The Maldives on Monday voted against a UN general assembly resolution in support of a moratorium on the death penalty, changing its stand in the face of political opposition.
The U-turn comes after president’s office minister Ahmed Naseem told a UN committee last month the new administration would change the Maldives’ vote to yes and uphold a 65-year moratorium on capital punishment.
But permanent representative Dr Ali Naseer explained at the general assembly that while the Maldives was “proud” of the moratorium, the penal code enacted in 2014 prescribed the death penalty for premeditated murder in accordance with Islamic shariah.
“The reality is that the death penalty remains on the books. To favour its abolition without wider public consultation and referendum and without preceding domestic legislation to nullify its implementation would be both unconstitutional and undemocratic,” he said.
The constitution states that Islam shall be the basis of all laws in the Maldives, he noted.
But the new administration will uphold the moratorium and pursue criminal justice reform “without delay for the deliberate purpose of having an independent and impartial judiciary in the Maldives that commands the trust and confidence of the general public.”
The vote against the resolution has been applauded by pro-government religious scholars.
A foreign ministry tweet announcing the decision to vote yes in late November was deleted after a barrage of criticism from clerics and opposition figures.
“This government voting at the UN to implement the death penalty brings great joy to the Maldivian people and shows that talk by some people to bring this government into disrepute is not true,” tweeted Sheikh Ilyas Hussain from the conservative Adhaalath Party, one of the four parties in the ruling coalition.
His colleague Dr Mohamed Iyaz shared a foreign ministry statement on Monday’s vote and praised the “courage” of the new government.
The Maldives was among 35 countries that voted against the resolution while 121 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favour. Libya, Malaysia and Pakistan changed their vote to support the resolution.
The last public execution in the Maldives took place in 1954.
The six-decade moratorium was lifted by former president Abdulla Yameen in 2014, drawing widespread international condemnation, including from human rights groups Amnesty International and Reprieve as well as philanthropist Richard Branson and renowned Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan.
In July 2016, the UN Human Rights Committee asked the government to halt the execution of Hussain Humam Ahmed pending the outcome of a review of his case. The 22-year-old was found guilty of murdering parliamentarian Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.
Humam is among three young men presently on death row after the Supreme Court upheld their sentences.
In late November, president’s office minister Ahmed Naseem told the UN Committee Against Torture that the new government would consider concerns over their cases and ensure full compliance with obligations under international law.
“We also understand that various international institutions, governments, and civil society groups would like the Maldives to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, even though the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits state parties to impose of the death penalty for those over 18 years old, in cases of intentional homicide,” Naseem told the committee.
“At this stage, our new government simply has not had enough time to examine this issue or take a position on it. But the government will review this question very carefully.”