The Maldives is backsliding into repression with the government stifling dissent and restricting constitutional rights, human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network has warned.
“The past seven years have seen the Maldives leap forward and just as quickly regress heavily in the rights arena,” the MDN said in a statement released today on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, referring to the adoption of a democratic constitution and the first multi-party election in 2008.
“The rights to association, assembly, expression and life can no longer be assured for the people living in the Maldives and this is unacceptable for human rights defenders.
“The Maldives have been highlighted on the corruption perception index, marked as a human trafficking hotspot, a country rampant with child abuse and domestic violence, a terrorist breeding ground and most recently – one of the few democratic countries that have reversed its de facto ban on capital punishment.”
Both domestic and international human rights groups have warned that a prolonged political crisis triggered by the imprisonment of opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, earlier this year has put the Maldives at risk of an authoritarian reversal.
But the government today insisted that the Maldives has made “remarkable progress” in protecting human rights since former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom launched a democratic reform agenda in 2004.
“The country is now a state party to seven out of the nine core human rights conventions, and since 2005, over sixty percent of legislations passed by the Maldives parliament has exclusively focused on the protection of rights,” Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said in a statement today.
“Above all, the 2008 constitution of Maldives with an extensive bill of rights, provides a strong foundation for the promotion of human rights in the country.”
Dunya – Gayoom’s daughter and niece of current President Abdulla Yameen – said the foreign ministry “will continue to work with national human rights agencies, civil society organisations, and our international partners to cultivate the values of respect for human rights in the Maldives.”
She added: “Our collaborative efforts have been beneficial in the past, and will be fruitful in the coming years.”
The MDN, however, accused the government of “ruthlessly and unlawfully” dealing with critics and “eliminating all dissent through manipulation of democratic processes.”
“All opposition leaders in the Maldives are currently imprisoned or in self-imposed exile. After a flawed and unfair trial, former president Mohamed Nasheed languishes in prison yet again,” read the MDN statement.
“Political violence resurges sporadically; TV stations have been torched, journalist Ibrahim Waheed and Nasheed’s lawyer Mahfooz Saeed were stabbed in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
“Dr Afrasheem Ali, one of the more moderate scholars and former MP was murdered following several threats to his life, without the State having been able to protect him. The investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance of Maldivian journalist working for the Maldives’ Independent (previously called Minivan News) – Ahmed Rilwan – has produced no progress since his disappearance in August 2014.”
The MDN suggested that it is “imperative” for open and democratic countries to “take appropriate measures to guide the Maldives at this difficult juncture.”
“We believe that public officials who violate fundamental rights and international obligations, derailing democratic transition, shall specifically be held to account in order for the nation to move forward with the democratic ideals adopted in August 2008,” it added.
The Human Rights Commission of Maldives meanwhile said today that more than 500 complaints have been submitted so far this year over alleged abuse and rights violations.
The majority of the 529 cases relate to the infringement of social and economic rights, the HRCM said in a statement released on the occasion of International Human Rights Day.
Other cases involve allegations of torture and inhumane treatment, unfair administrative action, employment-related complaints as well as the rights of children, the elderly, and persons with special needs.
The commission also investigated cases involving home ownership disputes, issues in the health sector, discrimination based on gender, deprivation of the right to education, and complaints regarding the judiciary.
“We note with regret that the commission has had to face many challenges in fulfilling its responsibilities,” the HRCM said.
“We note the importance of improving the legal framework for carrying out the responsibility of promoting, protecting, and upholding human rights in the Maldives, eliminating obstacles for assuring justice for those whose rights are violated, providing the necessary protection for victims of violence, and bringing those who abuse the rights of others to face justice.”
The HRCM also stressed the importance of strengthening the social security system, and establishing facilities and mechanisms to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.
In its second annual anti-torture report released earlier this year, the HRCM had noted that police officers were accused in 54 out of 56 cases of torture submitted between July 2014 and June 2015.
The commission completed investigations into 37 cases and sent four cases for prosecution, the report stated, but the Prosecutor General’s office declined to prosecute any of the cases due to insufficient evidence.