Maldives withdraws candidacy for UN Human Rights Council

Maldives withdraws candidacy for UN Human Rights Council
July 06 16:06 2017

The Maldives has withdrawn its candidacy for a third term on the United Nations Human Rights Council ahead of the election for the council’s 2018-2020 term at the UN General Assembly in September.

The permanent mission to the UN in Geneva said the Maldives deferred its candidacy for a later term “in the spirit of regional solidarity and in an effort towards achieving consensus within the Asia Pacific Group”.

The UNHRC is an intergovernmental body responsible for promoting human rights with 47 members elected to three-year terms. The Maldives was due to compete for one of four seats on the council along with Afghanistan, Malaysia, Fiji, Nepal, Pakistan and Qatar.

“Given our leadership role as Chair for AOSIS [Alliance of Small Island States] representing all Small Island Developing States, and our leading the Asia-Pacific Group in Geneva, we felt that exercising responsible multilateralism was prudent and necessary,” Jeffrey Salim Waheed, the deputy permanent representative in Geneva, told the Maldives Independent.

“Deferring our HRC candidature has generated goodwill for the Maldives both in South Asia and across the continent.”

Jeffrey stressed that the Maldives has been working towards “improving regional solidarity, both within South Asia and the larger Asia-Pacific Group.”

The competition for the seats within South Asia was at “an all-time high,” he added.

A highly-placed source at the foreign ministry told the Maldives Independent that the ambassadors in South Asia pushed for the withdrawal and Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim decided to focus on the candidacy for the UN Security Council. 

“Fiji who was rumoured to be withdrawing from their HRC candidature due to their presidency of the UNFCCC is now thought to be reconsidering,” the foreign ministry source said.

Former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, now the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, meanwhile suggested that the government decided to pull out to save face when it became clear that winning the seat was unlikely.

At the UNHRC 35th session in Geneva last month, a group of more than 30 countries called on the Maldives to restore constitutional freedoms, allow space for political opposition, and prevent the intimidation of human rights defenders.

But the government dismissed the joint statement as “unwarranted and unconstructive” and accused the UK of “unduly attempting to affect domestic politics in the country.

A group of NGOs also urged the UNHRC to take action in response to “alarming levels” of attacks against human rights defenders and to allow international observers and experts “unimpeded access” to monitor the investigation into the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed.

International human rights groups say the Maldives has been undergoing an “authoritarian reversal” since the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders during President Abdulla Yameen’s three-year administration.

The government’s plans to reintroduce the death penalty after a 60-year moratorium, the re-criminalisation of defamation, and a ban on street protests in Malé were also among issues flagged by Amnesty International in its 2016 annual report.

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