Powerful western countries use “double standards” to unfairly judge small and vulnerable nations like the Maldives, President Abdulla Yameen has said.
Speaking at a function held on Thursday night to mark International Human Rights Day, Yameen said the UN was also powerless to stop the double standards against small nations.
“There are plenty of UN resolutions on the Palestine issue. But countries that advocate for human rights, and countries that raise their voices saying there are no human rights in the Maldives, surely do not see the suffering of the Palestinian people, and their ears are surely deaf to it,” he said.
Following widespread condemnation of the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians earlier this year, Yameen has repeatedly slammed alleged foreign interference in Maldivian domestic affairs, declaring that his government would not bow to foreign pressure.
Yameen said last night that the Maldives is facing criticism “behind the veil of human rights” because of the government’s refusal to allow freedom of religion and same-sex marriage.
The Maldives has signed seven out of nine core human rights conventions, he continued, but was facing criticism over reservations held on religious grounds.
While protecting the freedoms and rights of individuals is the highest priority in some countries like the United States, Yameen said priorities will differ across nations based on culture and societal norms.
“No two countries is the same on human rights affairs. The Maldives is now being criticised the most because certain rights cannot be practiced in the country. As the Maldives is an Islamic state and a country with a 100 percent Islamic population, our law does not allow providing all the rights. The thinking of our citizens, too, will not allow it,” he said.
“So human rights cannot be afforded in the Maldives to the same extent or as broadly as it is in Western, first world countries. That is not just now, but for future generations as well. For the Maldives to remain an Islamic state is more important to us that all these rights.”
Despite the international criticism, Yameen said his administration was committed to protecting human rights in the Maldives. The government’s highest priority is protecting the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised in society, he added.
The government is pursuing “affirmative action” policies to ensure that persons with special needs could become productive members of society, he said, referring to plans to establish a crafts centre as well as school programmes to teach skills.
Yameen said the government’s aim to have at least one special education teacher in every school in the Maldives by 2016.
The government is also working to empower women, he continued, and is close to achieving its goal of ensuring that 40 percent of board directors in state-owned enterprises are women.
Pregnant women in the civil service will also be able to work from home after January 1, he announced.
Human rights cannot be protected only by signing international conventions and enacting legislation, Yameen said, but requires a culture of respect that must be carefully nurtured.