To bolster rights at home, Maldives must speak up for human rights abroad

To bolster rights at home, Maldives must speak up for human rights abroad
January 04 17:55 2016

All countries face tumultuous political times. Typically, countries grapple with preserving fundamental freedoms during these turbulent political periods, and the Maldives is no different. In their struggle to further institutionalize gains and in realizing a more democratic society, the Maldivian people recently walked back the restrictive state of emergency that was in place. Scaling back the troubling limitations that had been placed on public gatherings perhaps comes in response to international criticism and in the interest of tourism, but it also bolsters the fundamental right to free assembly.

As Asia’s smallest country struggles for lasting political stability, the right to speech and assembly are necessary rights that will put the Maldivian people in a position to peacefully resolve their political disputes and build a government that works for them. In so far as the Maldives continues to improve the human rights situation at home, it would also do well to publicly support human rights defenders abroad, especially in the places that the international community has identified as urgently in need of reform.

It is true that the Maldives itself has struggled to institutionalize democratic gains for most of the past 15 years. A critical next step the Maldives can take in order to assert its position as a legitimate democracy is to support the global human rights movement. One of the best ways it can do so is but voting to extend the United Nations mandate for a special rapporteur for human rights in a country which is one of the most egregious violators of international human rights standards, Iran. Until 2014, the Maldivian government’s aspiration toward more freedom and better human rights at home and abroad was demonstrated through its position at the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council on resolutions supporting the special rapporteur’s mandate.

But in 2014 the Maldives changed its vote at the UN in supporting the continued mandate to investigate the human rights situation in Iran from “yes” to “absent,” and has unfortunately continued to vote this way ever since. It is our hope that this shift away from protection for human rights defenders abroad is neither permanent nor a reflection of the Maldives being intimidated by Iran.

Today, the state of human rights in Iran is deteriorating at a worrying pace. Not only has Iran’s willingness to become more transparent with respect to its nuclear program not translated into any process of meaningful domestic reform, Iran seems prepared to go to incredible lengths to avoid such measures. Specifically, the dissemination of desperate propaganda attacking individuals and organizations advocating for the improvement of human rights in Iran has only highlighted the increased urgency to make progress.

The latest report from the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran reveals just how dire the human rights situation in Iran has become. Iran is on course to execute the most people in a single year than ever before. With at least 694 people hanged as of mid-September, including 10 women and one juvenile, it is the highest rate of execution in 25 years.

Iran continues to persecute journalists and civil society actors. As of April 2015, at least 46 journalists and bloggers were in detention or had been sentenced for peaceful journalistic activities. In October of this year the judiciary convicted Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian of espionage in a secret trial without making clear his alleged crimes.

According to the World Economic Forum women’s rights in Iran to economic and political participation continue to be among the lowest in the world. By law women in Iran are restricted from going certain places and from working certain hours. Religious and ethnic minorities continue to be persecuted and barred from assembly, worship and even from publishing material in languages other than Farsi.

While these violations of human rights continue unimpeded, criticisms in Iranian media of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran—the one person with an international mandate to bring such violations to light—have crossed into the realm of the absurd. In their latest attempt to discredit the special rapporteur, Iranian media reports attacked his country, the Maldives.

Rather than being intimidated by petty political attacks, the most direct way the Maldives can help improve Iran’s abysmal human rights record, and in doing so bolster their own human rights standing, is to vote to continue the mandate for the special rapporteur. This small country has an opportunity to show a commitment to the rights of all people, even as it works to guarantee the rights of its own people.

When the vote to affirm the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran’s mandate comes at the UN Human Rights Council this March, I hope the Maldives will take a step forward and vote “yes.” Giving Iran another free pass while it continues to execute at a heinous rate, persecute journalists and religious minorities, and systematically oppress women, would prolong a horrible precedent that damages both the people of Iran and the reputation of the Maldives.

Roozbeh Mirebrahimi is an Iranian journalist, former prisoner of conscience, and the Media Advisor for Impact Iran, a coalition of organizations promoting human rights in Iran.

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