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Maldives quits the Commonwealth: a round up of reactions

The decision to quit the Commonwealth has prompted a storm of criticism and calls to reverse the Maldives’ isolationist course



President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to quit the Commonwealth over its criticism of human rights abuses has prompted a storm of criticism at home and abroad and appeals to reverse the Maldives’ “isolationist” course.

Here is a round up of reactions to the announcement:

The Commonwealth’s secretary general, Patrician Scotland, said in a statement that the Commonwealth family at large would “share my sadness and disappointment at this decision.”

“The Commonwealth Charter reflects the commitment of our member states to democracy and human rights, development and growth, and diversity. We will continue to champion these values and to support all member states, especially small and developing states, in upholding and advancing these practically for the enduring benefit of their citizens.

“Therefore, we hope that this will be a temporary separation and that Maldives will feel able to return to the Commonwealth family and all that it represents in due course.”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who led the Maldives to the Commonwealth in 1982, said the 53-member inter-governmental body’s support had proved “vital in overcoming many of Maldives’ vulnerabilities in the past.”

The 78-year-old warned his half-brother: “Isolationism will not solve our problems.”

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said the Maldives has benefited in trade, commerce, travel, medicine, education, sports and youth development.

“The government’s decision today will bring irredeemable damage in these areas, and for the Maldives’ standing in the international community,” it said in a statement.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the party’s spokesman, said: “President Yameen has made the Maldives a very isolated place. This is an absolute despotic move, which says much about the Yameen regime and its political posturing and disregard for international or public opinion.”

Amnesty International, in a statement, said the Maldives had quit the Commonwealth because of criticism of its human rights record. The authorities should address abuses instead of lashing out at “legitimate criticism,” said Champa Patel, the advocacy group’s South Asia Director.

Describing the human rights situation as in “a complete free fall,” Patel said the government must stop complaining about unfair treatment and engage more constructively with the international community.

Dr Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister and a United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, told the New York Times that the decision would prove counterproductive.

“He is getting deeper and deeper into isolation,” Shaheed said. “He would think he’s insulating himself from Commonwealth criticism, but he will receive more and more.”

The British high commissioner to the Maldives, James Dauris, described the Commonwealth as an organisation committed to the “development of free and fair societies, peace and prosperity,” and said he was saddened by the Maldives’ actions.

David White, the chief of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a Delhi-based human rights group that has long called for the Maldives’ suspension from the Commonwealth, told the Guardian that it was a “sad day.”

He added: “We did call for them to be suspended, but that was in order to call for more support for the Commonwealth to push for political reform.”

Moosa Latheef, a senior editor at Mihaaru, the country’s most influential newspaper, wrote: “President Yameen’s closest aides describe him as a man of courage. They tell us that we will never see such a president, and so the president shows us his courage in matters of his choosing. But the cabinet’s decision to quit the Commonwealth was not an act of courage. But cowardice.”

MDP MP Eva Abdulla called the decision “petulant” and “self-defeating.”

Dunya Maumoon, former foreign minister and Gayoom’s daughter, said she was not surprised.

Faris Maumoon, her brother and an MP, said the Maldives was “fast-becoming a pariah state.”

Ahmed Marzooq, the secretary general of the Maldives Olympic Committee, said the move would impact sports greatly.

Translation: It is Maldivian sports that will suffer the most by the decision to leave the Commonwealth.”

Shahindha Ismail, executive director of the Maldivian Democracy Network, a local human rights NGO, raised fears of losing scholarships to Commonwealth countries.

Responding to the government’s claim that the move would not affect investment in the country, Ahmed Tholal, former human rights commissioner, wrote on Facebook:

“What about the fact that the people are more helpless in their quest for proper democracy? What about all the students who were depending on the Commonwealth Scholarships? What about the contributions of Commonwealth to the civil society empowerment and creation of civic space? Not everything can be measured by extra large financial investments that the government can somehow benefit from. Right now for your own interests and because you will be exposed for the lack of human rights practices and the deliberate erosion of democracy you are choosing to leave Commonwealth without any scope for public opinion. So don’t sugar coat it.”

Maldivians on Twitter called the move “shameful,” “the most advanced form of abuse,” and noted that the country was following pariah states like Zimbabwe and Gambia, and not Singapore, the East-Asian country Yameen has promised to emulate.