Maldives singled out for scrutiny at Commonwealth summit

Maldives singled out for scrutiny at Commonwealth summit
November 29 20:13 2015

The Maldives was singled out for scrutiny at a Commonwealth summit in Malta this weekend; however it is not immediately clear how the 53-member group intends to act over authoritarian reversals here.

The Prime Ministers of UK and Malta highlighted a need for action, while the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group discussed the Maldives on Wednesday.

The three-day summit ended today without an announcement on the Maldives.

Speaking to the press on Thursday, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of Malta, said the Maldives was high on the agenda for the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

“I think there are some pressing issues at member state levels, that will need to be taken up by the action group. Most notably, that of the Maldives,” he said.

Neither President Abdulla Yameen nor his Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon attended the summit.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the press on Saturday that he had urged action against the Maldives over “unacceptable” events, including the jailing of opposition leaders.

Cameron said the group “must do more to hold countries to account when they fail to live up to their responsibilities as Commonwealth members.

“That’s why I urged all members to send a strong and consistent message to the Maldives on the need for political dialogue and the release of political prisoners.”

The Maldives’ relationship with the Commonwealth had soured when the CMAG placed the Maldives on its watch following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster in 2012.

Although a subsequent inquiry found the transfer of power to be legal, the government has said the move caused irrevocable loss with a halt to foreign investment and lending by foreign banks.

Nasheed’s imprisonment in March renewed Commonwealth scrutiny, prompting the government to threaten to quit the inter-governmental body.

Yameen on Wednesday welcomed the CMAG’s decision to prioritise dialogue.

“Powerful parties, taking harsh action against those who are less powerful, will not bring about solutions. Damage can be caused, harm can be done, our young would have heard of the Palestinian Intifada from when they were infants. A lot of brutality and cruelty can be unleashed, but that will not bring about any solutions. And that doesn’t destroy or diminish such movements either. That is why dialogue is chosen. So we welcome dialogue with CMAG,” he said.

Abdulla Shahid, an MP with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party who attended the summit, said the Commonwealth would continue to closely monitor the Maldives.

“I think the Commonwealth will continue their close observation of the Maldives. The government will continue to keep saying they are going to cooperate with Commonwealth in reforming the judiciary and will have a dialogue with the opposition to ease tension,” Shahid said.

“The question is how long can they continue to deceive the international community?”

On November 25, the foreign ministry said Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer had briefed the CMAG, saying: “despite complex domestic challenges, Maldives reiterated its commitment to reform and to move forward in upholding democratic principles.”

Meanwhile, Baroness Patricia Scotland, who had advised the Maldives when it was placed on the CMAG agenda in 2012 over the disputed transfer of power, was elected as the new Commonwealth Secretary General this weekend.

She also sits on the advisory board of London-based Omnia Strategy, a firm employed by the Maldivian government to respond to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Nasheed’s imprisonment.

The independent human rights panel ruled Nasheed’s detention illegal, but the government, on Omnia’s recommendation, has rejected the opinion claiming it is flawed.

A source close to the MDP said: “Baroness Scotland has to work hard to prove that she can be credible, impartial and independent when it comes to the Maldives.”

Congratulating Lady Scotland, Foreign Minister Dunya said: “The Government of Maldives looks forward to strengthening the already strong ties we have with the Commonwealth and I am confident that you will do your utmost to ensure that the voices of Small Island Developing States like the Maldives will be recognised within the Commonwealth and will bring the many issues we face to the forefront of the Commonwealth agenda.”

An audit found Lady Scotland was paid £125,000 by the Maldives government in 2012, the figure was £50,000 in excess of the agreed consultancy fee.

At the CHOGM leaders committing to fight corruption, and action to combat climate change and violent extremism.

Malta and the Commonwealth Secretariat also set up a body called the Small States Center for Excellence, to support small states to address challenges such as debt and climate change.

The initiative will also focus on improving broadband connectivity, diplomatic training, helping women in enterprise and ocean governance. It will work in collaboration with the other Maltese initiatives on small states.

Some 31 of the 53 member nations are small island developing states.