Top diplomats from the Commonwealth and European Union parliamentarians are scheduled to visit the Maldives next week, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has said.
The government, which has received fierce criticism in the past year over the jailing of opposition leaders including former President Mohamed Nasheed, is hoping the high-level visits would clarify misunderstandings over human rights and democracy in the Maldives, Dunya said.
“The Maldivian government’s actions are not contrary to the values of the Commonwealth, European Parliament of that of Western, modern democracies,” she told the press today.
“There are many allegations, in terms of human rights, and other matters. But President Yameen is determined to strengthen democracy.”
An overwhelming majority of the European parliament in December urged member states to impose targeted sanctions on officials responsible for human rights abuses, while the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group is said to be considering placing the Maldives on its formal agenda for a second time.
The EU resolution is “not at all appropriate for the Maldives,” Dunya said, and went on to blame bad press for what she called misrepresentation of the facts.
Striking a more conciliatory note, she said that Maldivian diplomatic missions are “working to convince members of the Commonwealth, ambassadors, foreign governments, we are trying to tell them the truth. I think we are slowly achieving that aim,” she said.
She noted that the Maldives has also launched a media offensive to counter damning allegations, especially by Nasheed’s international legal counsel.
“Not everyone believes things anymore simply because Mrs Clooney says so,” she said referring to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George, who had made international headlines in her campaign to free Nasheed.
The opposition leader, who was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year, is now in the UK on a brief reprieve from jail, following a deal brokered by US, UK, India and Sri Lanka.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal, but the government insists that only the Supreme Court could free the former president. The government sought to appeal the UNWGAD ruling, but was rejected.
The CMAG mission, which includes the top diplomats from Kenya, Guyana and Indian Foreign Secretary Dr S. Jaishankar, will meet government officials between February 6 – 8 in Malé. EU MEPs will arrive on February 7 and leave two days later.
The CMAG had placed Maldives on its formal agenda previously following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. A commission of inquiry later said the transfer of power was legal.
Yameen’s government repeatedly threatened to leave the Commonwealth amidst scrutiny last year, saying the events of 2012 had greatly harmed the Maldives’ economy.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who accorded Nasheed a red carpet welcome on his arrival in London last month, told MPs that the UK is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on top Maldivian officials if former Nasheed and other jailed politicians are not released.
“We want to see a change in behaviour from the Maldivian government to make sure that political prisoners are set free and yes we are prepared to consider targeted action against individuals if further progress isn’t made,” Cameron said at the British parliament on January 27.
“Let us hope that diplomatic efforts, including by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, will lead to the changes we want to see. But Britain and our allies, including India and Sri Lanka, are watching the situation very closely.”
Yameen’s administration is also besieged by other crises, including the purge of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s supporters from the government and security forces, and a massive corruption scandal that has embroiled ministers and MPs.
Writing by Zaheena Rasheed