Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

 

ACHR REVIEW
[ Special Issues for the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights]

Embargoed for 30 March 2005
Review: CHR61/66/05
Maldives: The Dark Side of Life

When the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights considers agenda item 19 on technical cooperation, Maldives should be a fit case. On 7 March 2005, Strategic Communications Unit of the President’s Office unveiled much-vaunted proposals of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of Maldives for constitutional reforms. The reform proposals are manipulative tricks to further strengthen the powers of the President while attempting to appease an increasingly critical international community. President Gayoom is currently on a visit to India to promote his proposals.

Maldives: The Dark Side of Life released today to coincide with the press conference being organised by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom at 10 am highlights continued repression and urges President Gayoom to end repression on the political opponents, withdraw his much-vaunted proposal for constitutional reforms unveiled on 7 March 2005 and allow the Peoples Special Majlis to fulfill its mandate of drafting a new constitution. It also urges the Government of India not to give legitimacy to the repressive policies of President Gayoom.

Though on 31 December 2004 President Gayoom declared the withdrawal of charges of high treason and public disorder offences against persons including former Secretary General of SAARC for participating in the demonstrations on 12-13 August 2004, none of the detainees has received individual notices so far. The charges have been actually 'suspended' with the option to re-activate them at a later date if they oppose the government.

On 22 January 2005, during the elections for the Majlis, Ahmed Falah, a photographer of the Maldivian Democratic Party, was arrested for videoing the electoral irregularities. While in detention, the State also brought up previous charges of a case of detainee’s alleged involvement in assaulting a prison inmate in November 1998. Falah has been held under house arrest since 21 March 2005.

Even after declaration of socalled general amnesty on 31st December 2004 and holding of the elections for the parliament, the Majlis, in January 2005, repression on the political opponents continues. On 10 December 2004, Ihsan Ahmed Naseer, a minor was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism in the Maldives Act (Law no.10/90) for allegedly making threatening phone calls to the government officials. He was held until the Court released him on 29 December 2004, only to be re-arrested on 24 January 2005. He was released after one month in detention on 24 February 2005 and is required to report to the police. On the night of 23 January 2005, Mohamed Fauzi was detained by the Maldives police service and is still being held in detention and interrogated about pro-democracy movement.

Human rights situation remains deplorable with arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. Muaviath Mahmood who was arrested on 4 March 2005 for alleged charges of drug offences and taken to Dhoonidhoo for investigation died on 9 March 2005. His neck and eyes were swollen and there was indication that blood had oozed out of his nose.  His back had imprints of “square grids” very similar to those underneath heavy boots.

Those who provide assistance to the victims of atrocities are being harassed. At about 9.30 pm on 19 March 2005, Ahmed Nazim Sattar, chief organizer of the “Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care” was summoned to the Police Station for allegedly advising Mrs Sakeena, whose son Ahmed Zuhoor was arrested on 5 March 2005 and ill-treated in custody, to approach Human Rights Commission of the Maldives. The Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care has been denied registration. Like all things in the Maldives, the biggest NGO, the Society for Health Education, is headed by First Lady, Nasreena Abdul Gayoom.

The State does not respect freedom of expression. The state owns the TV and Radio stations whilst all three major papers - Aafathis, Haveeru and Miadhu - are owned by cabinet ministers and the brother-in-law of the President.

The proposals of President Gayoom on fundamental rights further restricts the freedom of expression under the guise of undefined  “vandalism, and other similar militant acts.”

The President also proposes to create the posts of Vice Presidents and Prime Minister but provides no procedure as to how the Vice President or the Prime Minister would be appointed or elected. Yet, he strengthens his power to “appoint and dismiss” everybody - Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Commissioner of Elections and Auditor-General, Attorney-General, Envoys of the State sent abroad with special privileges, and Atoll Chiefs” and to appoint and dissolve the Council of Ministers at his own whims.

President Gayoom’s proposals remain silent on the present constitution of which 60% is concerned with the powers and immunities of the President, while 40% deals with the responsibilities of the state and the rights of the Maldivian people. The problems with the present constitution pertain to sweeping powers granted to the President Gayoom, enabling him to control both the parliament and the judiciary. It also makes the President as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and the Governor of the Maldivian Monetary Authority and Chief of the judiciary with the power to appoint and remove judges and to overturn any of the High Court’s rulings and to grant pardons and amnesties and the power to hire and fire everybody.

The only significant concession made by President Gayoom is to “divest the presidency of its role as the head of the judiciary”.

Yet, President Gayoom will be able to pass the proposals easily and proclaim himself as a democrat. The Peoples Special Majlis mandated to draft the constitution of Maldives consists of over 100 members depending on the size of the Cabinet who are also members of the Peoples Special Majlis. Out of these members, 16 are appointed by the President himself, while a further 10 unelected Members (Cabinet Ministers) sit as MP’s. As political parties are not allowed to contest the elections, President Gayoom has full control over the entire process of drafting a new constitution by the Peoples’ Peoples Majlis.

The election for the Majlis held in January 2005 was not free and fair. There were reports of ‘irregularities’, such as government intimidation of voters in remote areas of the islands, buying votes, and threats to withhold reconstruction aid for tsunami affected areas. A large number of the political opponents were imprisoned preventing them from being registered as candidates and many were intimidated to withdraw their candidacy. Some of the candidates who stood for the elections including Shuaib Ali for the Haa Dhaal atoll were detained prior to campaigning in Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre, meted out inhuman and degrading treatment and were not allowed to campaign. The stage for Gayoom’s triumph was set.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom must be urged to withdraw his proposals and allow the Special Peoples Majlis to fulfill its mandate to draft a new constitution and incorporate the provisions of international human rights standards; allow the registration of political parties, in particular, Maldivian Democratic Party, to provide for multi-party democracy; issue the notice pertaining to the withdrawal of charges of high treason to the individuals concerned, allow registration of NGOs, in particular consider the registration of the “Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care” and release all the political detainees including Ahmed Falah, Mohamed Fauzi, Fathimath Nisreen, Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi and others held under house arrest.

International Community must continue to monitor the situation in Maldives for restoration of multi-party democracy and encourage the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide technical cooperation assistance for the drafting of the new constitution.

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