Maldives decries UN human rights chief’s criticism over crackdown on dissent

Maldives decries UN human rights chief’s criticism over crackdown on dissent
September 13 13:08 2017

The Maldives has urged the UN high commissioner for human rights to “present a more balanced view of the democratic reality of the country” after strong criticism over the reversal of democratic gains.

In his opening statement Monday at the UN Human Rights Council’s 36th session, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussain said the Maldivian government was “increasingly cracking down on critical views” and expressed concern about “reports of continued violations of the right to a fair trial and allegations of political bias by the judiciary and law enforcement authorities.”

He observed that “trust in government institutions is breaking down” and called on the authorities to allow the exercise of fundamental rights and “to respect the people’s right to an independent and impartial judiciary.”

Responding during the general debate at the council Tuesday, Dr Hala Hameed, the Maldives’ permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, dismissed the criticism as “inaccurate” and unfounded.

“Deeming bias by the judiciary and law enforcement authorities misrepresent and undermine the continued efforts undertaken by various arms of the state to consolidate democracy,” she said.

“It is important that the international institutions respect the efforts undertaken by member states to find its own solutions to difficult domestic questions. In this regard, we urge the high commissioner’s office to engage with us to present a more balanced view of the democratic reality of the country.”

She suggested that the Maldives was being unfairly targeted – a recurring complaint from the current administration – and called for “equal treatment of all states, regardless of size, geographically and population-wise, development gains and political positioning in the community of nations.”

In his remarks, the high commissioner also took note of the disqualification of several lawmakers, the unprecedented lockdown of the parliament by the military, and the prosecution of opposition leaders.

Hameed said the MPs lost their seats due to “a constitutional issue deliberated by the respective arm of the state”.

A controversial anti-defection ruling from the Supreme Court was used to unseat seven former ruling party lawmakers after the opposition secured the parliament’s majority in early July. Several MPs had left the ruling party after backing the impeachment of the speaker, but the contentious disqualification of four MPs was cited to quash the no-confidence motion.

A dozen lawmakers have also been put on trial since then.

With Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s sentencing in absentia late August, both of President Abdulla Yameen’s opponents in the 2013 presidential election were meanwhile disqualified from challenging him in next year’s race

The ranks of high-profile politicians and state officials to be convicted since Yameen took office includes former President Mohamed Nasheed, two former defence ministers, two ruling party lawmakers, a former prosecutor general, a former vice president, a senior military officer, and a magistrate.

In her response, Hameed meanwhile failed to address repeated calls from the high commissioner to reconsider resuming executions this month after more than 65 years.

Zeid said the 20 individuals presently on death row includes “several whose convictions raise serious issues of due process, including people with mental health concerns or who were under 18 when they allegedly committed crimes.”

Hameed’s response was also reminiscent of her scornful dismissal at the UN HRC session in June of calls to restore constitutional freedoms, allow space for political opposition, and prevent the intimidation of human rights defenders.

statement delivered by the UK on behalf of more than 30 countries including the United States and Germany had emphasised the importance of allowing space for opposition parties and expressed regret that constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression was being “increasingly curtailed”.

“It is equally important that the Maldives enhance the independence of its judiciary and other domestic institutions and ensure that they provide the checks and balances which are essential for any democracy,” the statement added.

In a right of reply, Hameed had called the statement “unwarranted and unconstructive” and accused the UK of “unduly attempting to affect domestic politics in the country”.

She also criticised the British government’s record on freedom of assembly and association and noted the rise of hate crimes in the country.

“Given the only three working days provided for any consultation or consideration of this statement, there has been only a token effort at being constructive, and is tantamount to a small nation being targeted by a large one,” she added.

“We only ask to be measured by the same benchmark, for a little bit more patience, encouragement and support from our multilateral partners.”