A British decision on imposing targeted sanctions against members of the Maldivian government will rest on the outcome of a Commonwealth-led push for reform in the Indian Ocean archipelago, a top diplomat from the UK has said.
If the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group finds that “sufficient steps” for reform have not been taken by September, “the UK will carefully consider appropriate bilateral action to help support reform efforts in the Maldives,” Hugo Swire, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said Thursday.
He was responding to a question by Labour MP Julie Cooper on whether the UK would introduce targeted sanctions against the Maldives if CMAG recommendations were not implemented.
Suggesting that the UK would follow the Commonwealth’s lead on the Maldives, Swire said: “It will be for CMAG to assess what progress has been made by September and to decide what collective action may be required.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron had said the same in January. “We want to see a change in behaviour from the Maldivian government to make sure that political prisoners are set free, and yes we are prepared to consider targeted action against individuals if further progress isn’t made,” he told the parliament.
“Let us hope that diplomatic efforts, including by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, will lead to the changes we want to see.”
The CMAG – a rotating body of foreign ministers from member states – had delayed action against the Maldives earlier this month, despite limited progress on a six-point reform agenda it had proposed in February.
The group, however, called for “clear, measurable progress” by September.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was handed a 13-year jail term last March on a terror charge, leads the international push for sanctions. The opposition leader is currently in the UK on government-authorised medical leave.
Nasheed’s legal counsel said they have shared a confidential list of potential targets with the US and UK governments.
President Abdulla Yameen has repeatedly slammed international criticism as an attack on the Maldives’ sovereignty. He called the CMAG’s statement “unacceptable” last week, despite his ministers’ vowing to implement its recommendations.
The CMAG’s demands also include calls for steps to prevent use of anti-terror laws to stifle dissent, swift action on recommendations for judicial reform and freedom and space for civil society.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has meanwhile listed the Maldives as one of 30 human rights priority countries in its annual human rights report. The list – which includes Syria, China, and Sri Lanka – are countries “where we judge that the UK can make a real difference,” Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said.
The human rights situation in the Maldives deteriorated with a “sustained decline in democracy and judicial independence as President Yameen’s government tightened its grip on power,” the FCO said.
“Political and civil freedoms were eroded, opposition and some government figures were arbitrarily arrested, the press resorted to self-censorship, and there were worrying moves to re-introduce the death penalty after a moratorium of more than 60 years. Growing religious conservatism, was also a cause of concern.”
The UK will “continue to remind Maldives of its commitment to protect human rights, using both quiet diplomacy and public messaging. We will also use coordinated international engagement to push for greater political plurality and inclusion; the protection of fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly; the independence of the judiciary; and the reversal of moves to reintroduce the death penalty.”
The Commonwealth, EU and UN will be important partners, the FCO added.
A top UN official was in Malé last week for indirect talks between the government and the opposition.
The US Senate unanimously passed a non-binding resolution earlier this month, urging Yameen to redress the “injustice” of Nasheed’s jailing. It followed the adoption of a similar resolution by the parliament of the European Union in December, which called on member states to impose asset freezes and travel bans against Maldivian government officials and their supporters in the business community.