The Maldives will be ready to carry out the first executions in more than 60 years next month, President Abdulla Yameen declared Sunday amid growing international concern over the reintroduction of the death penalty.
“By God’s will, when the time comes in September, when the Supreme Court concludes [cases] to the point where the death penalty can be enforced, our mechanisms and arrangements will be complete enough to do it with the advice of the Islamic council and the word of the heirs,” Yameen said at an event held to welcome new members to the ruling party.
The president also reiterated his vow to reinstate capital punishment in a speech on Thursday night.
Three young men are presently on death row after the Supreme Court upheld their sentences last year. Rumours of their imminent executions in late July prompted Sir Richard Branson, a British billionaire and philanthropist, to warn that the move would send the Maldives “back to the Dark Ages of human rights.”
Branson wrote: “As a responsible global citizen, I care about where my money is spent and how I conduct my business. President Yameen can still back away from the damaging path he has chosen for his country. If not, I hope the international community – governments and business alike – will react accordingly. The wonderful people of the Maldives deserve better than this.”
More recently, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions urged the government to maintain the de facto moratorium on the death penalty.
“The resumption of executions in the Maldives after more than 60 years would be a great setback for the country and entire region, and would run counter to international trends towards abolition,” she said.
“The Maldives should instead take a leading role in human rights promotion and protection, and move towards officially abolishing the death penalty.”
Citing concerns over the fairness of the murder trials, the Special Rapporteur called on the government to halt the planned executions.
“The death penalty is the most severe and irreversible form of punishment. States have an obligation to avoid miscarriages of justice,” she said.
“To implement the death penalty after flawed trials would constitute arbitrary executions in clear violation of international law.”
“President Yameen must be told that unless he pulls back from this reckless course of action, putting the Maldives on the wrong side of history when it comes to the death penalty, this island nation may become known less for its natural beauty and more for his cruelty,” Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, wrote in a widely-read commentary in The Independent.
Dr Shashi Tharoor, a globally renowned public intellectual and prominent Indian politician, echoed Patnaik’s concerns on social media.
“To break a moratorium on executions that has held for half a century would be a wanton, destructive and futile act by a President seeking to distract from the turmoil in his own government,” said Maya Foa, director of Reprieve.
“Resuming executions now will do nothing to make the Maldives safer – and amid serious fears over the fairness of trials and the independence of the courts, it could lead to grave miscarriages of justice. President Yameen must urgently heed the warnings from Maldivian experts and the country’s international friends, and halt these ill-advised executions.”
In July last year, 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 Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.
According to Amnesty, the UN body issued the same requests last month in the cases of the two other men, Ahmed Murrath and Mohamed Nabeel, who are also facing execution.
In late July, Tariq Ramadan, a renowned Islamic scholar, renewed his appeal for the president to reconsider moving ahead with the executions.
“In recent years, Maldivian civil society organisations have reported a serious erosion of human rights in the Maldives,” he wrote.
“Nowhere is this declining standard more glaring than in capital trials; where there is a systematic failure to uphold constitutional safeguards and the fundamental guarantees of Islamic law such as protection from coerced confessions, the right to appoint legal counsel, and the right to have a case proved beyond reasonable doubt.”