Human rights groups and opposition members have hit back at the government’s claim of victory following the Commonwealth’s review of the Maldives’ adherence to democracy last week.
Ministers here said the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had not placed the Maldives on its formal agenda, while critics argued that continued Commonwealth scrutiny means the Maldives is effectively on the 53-member inter-governmental body’s watch.
In its concluding statement on April 20, the CMAG – a watchdog body of foreign ministers – made no mention of the phrase “formal agenda,” but expressed grave concern over limited progress on all-party talks and the release of jailed opposition leaders. The group called for “clear, measurable progress” by September, when it will “assess progress, take stock, and take decisions accordingly.”
In a hastily arranged press conference on Wednesday night, Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor, said: “The decision was that the situation in the Maldives is not serious enough to warrant being placed on the agenda. So once again, we have not been placed on the CMAG’s agenda. We are very happy with and welcome this decision.”
Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee hailed the government’s “victory upon victory,” while Education Minister Aishath Shiham thanked staff at the foreign ministry and president’s office for their hard work.
“With God’s grace, when we successfully presented updates, they have decided not to place us on the agenda. They have said that they want to work with us in the future and spoke on the need to strengthen our systems,” she said, adding: “We assure you that we will proceed according to the recommendations.”
MP Ahmed Nihan, the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ parliamentary group, likened the meeting’s outcome to that of a football match.
Congratulating Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, whom he referred to as DMAG, he said: “In the second match between CMAG and DMAG, DMAG has won victory over CMAG. The final match is still ahead.”
Dunya and Attorney General Mohamed Anil had briefed the Commonwealth foreign ministers before it made its decision.
Nihan also said that the CMAG appears to have forgotten about former President Mohamed Nasheed, whose imprisonment on a terror charge last year triggered the ongoing political crisis. PPM MP Mohamed Musthafa meanwhile, said: “President Abdulla Yameen deserves congratulations. You won this round.”
— Ahmed Nihan (@ahmed_nihan) April 20, 2016
The CMAG had previously placed Maldives on its formal agenda in 2012 following Nasheed’s ouster, a move the government has repeatedly condemned as “unfair” and disastrous for the Maldives’ economy.
Reactions from the opposition and human rights groups were different.
Mohamed Shifaz, the vice president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, described the CMAG’s statement as a “red notice.”
He said: “I do not see any reason for the government to celebrate. There is no room to claim they have escaped CMAG scrutiny.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a Delhi based human rights group, said: “The Maldives must accept that it is now on the formal agenda of CMAG. The Maldivian government needs to acknowledge the gravity of the Commonwealth’s concern about the continued deterioration of democratic values in the country, which can lead to its suspension or expulsion from the association.”
Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, former Maldives ambassador to the UN, said in a Twitter post: “Why does a country not on the agenda gets discussed repeatedly at CMAG meetings, gets reprimanded and made answerable to the next meeting?”
Other opposition supporters described the CMAG meeting’s outcome as a “monicon” order on the government, referring to the government’s surveillance of terror suspects through a new and unprecedented legislation that allow the home ministry to tag individuals.
— Shiham Waheed (@ShihamWaheed) April 20, 2016
Concerned by misleading statements by #Maldives gov. Maldives is very much ON CMAG agenda. Extended deadline for action is not a 'thumbs up'
— Commonwealth – Malta (@CWinMalta) April 20, 2016
@foreignMV says Maldives not on CMAG agenda. If Maldives not on agenda how come Maldives discussed in all CMAG meetings this year?
— Husnu Al Suood (@hsuood) April 20, 2016
The Maldives Independent is awaiting clarification from the Commonwealth secretariat.
The CMAG’s April 20 meeting follows an extraordinary meeting in February, during which ministers issued a list of demands including political dialogue and the release of jailed politicians.
In their concluding statement last week, the CMAG said it wants to reaffirm “the importance which they attached to all political parties participating constructively in the formation of a clear roadmap and specified timeframe for progress, and to seeing evidence of concrete steps taken and progress achieved by all to address specific issues on a political dialogue agenda.”
The CMAG also expressed “serious concern” over the misuse of anti-terror laws against public officials, and said they expect the government to “facilitate the prompt release of political leaders from detention.” The government’s decision to revoke medical leave for jailed politicians was disappointing, the group added.
“Recalling their recommendation for practical confidence-building measures to promote freedom and space for civil society, Ministers expressed their concern that there was little or no evidence of substantive progress achieved in the areas of concern raised,” they said.
The MDP and its ally the Adhaalath Party have since called on the government to release jailed politicians immediately.
“The Government must fully commit to Commonwealth values and free political prisoners in line with the CMAG statement. CMAG’s continued review of the Maldives’ political situation is a clear sign that it is taking action against the Maldives for failure to commit to reforms as outlined in their concluding statement in February,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
The Commonwealth Secretary Genreal Patricia Scotland is to appoint a special envoy to the Maldives to encourage political pluralism and inclusive elections in 2018, the CMAG said.