A New Delhi-based rights group has criticised the Commonwealth’s failure to penalise the Maldives, arguing that the government’s “continued disregard of core Commonwealth values warrants a formal action.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a group accredited to the 53 member inter-governmental body, suggested that the Maldives had been let off too lightly by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on Wednesday.
The CMAG, a body that monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights, had only issued a list of demands for President Abdulla Yameen, despite mounting concern over the jailing of opposition leaders, crackdown on civil and political freedoms, and growing extremism.
The demands included freedom for jailed politicians, return of exiles and inclusive all-party dialogue. The CMAG called on the Commonwealth secretariat to provide “all possible support” to the Maldives, and said the country’s progress would be reviewed in April.
The CHRI said it welcomed the statement, but regretted that Maldives has once again escaped without formal action.
“We concede that the CMAG must exercise prudence and proceed in a manner that encourages state cooperation with the Commonwealth. However, this cannot be at the risk of being perceived as a toothless organization,” the NGO said.
“The CMAG must, as it has done in the past, continue to demonstrate that non-adherence to, and repeated violation of, Commonwealth values have consequences,” read a statement issued on Friday.
CHRI had conducted its own fact-finding mission to the Maldives last year. Its report, shared with the CMAG on Wednesday, noted a “sure slide to authoritarianism, as well as a flagrant disregard to the rule of law, human rights and good governance is taking place in the Maldives.”
CHRI had recommended that ministers keep a close watch on the Maldives and called on the CMAG to suspend and expel the country if it continued to thwart democratic values.
The group said the CMAG’s statement was lacking on several fronts.
While CMAG had laid out a list of measures to be implemented by the Maldives, “it did not refer to consequences it would face if the country did not follow through,” the CHRI contended.
The demand for inclusive talks was too vague, it continued.
Noting that ministers had emphasized their “continuing concern regarding political space available to the opposition including the detention or custody of political leaders and the separation of powers and independence of the judiciary,” CHRI said such criticism facing the Maldives makes it one deserving of action.
“It is therefore crucial that the Maldives recognise the dangers of hypocrisy in touting values and then not observing them,” the NGO said.
CHRI also noted that the promise for review in April focused mainly on the Commonwealth’s support to the Maldives, rather than it’s progress in rectifying violations of the Commonwealth charter.
“Exercising this level of caution against a state that is in clear violation of the Commonwealth standards of democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society space is to fundamentally compromise the importance of Commonwealth values as well as the ability and determination of the association to fearlessly defend those values,” CHRI said.
The organisation’s own report, published last week, had urged the international community to continue to keep the Maldives under scrutiny and resort to sanctions if the situation continues to deteriorate.
The report noted the lack of separation of powers, the government’s adoption of repressive laws such as the anti-terror act, and police violence against activists and journalists.
It also found the judiciary to be “increasingly politicized, partisan and tyrannical.” The Supreme Court had targeted independent institutions and lawyers. It had also failed to guarantee the right to a fair trial, the report said.
Independent institutions, including anti-corruption and police oversight bodies, were unable to fulfill their mandate, the report continued, adding that these bodies “operate in an environment of incessant interference from the judiciary and the government, as demonstrated by arbitrary dismissals and pro-ruling party appointments.”
The Maldives has also become a fertile recruitment ground for jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, the report said, finding that “radicalised elements continuously harass and attack individuals perceived to be secular unorthodox or un-Islamic with impunity.”
The government tolerates perpetrators instead of punishing them, it added.
The Maldives was first placed on the CMAG agenda in 2012 in the wake of Nasheed’s controversial resignation. It has avoided formal action despite multiple crises, including delayed presidential polls in 2013, and the jailing of opposition leaders last year.