New foreign minister downplays UN request to halt execution

New foreign minister downplays UN request to halt execution
July 13 20:19 2016

Contrary to reports in local media, the UN Human Rights Committee has not “ordered” the government to halt the imminent execution of a 22-year-old convict, newly-appointed Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim said today.

“The UN Human Rights Committee sent a note to the Maldivian government about Hussain Humam sometime last night,” Asim told the press this afternoon.

“The note was sent to inform the government that information about Humam’s case has been submitted by some people to the Human Rights Committee. It isn’t an order for the Maldivian government to do or not to do anything specific. The government is now studying the content of this note.”

He added that the attorney general’s office will brief the media in the near future.

Humam is facing the death penalty after the Supreme Court on June 24 upheld his conviction on the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012. It marked the first death sentence passed by the apex court since the government ended a six-decade moratorium on capital punishment in 2014.

The request to delay the execution came a day after Humam’s father and lawyer petitioned the committee alleging violations of the right to a fair trial as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Maldives ratified the ICCPR and its first Optional Protocol in 2006.

The Human Rights Committee can consider complaints by individuals alleging a violation of rights by state parties to the first Optional Protocol.

Asked how the government intends to proceed, Asim stressed again that the note does not constitute an order: “The note is a communication we have received, to put it another way.”

Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer said: “The UN is not an organisation orders nations […] It is an organisation formed among sovereign nations.”

But Humam’s lawyer told The Maldives Independent that the government is obliged to respect the “interim measure” as the Maldives is a signatory to the ICCPR.

In a series of tweets today, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed also contended that “a communication by UN HR committee under rule 92 is binding.”

According to the rule, the committee may inform the state party “as to whether interim measures may be desirable to avoid irreparable damage to the victim of the alleged violation.”

Dr Asim took the oath of office this morning. He served most recently as Maldivian High Commissioner to Bangladesh.

Asim replaces the president’s niece, Dunya Maumoon, who resigned last week citing opposition to the death penalty.

The appointment also comes at a time when President Abdulla Yameen’s administration is facing international pressure over the reintroduction of the death penalty and the jailing of several high-profile politicians.

In his Eid message to the public last week, Yameen acknowledged facing pressure over the death penalty.

But Foreign Secretary Dr Naseer told the press today that “views” or “opinions” about the Maldives expressed by other countries in international forums should not be construed as pressure.

“The Maldives participates in UN debates on many issues. The Maldives also expresses our views on various issues in the world. We don’t do it to pressure the country it is directed at,” he said.

The imprisonment of opposition politicians – including former President Mohamed Nasheed who was granted asylum in the UK in May – was widely condemned by western governments and human rights organisations.

Both the UK and the European parliament have warned that targeted sanctions could be imposed on top Maldivian officials if the government does not release “political prisoners” and engage in dialogue with political parties.

After a meeting last April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meanwhile called for “clear, measurable progress” by September, when it will “assess progress, take stock, and take decisions accordingly.”

Asim told the press today that the government has requested help from the Commonwealth to build “institutional strength.”

A special envoy of Commonwealth secretary general to the Maldives, Dr Willy Mutanga, is due to visit in early August, he said.