The Maldives has been placed on the Commonwealth’s formal agenda and warned of suspension, with officials citing “deep disappointment” at the country’s lack of progress in resolving a protracted political crisis.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a rotating group of foreign ministers from eight member states, announced the decision in New York on Friday.
The move followed a second review of the Maldives’ progress on six priority areas the CMAG had outlined in February. These include initiating political dialogue, release of opposition leaders, and measures to strengthen democracy and judicial independence.
“Ministers expressed deep disappointment at the lack of progress in the priority areas that they had earlier identified, and placed Maldives on CMAG’s formal agenda,” the CMAG said in a statement.
It added: “Ministers agreed that in the absence of substantive progress across the priority areas, the Group would consider its options, including suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth, at its next meeting, in March 2017.”
Suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth would bar the Maldives from the body’s meetings, and is a step below full suspension.
The Commonwealth had first placed the Maldives on its formal agenda in 2012, following the ouster of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February that year, a move successive administrations have condemned as unfair and damaging to the country’s tourism-dependent economy.
Nasheed’s jailing on a terror charge in March last year drew concern from the Commonwealth, prompting President Abdulla Yameen to threaten to leave the 53-member inter-governmental organization.
Despite mounting scrutiny, the Maldives avoided action for more than a year, with the president making official visits to India and Malaysia ahead of a CMAG meeting in April to stay action. He had also sent an envoy to Pakistan. All three countries sit on the CMAG.
In the wake of the decision, Nasheed, who now lives in exile in the United Kingdom, urged Yameen to “relent and commit to reforms now.”
The CMAG meanwhile urged both the government and the opposition to initiate dialogue without preconditions, stating that “time-bound dialogue remains critical to achieve national agreement on institutional reform, and to ensure a conducive environment for credible and inclusive presidential elections in 2018.”
It also expressed “deep regret” that several bids to resuscitate talks by the United Nations have failed.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim and Attorney General Mohamed Anil, who spoke at the CMAG meeting, expressed commitment to the Commonwealth’s values and principles and to continuing work with the Commonwealth, the group said.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New-Delhi based group, has called on the CMAG to suspend the Maldives, noting a “steady deterioration” since the group’s April meeting.
CHRI highlighted the jailing of opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof, and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, and laws restricting freedom of assembly, speech and the press.