The current administration’s breach of international human rights conventions has tarnished the country’s reputation, says the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, as the government insists “the Maldives has made extraordinary progress in guaranteeing human rights.”
In contrasting statements released today on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the government assured its commitment to protecting human rights through empowerment and increasing prosperity, whilst the MDP said the state is “openly violating” constitutional rights.
The MDP said the Maldives’ reputation has been “stained” after the government’s rejection of a UN human rights panel ruling declaring former President Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal.
Nasheed was found guilty in March over the arrest of a judge during his tenure and sentenced to 13 years in prison after a rushed trial that drew widespread condemnation.
The government remains defiant despite calls for Nasheed’s release by the UN secretary general, the UN human rights chief, western governments, and several international organisations, the MDP noted.
“This shows that the President Abdulla Yameen’s government is one that does not respect human rights, Maldivian laws, and international laws,” the party said.
The 2015 Human Rights Day comes amidst heightened concern over the “deteriorating” human rights situation in the Maldives following the imprisonment of the opposition leader and other politicians earlier this year.
Both domestic and international human rights groups have warned that the prolonged political crisis has put the Maldives at risk of an authoritarian reversal.
The MDP contended that the executive and state institutions have severely restricted press freedom as well as the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and peaceful political activity.
On November 27, riot police cracked down on an MDP protest with tear gas and pepper spray. The government subsequently banned street protests.
“We note that the rights and freedoms of the people are being violated through an organised and planned dictatorial system,” reads the statement.
It added that the Maldivians are living in fear, lack job security and face intimidation and arbitrary sanctions on businesses. Corruption in state institutions has meanwhile reached “extreme levels”.
“And we note with concern that the rule of law has eroded and the people have been deprived of justice,” the MDP said.
But in his Human Rights Day message, Yameen said the Maldives has made “remarkable progress in protecting and promoting human rights” since ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2006.
The Maldives is also a signatory to seven of the nine core human rights conventions, Yameen said, noting the recent adoption of new “landmark” laws on domestic violence, child protection, anti-torture, peaceful assembly, and anti-human trafficking.
“While establishing formal structures and mechanisms are important, they are not sufficient conditions for the protection of rights,” he said.
“My government’s approach to protecting human rights has been to empower the Maldivian people; by ensuring freedom from want by increasing prosperity; and creating opportunities for individuals to unleash the power of human creativity to solve problems.
“The government’s approach to promoting human rights has also been guided by the belief that the rights and responsibilities espoused in the national and international legal instruments need to be enforced, and most, importantly cultivated in the society as values.”
Yameen also called for a collaborative effort from national and international actors “to cultivate in the Maldivian society, a culture of respect; respect for the rights and responsibilities of the individual, of the society, and of the state, so that promoting human rights becomes part of daily life.”
The MDP meanwhile said that neither the UN nor any international human rights organisation have praised the current administration’s human rights record, while repeated international criticism of the government “shows that violations of human rights by President Abdulla Yameen’s government and the depth to which it has sunk the Maldives has been exposed to the whole world.”