The Commonwealth pledged today to continue scrutiny over and support for the Maldives, issuing a list of demands for President Abdulla Yameen, including freedom for jailed politicians and dialogue to stem a crisis exacerbated by a continuing crackdown on dissent and allegations of corruption.
It appears that the Maldives has once again avoided, albeit narrowly, formal action by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a body that monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights.
Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon hailed the CMAG’s decision not to place Maldives on its formal agenda as “an endorsement of President Abdulla Yameen’s policy on democracy consolidation.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, in London on government authorised medical leave from prison, however, offered a different view. He said: “It is encouraging to see that Maldives in on CMAG agenda with close ministerial observation.”
The CMAG, in a statement issued after an extraordinary meeting in London today, said it would review in April the Maldives’ progress on recommendations, notably that on inclusive political dialogue.
But that talks may even begin remains in question with the opposition and the government at loggerheads over the release of political leaders. Yameen defended today their jailing and the judiciary, stating that Commonwealth action “would not effect a change in our thinking.”
“Should they take action the country would face difficulty in receiving aid and assistance for its development projects… However, we are not prepared to accept statements that our judges are not of the same calibre as other foreign judges,” he said, during a visit to a southern island today.
Yameen had extended a second invitation for all-party talks last week, shortly after a visit by a Commonwealth ministerial delegation. The opposition insists that it would only participate if their leaders were released.
The CMAG has welcomed the government’s commitment to talks, but also noted that political leaders in prison and in exile must be able to participate.
Key figures in prison include Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla who was sentenced on a charge of terrorism just two weeks ago, and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
Others living in self-imposed exile include former Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and leading politicians from the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Jumhooree Party.
The CMAG said it was concerned over space for dissent, including the detention and exile of political leaders, as well as separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.
Talks initiated by the government must be “inclusive, purposeful, time-bound and forward-looking,” with the participation of representative of all political parties, it said.
The government must take steps to release jailed political leaders and the return of those in exile, so “that all political leaders can contribute to political life in the Maldives, including political dialogue and the 2018 elections.”
It went on to criticise and call for an end to the use of anti-terror laws to stifle debate, and urged the government to address concerns over due process violations in the trials involving political leaders.
Meanwhile swift action must be taken on earlier recommendations on the separation of powers and independence of the judiciary, it said.
The Commonwealth Secretariat must also continue to offer “all possible support to Maldives to implement its plans to address human capacity and other technical assistance needs.” For inclusive, free and fair elections in 2018, progress is required in all noted fields, the CMAG added.
The government has since invited the Commonwealth to appoint a special envoy for the Maldives.
Dunya and Attorney General Mohamed Anil briefed the CMAG during today’s meeting, claiming that Yameen “has a strong commitment to move forward with his plans for reform>”
The president’s first priority is to create “an environment characterised by mutual trust among political actors,” Dunya had said, according to a series of tweets.
However, trust appears elusive with the MDP and AP accusing the government of lying today. The parties had alleged that ministers had misled the CMAG by claiming the opposition had agreed to talks without conditions.
Speaking to the press at noon, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said the MDP and AP “have sent their confirmations to us in writing, telling us to go ahead with the consultation.”
When reporters noted the opposition had conditioned the release of opposition leaders, Shainee said: “We don’t have any conditions expressed by the parties about taking part in the talks. They have expressed dissatisfactions and I believe we will be able to find solutions to these dissatisfactions at the sessions. They haven’t disagreed to this… what is visible in the media and the official letters differ somewhat in that regard.”
The opposition immediately responded by reiterating its conditions and accused the government of lying to influence the CMAG’s decision.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has meanwhile threatened to impose targeted sanctions if the Maldives fails to make progress.
“Let us hope that diplomatic efforts, including by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, will lead to the changes we want to see. But Britain and our allies, including India and Sri Lanka, are watching the situation very closely,” he had said in January.