no official studies yet have been conducted, the Maldivian Central Bank believes that criminal proceeds mainly come from domestic sources, as a large percentage of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) are related to Maldivians,” the report revealed.

“The Maldives Monetary Authority [MMA] reports that hawala systems (informal money transfer networks) are being used to transfer funds between the islands, although the extent to which these systems are used to launder money is still unclear.”


While the government monitored “banks, the insurance sector, money remittance institutions and finance companies, and requires the collection of data for wire transfers,” the report noted that “financial institutions other than banks and intermediaries in the securities sector” were not subject to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations in 2013.

Consequently, insurance companies and intermediaries, finance companies, money remittance service providers, foreign exchange businesses, and credit card companies “operate outside the AML/CFT framework.”

Moreover, non-profit organisations were not required to file suspicious transaction reports while such organisations were neither monitored nor regulated “to prevent misuse and terrorist financing.”

The report added that the government does however monitor and regulate “alternative remittance services”.

The government meanwhile “did not report any efforts to seize terrorist assets in 2013.”

Capacity building of regulatory bodies – MMA and the Capital Market Development Authority – and law enforcement agencies such as the police, Anti-Corruption Commission, customs and immigration, was needed to counter money laundering and terrorist financing, according to the government.

AML/CFT legislation drafted by the MMA was passed by the People’s Majlis last month and ratified by President Abdulla Yameen on April 13.

The new law introduced rules governing financial transactions and the inflow and outflow of money from the Maldives.

The bill was expedited by parliament’s national security committee at the urging of a high-level delegation from the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), which warned MPs of “negative consequences” of failure to enact the legislation.

The absence of legislation “makes Maldives very vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing,” APG Executive Secretary Dr Gordon Hook told MPs in February. The vulnerabilities were identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a report prepared in 2011.


The report further noted growing concern since 2010 “about the activities of a small number of local violent extremists involved with transnational terrorist groups”.

“There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalized and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world,” the report stated.

A counter-terrorism analyst previously involved in law enforcement told Minivan News today on the condition of anonymity that the most worrying aspect for the Maldives was the vulnerability of youth to radicalisation.

“Youth are vulnerable to organised crime as well, not just violent extremism,” he said, noting the absence of data or statistics as well as studies into radicalisation of youth.

On the efforts to counter violent extremism, the report noted that the government pursued counter-radicalisation initiatives last year.

“In 2013, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs conducted more than a dozen seminars and workshops on preventing violent extremism for religious leaders, educators, and local government officials,” the report stated.

While several people “possibly associated with violent extremism” were arrested during the year, the report noted that existing laws “severely limit” the prosecution of such cases.

As a result, it added, “the number of convictions was limited.”

The Maldives participated in the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) programme while the US also provided training in “fraudulent travel document recognition” to over 100 immigration officers.

“Maldives has few laws that effectively control the movement of people and money in and out of the country. Due to its sprawling island geography and insufficient technological capabilities, the Maldivian Coast Guard currently cannot effectively patrol Maldivian waters,” the report observed.

The report also noted the installation of PISCES (Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System) at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) as well as the Male’ seaport with US assistance in August 2013.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the New Indian Express reported that a Sri Lankan arrested in Chennai on terrorism charges was also targeting locations in the Maldives.


Anti-trafficking measures praised by US, whilst doubts persist within government

The US State Department has commended the Government of Maldives on the recent ratification of the Anti-trafficking Act, whilst a source within the government has questioned the administration’s initial moves in managing anti-trafficking policy.

Principal Deputy in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Nan Kennelly, visited the country to consult with numerous stakeholders within both the government and civil society.

“Without a doubt passing a human trafficking act is a significant accomplishment and we have commended the government for that. It’s notable that it was done so early  in the new administration,” said Kennelly.

A source within the government, however, has today questioned the decision to move the human trafficking issue under the mandate of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“The Ministry of Youth does not play a significant part in dealing with foreigners and workers in this country. Ninety-five percent of the relevant work takes place within the immigration department,” explained the source.

“When trafficking happens, what are the functions of immigration in border control? Just making referrals to the Ministry of Youth? I wonder how that will work.”

The source explained that the transfer of responsibilities had occurred after the act came into force.

Recently confirmed Minister for Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Principal Deputy Kennelly met with the attorney general, the acting prosecutor general, the immigration controller, the commissioner of police, and representatives from the Youth Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Human Rights Commission.

From civil society, consultations were held with Transparency Maldives, and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) – which is being funded by the US for its work in the Maldives.

The IOM has conducted training following the passage of the bill last month which included officials from both the Youth Ministry and the Immigration Department.

“The IOM has tremendous expertise,” explained Kennelly. “With IOM you know you are going to get quality training that’s reflecting the norms of the international community.”


The Office to Monitor and combat Trafficking is responsible for producing the US Government’s yearly trafficking report. The Maldives has appeared on the report’s Tier 2 watchlist for four consecutive years.

“The law that governs the trafficking and persons report which we produce every year requires that it a country is on the tier two watchlist  for four years  in a row they must either go up one grade, or they will be downgraded to tier three,” explained Kennelly.

Relegation to Tier 3 – reserved for those deemed not to have conformed to the department’s minimum standards or to not be making enough effort to do so – carries with it the potential for the withdrawal of non-humanitarian and non-trade related foreign assistance.

“That’s the situation in which is in for the 2014 report – I can’t really speculate on what the ranking will be in 2014 because there are many factors that we take into consideration.”

Asked if the passage of the trafficking bill constituted enough effort to save the Maldives from Tier 3, Kennelly state that she had yet to see an English copy of the act, but that the next report would consider many factors.

She did, however, describe the new legislation as a “very good basis for future action”.

Shortly after the act’s ratification, both the Human Rights Commission and the Department of Immigration expressed concern over its failure to adequately identify smuggling – a topic Kennelly discussed with the media yesterday.

“Human smuggling is a crime against the state because immigration laws are being broken, whereas human trafficking is a crime which takes place against the individual…their human rights to be free from forced labour are violated.”

All government stakeholders consulted during the visit, however, were very clear on the difference, she explained.

“Generally speaking I was impressed with the level of sophistication of understanding of the concept of human trafficking amongst government interlocutors.”


Anti-trafficking act greeted with caution by HRCM

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has welcomed this week’s ratification of the Anti-trafficking act, despite reservations about the legislation itself and the state’s capacity to enforce it.

“It covers many acts of exploitation that will now be considered as offences and it also has penalties in the act for those who commit the crime of human trafficking,” said HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud.

Earlier this week, the government announced the ratification of the bill, which had been passed in the Majlis on December 3.

Assistant Controller Ali Ashraf has also described the new legislation as “an excellent piece of work”

A President’s Office press release stated that the new legislation clearly defined human trafficking as an offence in the Maldives.

The main objectives of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act were subsequently listed as:

• Preventing trafficking of persons through and across the Maldives

• Establishing the crimes of trafficking in persons and prescribing punishments

• Providing for prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking in persons

• Providing protection and assistance to victims of human trafficking

• Promoting and protecting the human rights of trafficked victims

• Engaging in cooperation with local and international NGOs working against human trafficking

Those found guilty of human trafficking can now face up to 10 years for cases involving adults, which can be extended to up to 15 if children are involved. Accomplices to trafficking can also now receive a seven year sentence.

Both Jeehan and Ashraf, however, maintained reservations regarding the efficacy of the act in the absence of specific definitions of offences and in its failure to include human smuggling.

“We wanted to identify specific acts. In our experience, if specifics are not detailed there is a chance that the offences go without prosecution when they get to the courts,”said Jeehan.

Similarly, Ashraf noted that the failure to include the category of smuggling in the act – different to trafficking in that individuals give a measure of consent to be transported illegally – made it very likely that offenders will be able to evade prosecution.

“The definition of trafficking can be twisted so easily,” warned Ashraf.

Jeehan noted that those smuggled were as vulnerable to exploitation by their handlers as those trafficked.

International pressure

In ratifying the bill, President Yameen has fulfilled one of the recommendations given by the US State Department earlier this year to avoid a downgrade to Tier 3 – the lowest rung on the department’s scale.

Relegation to Tier 3 is reserved for states who are neither meeting the minimum requirements to eliminate trafficking, nor are making concerted efforts to do so. The State Department revealed  in June this year that, despite being spared the downgrade to Tier 3 this year, the country would be ineligible for such a reprieve in 2014.

US diplomat Luis CdeBaca – speaking at the launch of the US’s most recent human trafficking report – said that the guarantee of a downgrade had been introduced to prompt action in countries who had been “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount.”

Jeehan argued that such international pressure had played a “key role” in paving the way for the new legislation, expressing her belief that the move will be viewed positively by international observers.

The Maldives’ downgrading from the Tier 2 watchlist – where it has remained for four years – could potentially leave it open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.

A government-ordered report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123million a year.

The Maldives expatriate worker population is estimated by some sources to be as high as one third of the population with the majority coming from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi authorities temporarily halted worker migration to the Maldives earlier this year in order to check on worker eligibility.

Under the previous government, the Immigration Department had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of 2013.

Institution building

Jeehan today noted that much work was still needed to build the capacity of state institutions in order to adequately fight trafficking.

“Very little has been done to build the capacity of state officials to counter human trafficking. One thing definitely needed is to build the capacity of state institutions,” said Jeehan.

The capacity of the country’s border control infrastructure to adequately deal with trafficking has been questioned in recent months, following the decision of the previous government to replace border control system offered by Malaysia’s Nexbis company with the US PISCES system.

During the legal wrangles that dogged the Nexbis deal from its initial agreement, the company’s Vice President suggested that groups backing the country’s lucrative human trafficking industry could be seeking to stymie the introduction of its BCS to undermine national security controls.

Ashraf stated that the capacity to meet the requirements of the new legislation was there, but that a number of amendments would be needed to make it fully workable – including special visas for trafficking victims.

“Implementation of the bill will require a lot of effort and coordination,” he added, revealing that the Department of Immigration, alongside the International Organisation for Migration, would be holding a training session for all immigration officials on December 15 for this purpose.


Maldives given final chance to avoid tier 3 in human trafficking report, face possible sanctions

The Maldives has been placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

As with last year’s report, the country avoided a downgrade to the lowest tier “because [the] government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

However US Ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, noted during the release of the report that the six countries again spared a downgrade would not be eligible next year – including Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand and the Maldives.

This was, he noted, intended to prompt action in countries that were “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount, not really doing all that much, not on the upward trajectory of a Tier 2 or a Tier 1 country.”

Tier 3 countries are defined by the State Department as those which “neither satisfy the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor demonstrate a significant effort to do so”, and are open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.

Human trafficking in the Maldives

The Maldives is a destination country for human trafficking, including sex trafficking and particularly forced labour and debt bondage. Maldivian children were also trafficked within the country, the State Department noted.

“An unknown number of the approximate 150,000 documented and undocumented foreign workers in Maldives – primarily Bangladeshi and Indian men in the construction and service sectors – face conditions of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage,” the report stated.

“Migrant workers pay the equivalent of approximately US$1,000 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees in order to migrate to Maldives, contributing to their risk of debt bondage inside the country.

“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in Maldives.

“Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers.”

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the practice and the government’s submission of a draft anti-trafficking bill to parliament in December 2012, the Maldives still has no specific laws prohibiting human trafficking and “the government of the Maldives made minimal anti-trafficking enforcement efforts during the year.”

While forced labour was prohibited under the 2009 Employment Act, it was not penalised, the report noted.

“The government reported investigating four and prosecuting two sex trafficking cases in 2012, compared to no prosecutions recorded in 2011,” the report stated.

However “the government did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses [and] the absence of government translators prevented foreign trafficking victims from pursuing recourse through the Maldivian legal system.”

Deport first, ask questions later

Instead, the government focused on deporting undocumented immigrants without screening them for indications of human trafficking.

“Some of these immigrants subsequently were identified by a civil society group as trafficking victims,” the report noted. “Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, trafficking victims may have been inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked.”

The State Department report specifically noted that between March and December 2012 the government “arrested, imprisoned, and deported 29 foreign females for prostitution at beauty salons without first identifying whether they were sex trafficking victims.”

“The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. Authorities did not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenders. Police officers reported that suspected trafficking victims were fearful of being arrested or deported by the police,” the report stated.

The focus on deportation was noted, with government officials even observing that the Maldives “had not meaningfully addressed the role Maldivian recruitment agents play in facilitating human trafficking.”

Police were reported to have fined three local recruitment agencies found to have engaged in fraud and forgery, however “no labor recruiter or agency was criminally prosecuted for fraudulent recruitment practices”, despite the creation of a recruitment agency oversight body in April 2011.

Sex trafficking

The report noted that a “small number” of women from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, China, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet countries, as well as some girls from Bangladesh and Maldives, “are subjected to sex trafficking in Male.”

Domestic trafficking involved the transport of children from their home islands to the capital Male for the purposes of forced domestic servitude, with some also facing sexual abuse.

The report noted that while the 2009 Child Sex Abuse Act criminalised the prostitution of children with a penalty of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for violations, Article 14 of the same act “provides that if a person is legally married to a child under Islamic Sharia, none of the offenses specified in the legislation, including child prostitution, would be considered a crime.”

“The government did not report any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year,” the report noted.


The Maldives’ entry in the State Department’s report concluded with a long list of specific recommendations for the Maldives to combat human trafficking, and avoid the now otherwise inevitable downgrade to Tier 3 in June 2014.

These recommendations included:

  • Pass and enact legislation prohibiting and punishing all forms of trafficking in persons;
  • clearly distinguish between human trafficking, human smuggling and the presence of undocumented migrants in legislation, policies, and programs;
  • develop and implement systematic procedures for government officials to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as undocumented migrants and females in prostitution;
  • ensure that trafficking victims are not penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked;
  • increase efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses respecting due process;
  • work to ensure that identified victims of trafficking are provided access to victim services;
  • enforce prohibitions of passport retention by employers;
  • raise public awareness of human trafficking through media campaigns;
  • provide translators to police and other law enforcement authorities to ensure foreign workers are able to participate in investigations and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers;
  • improve inter-ministerial coordination on human trafficking issues;
  • ensure that changes to labor migration policies for the purpose of reducing human trafficking do not restrict legal migration;
  • take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers do not abuse labor recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labor;
  • accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Maldives’ future “a cycle of failed governments”: report

The most likely short-term political future of the Maldives is a cycle of failed governments, according to a report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation, and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department.

“The Maldives finds itself at a critical juncture in its political development. The high hopes for the country after the new Constitution and first ever democratic election in 2008 have been tempered by the events of February 2012, in which President Nasheed resigned from office under claims of duress following weeks of public protests and increasing political tension,” writes Professor Tom Ginsburg from the University of Chicago Law School.

“This has led some observers to consider Maldives as a case of a broken transition to democracy, and there is growing disagreement among Maldivian commentators on what might the best or most desirable route forward.”

Democratic development in the Maldives is hampered by challenging conditions, including “a political culture that emphasises recrimination over reconciliation, a thin inchoate civil society, nascent higher education, limited transparency, a long tradition of patronage, massive wealth inequalities, difficult population demographics, weak politicised institutions, distorted labor market, and a narrow economy vulnerable to external shocks,” states Ginsburg.

“At the same time, the country is also confronted with major economic and social problems, such as the prospect of national insolvency and a young generation wracked by drug abuse, that would challenge much stronger states and more institutionally developed societies. This all renders the current moment one of very high stakes.”

The report documents an incendiary background for future political upheaval, noting that the 40 percent of the Maldives’ population aged under 21 are “not being integrated into traditional social and economic structures.”

Resulting issues included widespread youth delinquency and heroin addiction, affecting as much as eight percent of the population, the report notes.

“There are also other unstudied issues such as the slum-like overcrowding in the capital, increasing religious extremism, and a large illegal immigrant population, many of whom are believed to be trafficked as part of an organised racket in which the state seems either complicit or unable to control. Expectations are high but government capacity to deliver is low and a looming budget financing crisis means that there is very little room to maneuver,” it adds.

Researching such problems from the outside is difficult, Ginsburg writes, due to state obfuscation “by endlessly referring enquiries from one government office to another. Scholarship, policy analysis, and social data on the Maldives are almost nonexistent. It has for many been a very difficult country to learn about.”

“There is also very limited capacity in the Maldives for policy analysis outside a very few select government ministries. Indeed, there does not seem to be a culture of reasoned justification but rather any effort to provide a neutral perspective is assumed to be and is viewed as politically partisan.”

The report analyses the economic crisis facing the country, noting that ballooning public expenditure had reached the point where 10 percent of the population is employed by the government, and commented on the lack of an independent pay commission to prevent parliament and other commissions from effectively raising their own salaries to those akin to developed countries.

Independent commissions were in a position where they faced either accusations of selective enforcement based on politicisation, “or focused on fact-finding and other activities to keep them out of the heated political conflicts of the day.”

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC)’s mission to ensure the new judiciary was was clean, competent, and protected from political influence, “has sadly gone unfulfilled.”

“The courts have essentially been able to capture the JSC so as to ensure that the old judiciary remained in place under the new constitutional order,” writes Ginsburg.

“While the 2008 Constitution does include a provision allowing for five year terms for current judges before appointing them for a life term till the age of 70, presumably to allow some transition from the old regime, it is now not clear this provision will be exercised without some dramatic and unexpected change in circumstances.”

A raft of new civil society organisations which sprang up after 2008 were meanwhile accused of being “aligned with various political agendas”, while “a few organisations have obtained an effective chokehold on international funding and support, inhibiting the overall growth and competence of the sector.”

Three scenarios

Against this backdrop – “a cascade of serious structural weaknesses that undermine continued democratic development” – the report outlines three potential scenarios for the country: a cycle of failed governments; dominance of one hegemonic faction; and an eventual move towards constitutional democracy.

Scenario one: Cycle of failed governments

This scenario would be most likely to result ”if the current government pursues its legal case against former President Nasheed in a shortsighted and headstrong manner, or if Nasheed escalates conflict to try to ‘overthrow the government’,” Ginsburg writes.

In this scenario – the most likely – “personalities rather than policy differences continue to define the party system and alliances of political aspirants shift back and forth among two or three factions competing to secure access to state resources.

“These personalities, when in government, will therefore always have the incentive to stymie critically needed reforms for fear of cutting down the very patronage networks that sustain them and allowing their opponents to promise to restore this largess.

“In this scenario, true national leadership becomes the casualty. No one will be willing to take the tough decisions to put through the needed legislation, undertake essential bureaucratic rationalisation, and get the government on a proper fiscal footing. One government after another will find itself unable to do what is required in order to break through the cycle of repeated failure.”

With the state paralysed, “There will be almost no chance for the unanimous consensus required to make the constitutional changes needed to reintroduce rigorous judicial accountability or even rewind the country back to its transitional period.

“Given the politically weak bargaining power of the general public, and the large and still growing youth demographic in particular, radical ideologies and charismatic anti-establishment figures may become more popular with a frustrated but disempowered population,” Ginsburg predicts.

Scenario two: Dominance of a hegemonic faction

“Some already talk openly about a ‘Singapore option’ in which a single political party takes leadership and empowers a technocratic state apparatus to provide for the public good,” writes Ginsburg.

“The permanent collapse or suppression of one faction to another does not seem likely to occur without a use of force which would put Maldives in clear violation of its treaty obligations and basic international norms. Consequently, efforts to attain hegemonic control would actually likely lead to an even more adversarial version of the cycle of failed governments scenario in a way that is perhaps reminiscent of Maldives’ present situation,” he warns.

“With a still politically disempowered public unable to truly hold government to account, this scenario may similarly also lead citizens to look to more radicalised religious and non-establishment actors who claim to offer more equitable alternatives to the status-quo.”

Cautioning against comparisons with Singapore, the report notes that the Maldives “is coming from a completely different context and, more significantly, does not have a potential leader who could command the respect that Lee Kuan Yew earned in Singapore.

“Pursuing a strategy premised on the promise of enlightened leadership is thus risky and likely to fall back into a cycle of failed governments. It is also what the Maldives had sought to move away from in the first place by not supporting a continuation of its prior tradition of autocratic governance.”

Scenario three: Constitutional democracy

The most internationally-desirable forecast for the Maldives “is also the least likely”, writes Ginsburg.

“This would involve potential alternation in power among political groups, a focus on policies as the basis for political decision-making, along with a deep infrastructure to support the development and implementation of policies, significant constraints on extra-constitutional governmental action, and a sense of political maturity that has heretofore been lacking,” he states.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to achieve this scenario, particularly constitutional education to encourage the kind of public pressure “that ensures that politicians and government agents comply with the orders of courts, independent agencies and the intent of the Constitution.

“Ignorance of the public on their own Constitution is by far the most obvious gap within the Maldives’ democratic transition,” the report suggests.

In terms of judicial reform, “There must be mechanisms to ensure that the judges obey the law and apply it consistently. there are reasons for concern about the current situation, in which the legal framework is underdeveloped and the Supreme Court has foreclosed many of the extant channels of ensuring accountability.”

Ginsburg proposes a more active and independent, self-regulating bar association, with lawyers freed from the requirement to be registered through the attorney general’s office. He notes that the International Bar Association “has repeatedly offered its assistance”, but suggests that the prospect is unlikely “given the politicisation of the various groups who would have come together for such a purpose.”

Programs such as citizen-initiated ‘court-watch’ initiatives, common in other countries, were hampered by the lack of open courtrooms. Moreover, “rules squelching discussion of court decisions form a major barrier to this or any other channel of accountability.”

The report proposes the use of laymen in adjudication, with four to five citizens “sitting with two to three judges in serious criminal cases such as murder.” However, “the challenges of implementing such a system in the Maldives with its dense network of family ties should not be underestimated.”

The report cautions that donors supporting the development of judicial capacity in the Maldives “must tie this to developing enhanced mechanisms of accountability.”

Read the report


Senior US diplomat Robert Blake to meet top government, opposition figures in Male’

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake will be meeting senior government and opposition figures during a visit to the Maldives on Wednesday (September 12).

Blake’s visit, part of a wider tour of South Asia that includes visits to Nepal and Sri Lanka, will include meetings with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan and former President Mohamed Naseed, according to a state department release.

A “round-table” will also be held with a number of civil society leaders, while Blake will conclude his visit with a press conference at the American Corner in the capital’s National Library building.

“[Assistant Secretary Blake] will express US support for all Maldivian parties charting a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the will of the Maldivian people,” added the state department in its release.