UK Foreign Office concerned over damage to Maldives’ reputation and economy

Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Hugo Swire has expressed concern that the Maldives international reputation and its economy could be damaged, in spite of the efforts of the country’s elections commission.

Members of the UK Parliament again called for a House of Commons debate on the current situation in the Maldives last week, with Conservative member John Glen taking aim at the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

“Last Saturday, presidential elections were once again postponed in the Maldives when President Waheed and his puppet interim Government of the previous elected President refused to step aside,” asked Salisbury MP Glen.

“Will the Deputy Leader of the House make time for a debate so that MPs on both sides of the House can voice their support for free and fair elections in that country?”

Glen’s request for a full debate on the delayed elections follow a similar request made by fellow-Conservative Robert Buckland the week before, who expressed his “concern that authorities are trying to obstruct the return to power of President Nasheed, who was ousted in a coup last year and who clearly won an election that was described by international observers as free and fair?”

Responding to the last week’s request, Deputy Leader of the House Tom Brake agreed that it was important for candidates to engage in a process that would ensure fair elections and a smooth transition of power.

“It is important that elections take place to a timing specified by the Maldives elections commission and in accordance with the Maldives constitution,” said Brake.

The third attempt to complete the presidential election has been scheduled for November 9, with the date for a potential second round on the 16. The constitutionally designated presidential term is set to expire on the 11th – a motion detailing transitional arrangements for the Majlis speaker to take the interim presidency were passed today (October 27).

Brake referred to the prior statement made by the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague who announced that he was “deeply dismayed” by the cancellation of the October 19 poll.

The Deputy Leader also pointed out that members would have the opportunity to question the Foreign Minister further during question time on Tuesday (October 29).

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Karen Lumley wrote to FCO minister Swire this week to ask him for his assessment on the Maldives

The secretary of state acknowledged that there was doubt as to whether the electoral process would be resumed.

“We are concerned that further delays could result in damage to Maldives international reputation and economy, despite the best efforts of the Maldives Elections Commission to get the process back on track,” said Swire.

“It is important that the Elections Commission, as an independent body, are given the space needed to make preparations for elections,” he continued, adding that he would be keeping a close eye on developments.

An early day motion introduced in the House of Commons earlier this month requested MPs to support calls for a free and “credible” vote, as well as condemning attempts to bar Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Mohamed Nasheed from competing in future elections.

A case filed in the Supreme Court to bar Nasheed’s candidacy has yet to be withdrawn, despite criticism from both sides of the political divide.

The United Kingdom remains one of the Maldives tourism industry’s biggest markets, although recent arrival figures show negative growth of a fall of  -6.4%  in UK arrivals this year when compared with 2012.

The FCO updated its travel advisory for the Maldives after growing unrest following the delaying of polls.

The guidance urged visitors to keep away from demonstrations: “There is no indication at present that any political unrest will affect tourist resorts or airports, but if you have any concerns you should check with your hotel or tour operator,” the statement read.

The United Kingdom remains one of the Maldives tourism industry’s biggest markets, although recent arrival figures show negative growth of a fall of  -6.4%  in UK arrivals this year when compared with 2012.


Senior UK politicians to be quizzed over Scottish Police College’s training of Maldives officers

Senior UK government figures including Foreign Secretary William Hague are to be quizzed by politicians over the role of a Scottish police college in training Maldivian officers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses in the country.

Following an investigation carried out by UK-based newspaper The Guardian, politicians at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament of Holyrood are to press government ministers on the Scottish Police College’s role in training Maldivian officers.

The Guardian has reported that the MPS stands accused of using “torture and sexual assault against detainees and acting against democracy activists and journalists” after the controversial transfer of power that occurred on February 7 this year.

Police authorities in the Maldives have played down the abuse allegations raised by a number of NGOs such as Amnesty International, questioning possible bias in the data gathered in their reports. The MPS has also said that the allegations of abuse did not reflect the international scope of training provided to officers in the country.

The UK-based newspaper’s investigation reported that at least 77 senior Maldives police officers and commanders – including the Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz – had been trained by the Scottish Police College, located in Fife.

Amnesty International, former senior Maldives officials and opposition activists said they had deep concerns about the UK’s links with the MPS after officers were accused of breaching human rights, the Guardian reported.

The Scottish Police College, which is reportedly earning significant sums of money through working with MPS officers, has an ongoing contract to train Maldives police officers on a diploma course for junior ranks and middle and senior rank officers.

Speaking to the Guardian, the MPS said that it took its obligations seriously, and that reforms recommended by British advisers, as well as consultants from Canada and Australia, were being implemented by the MPS.

MPS spokesman Superintendent Abdul Mannan told the Guardian: “On one hand calling for MPS to be more efficient in dealing with officers’ misconduct and violation of human rights, and on the other calling to suspend all the assistance MPS receives to achieve this, contradicts their [critics] known intention and their actions.”

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Police Spokesman Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that there was no link between the training local police officers received in Scotland and the allegations of abuses carried out by some of its officers.

“Our training is in accordance to regulation supplied from other countries all over the world, including the UK, Canada and Australia,” said Haneef.

The UK Foreign Office has meanwhile defended the UK’s record in the Maldives, but spoke of concern over the surge in violence since the ousting of Nasheed in February.

“We have serious concerns about allegations of police brutality in Maldives, especially in February 2012,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman told the Guardian.

“We have privately and publicly urged the Maldivian government to fully investigate all allegations and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice. We have also called on all parties to ensure institutional reforms are put in place to consolidate democracy and further protect human rights in Maldives.

Farah Faizal, the former Maldives high commissioner to the UK, told the Guardian that close links between British police and the MPS had to be urgently reviewed.

“What I can categorically say is that [the training] doesn’t appear to be working,” she told the paper. “If you see the brutality which is going on in Maldives and the impunity with what’s happening, if these people are being trained by the Scottish police, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money. It’s unacceptable.”

In November a three-man delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) expressed concern over the failure to punish the police officers who used “excessive force” against MPs earlier this year.

Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan from IPU’s Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians, speaking to members of the press, revealed: “The delegation is deeply concerned that the police officers who used excessive force against the members of parliament earlier this year have not yet been punished, and that Members of Parliament appear to remain subject to intimidation.

“The delegation points out that in several of the cases in the use of excessive police force, there is clear video evidence available which should have enabled the authorities to take effective and swift action. The delegation therefore calls on authorities to do everything possible to expedite their efforts to a successful conclusion,” Pangilinan said.

A Spokesperson from Scottish Police College at Fife told Minivan News that it would not be reviewing its training procedures, but would be taking guidance from the High Commission on whether its existing agreement with the MPS would continue.

“We are continuing conversations with the High Commission on the matter,” the spokesperson said.


Dutch ambassador departs, Italian ambassador arrives

Ambassador of the Netherlands to the Maldives Leoni Cuelenaere is departing the Maldives while the new Ambassador of Italy accredited to the Maldives Fabrizio Pio Arpen Am presented his credentials to the President yesterday.

In a farewell meeting with Cuelenaere President Mohamed Nasheed expressed his gratitude for the work done by the Dutch Ambassador and highlighted major joint ventures between the government and the Maldives, including Royal Boskalis Westminster and Dutch Docklands. Cuelenaere in response praised Nasheed’s initiative to open up the Maldivian economy and strengthen democratic institutions.

Meanwhile, the new Italian Ambassador Fabrizio Pio Arpea presented his credentials to the President, and spoke about the proposed trip of 20 Italian students to the outpost of the University of Milano-Bicocca in the Maldives.

Arpea reiterated the importance of the ongoing business engagements between the two countries, especially in tourism – Italy is historically one of the Maldives’ strongest European markets.