Dr. Ahmed Shaheed
Former Foreign Minister of Maldives
Dr. Farah Faizal
Former High Commissioner of the Republic of Maldives to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Writer and Human Rights Activist
6 – 7pm, Wednesday 12th September 2012
Committee Room 8, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: Charlotte.firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maldives is typically associated with images of an idyllic tropical paradise, for holidaymakers and honeymooners soaking up the sun on golden beaches and in the glistening blue sea. Few people know that for more than 30 years, until 2008, it was ruled by a brutal dictatorship, led by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, at one time Asia’s longest-serving leader. Gayoom’s regime had all the hallmarks of authoritarianism: the imprisonment of political opponents, torture, police brutality, the suppression of protests, and corruption. Like most dictators, Gayoom brooked no dissent.
In 2006, however, reformers appointed by Gayoom to give his regime a new image embarked on a genuine process of change. The leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mohamed Nasheed, who had spent over 18 years in detention or exile and was at the time under house arrest, was released. Other prisoners were also freed. The MDP and the government engaged in dialogue, and a path towards the country’s first free and fair elections was agreed. In 2008, elections were held, Gayoom was defeated, and Mohamed Nasheed, a dissident who had spent many years in solitary confinement enduring torture and beatings, became the Maldives’ first democratically elected President. A new dawn had broken, and the Maldives was held up as a role model – a Muslim-majority nation which had charted a peaceful transition to democracy.
The good news story turned sour as Gayoom’s cronies regrouped and began to manoeuvre against Mohamed Nasheed’s government. In addition, a new dimension emerged: the rise of radical Islamist teachings. On 7 February 2012, parts of the security forces, backed by elements closely allied to Gayoom and with support from extremist Islamists, toppled Nasheed’s democratically elected government.
In the past seven months, police brutality has dramatically increased and intensified. Serious human rights abuses have been committed. Some dissidents have been jailed. Nasheed has been charged with illegally arresting a judge while he served as president, charges that are clearly politically motivated, designed to eliminate him from contesting any future elections. There is no chance he can expect a fair trial. If convicted, he could serve three years in jail.
By kind invitation of John Glen MP, the Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a panel discussion with Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, Former Foreign Minister of Maldives; Dr. Farah Faizal, Former High Commissioner of the Republic of Maldives to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Benedict Rogers, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Writer and Human Rights Activist. As it is now time for the international community, including the United Kingdom, to take the crisis in the Maldives seriously, this discussion will consider what measures should be taken to help the Maldives return to the path of democracy and respect for human rights, tackle radicalisation and restore the rule of law.
TIME: 6 – 7pm
DATE: Wednesday 12th September 2012
VENUE: Committee Room 8, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: Charlotte.email@example.com
Dr Ahmed Shaheed served as Foreign Minister in the government of President Gayoom, from 2005-2007, and was the leading reformer who helped guide the transition to democracy. Before becoming Foreign Minister, he served as the first ever Chief Government Spokesman in the Maldives. He resigned as Foreign Minister in 2007 after a no-confidence motion in the Majlis (Parliament) tabled by opponents of reform. In 2008 President Nasheed appointed him Foreign Minister in his government. He stepped down in 2010 and currently serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. He is the co-founder of New Maldives, and founder of the Open Society Association in the Maldives, both organisations working for human rights and democracy.
On 5 May 2009, the Washington-based think-tank, Centre for the Study of Islam and Democracy conferred their annual Muslim Democrat of the Year Award to Dr Shaheed. The citation for the award read that it was being given to Dr Shaheed in recognition of his “role in building democracy and preserving it in the face of hardship, for promoting tolerance and harmony, and for opening a window into a century of reason, freedom, human rights and democracy in the Maldives and in South Asia”. Dr Shaheed is a Visiting Fellow at the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex and will join the University of Essex next month as Visiting Professor of Human Rights Practice.
Dr. Farah Faizal was the High Commissioner of the Republic of Maldives to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from March 2009 to February 2012. She also served as Ambassador of Maldives to France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
Starting out as a Research Officer in 1989 in the President’s Office in Malé, Maldives, she advanced to the position as Senior Research Officer in 1991 and worked in the position for a year. Between 1996 and 1998 she worked for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Between 1998 and 2008 she worked as an independent analyst and consultant with the research speciality of security problems of small island states, gender and international relations. She was also part of the movement to establish democracy in the Maldives, liaising with various human rights organizations in the UK to bring an end to the human rights abuses in the Maldives.
Dr. Farah Faizal graduated from University of Keele in 1989, UK, with a BA in International Relations, and in 1991 she completed her M. Phil in International Relations at the University of Cambridge. In 1996 Dr. Faizal obtained a PhD in Politics from the University of Hull, UK. She also co-edited a book on gender and security, “A clearing in the thicket: Women, Security, South Asia” published by Sage in 2005.
Following the coup d’état in the Maldives on the 7th of February 2012 that overthrew the democratically elected government of Maldives, Dr. Faizal resigned from her post in protest. Since her resignation she has been appointed the Spokesperson in Europe for the Maldivian Democratic Party.
Benedict Rogers is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and a writer and human rights activist specialising in Asia. In 2006, he visited the Maldives on behalf of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, met with government ministers and opposition activists, including Mohamed Nasheed, under house arrest at the time. He authored a report on the Maldives which was published in 2006, and has contributed articles on the Maldives to publications such as The International Herald Tribune and The Huffington Post. He is the author of five books, including three books on Burma, and has travelled extensively to Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, North Korea, China and other parts of Asia. In 2005 he was the Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate in the City of Durham. He is a Trustee of several charitable organisations, is an Associate of Oxford House Research, and has served as Special Adviser to the Special Representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Freedom of Religion Panel.
John Glen MP
Special interest in the Maldives. I visited it, the Maldives, three times over the last five years and Salisbury itself has many links to very special people who fought for democracy in that country over many, many years and it is a privilege to stand with them. How I propose to chair this evening’s discussion is to allow the three speakers; starting on my far left is a great friend of mine, Ben Rogers, who I’ve known for twenty years who has been a powerful advocate for human rights across the globe, and he has again a strong relationship and a strong history with the Maldives and he will tell us his perspective on recent events. I will then ask Farah Faizal to speak, former ambassador, and now representative of the MDP in Europe, and then I will ask Dr. Shaheed to speak. And obviously you’ve seen their biographies. I think seeing some of the faces here I know that you know the three characters here and then we can have a discussion. It’s an intimate gathering this evening but no less valuable because of that. And hopefully we’ll be able to look at what happened in February, what happened in terms of the report, try to understand the implications of this report and what’s the way forward for this country. I’ve written about this event in February and I’ve been quite shocked by what’s happened since, but I’ll leave it to the panellists to set out their observations and hopefully everyone can ask questions and express their views. So, Ben, would you like to start?
Certainly. Well, John, thank you very much for that very kind introduction. Thank you very much for both chairing this meeting and the excellent work you yourself have done on this important issue for some years. I would also like to thank the Henry Jackson Society very much for hosting this event. And to say what a privilege it is to share this platform with Farah and Dr. Shaheed. I want to keep my remarks as brief as possible because I think it’s most important that we hear from Farah and Dr. Shaheed and their very deep and personal knowledge of the situation.
But I wanted to start by saying that I’ve had the privilege, rather like John, of witnessing over the last 6 years both, well, over the last 6 years the Maldives transitioned to democracy, and then the sadness over the last 6 months of witnessing, what appears to me – at least for the time being – the demise of democracy. And I thought I’d give a very brief overview of that journey because, in about 2005, soon after the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission was established and we were thinking about what topics we should be looking into, a group called the Friends of the Maldives approached us who are based in Salisbury, and they came to Gary Streeter MP who was the first chairman of the commission and myself and said would we look at the human rights situation in the Maldives. And, to be honest, neither he nor I knew very much, if anything, about the Maldives. But we were shocked by what we heard from them. We learned that the Maldives was ruled at that time by one of the longest serving dictators in Asia who had ruled the country in the end for 30 years.
And so, in 2006, I had an opportunity. I was travelling to the region, and I said to Friends of the Maldives, would it be helpful if I visited the Maldives? And this was during the Gayoom, the final years of the Gayoom’s era, and Friends of the Maldives said “yes, it would be very helpful.” And I said, “presumably I need to go in a very low key below-the-radar way, the way I’ve done in a number of other countries in the region,” and they said, “well, actually, in the past that would have been what we advised, but at the moment there are the beginnings of some signs of reform.” And, at the time, Dr. Shaheed was the Foreign Minister in President Gayoom’s government, and I was recommended to contact Dr. Shaheed as one of the leading voices of reform in that government. And I remember telephoning Dr. Shaheed from Colombo and saying I was planning to come.
And so I went, and Dr. Shaheed was incredibly helpful in arranging for me to meet, for example, Mohamed Nasheed who was at that time the leader of the opposition on house arrest and a journalist Jennifer Latheef who was also on house arrest. And I really left that visit with the feeling that here was a dictatorship with a terrible human rights record, but actually a situation where there was the chance of a transition to democracy and a real hope for a better future for the country. I remember, for example, doing things that people in the Maldives said would have been impossible just a little while before, addressing a public meeting that Dr. Shaheed convened on the subject of human rights. And we published from the Conservative Human Rights Commission a report at that time with two key recommendations which seemed to me basic common sense recommendations. The first was that if the Gayoom regime was serious about reform, the first thing they should do is release Mohamed Nasheed and Jennifer Latheef from house arrest. And secondly, that if they were released, the MDP and Mohamed Nasheed should engage with people like Dr. Shaheed and try to work together to charge a transition to democracy.
And, over the subsequent couple of years, that is exactly what happened. And Mohamed Nasheed was released and, in 2008, the first truly free and fair elections were held. And Mohamed Nasheed and the MDP were elected. And so I really felt that – of course transitions are never without challenges – but I felt that the prospects for the Maldives were much better than they had been. And we actually reached a point where President Nasheed was then beginning to look at other countries in the world including Burma, where I’ve done a lot of work, and offer his assistance and the assistance of the Maldives to help other countries in transition to democracy.
But, in the last couple of years, we’ve noticed growing challenges which I know Farah and Dr. Shaheed will expand on, particularly the issue of rising Islamism and religious intolerance. And we’ve seen, in fact, this summer an attack – just one of many examples – an attack on Hilath Rasheed simply for advocating religious tolerance, and he was brutally attacked and very nearly he died. So these signs of hope that we saw over the last six years came to a crashing fall on 7 February of this year in what I believe, although sadly people in the international community don’t all agree on this, I believe it was by any definition a coup. Farah will go into more detail on that. Since the coup, we’ve seen increasing police brutality, serious human rights violations, and continuing religious intolerance, and I think it’s quite clear that the coup was a combination, and again Farah and Dr. Shaheed can explain this in more detail, but a combination of elements of the old Gayoom regime working to overthrow Nasheed and overthrow democracy, but in a sort of unholy alliance with Islamist elements to, as Farah put it to me, a few months ago, moved from the fringes to a more centre stage position.
Two recent reports just published which you invariably will hear; one from Amnesty International and one from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) go into a lot of detail about the human rights issues since the coup. And I just want to conclude with words that I wrote in an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune which has been circulated to you, but in the final paragraph of that article I think what I’ve written here sums up what I feel about the tragic events over the last six months – “Despite expressions of concern by some western officials, the response from the international community so far has been tepid at best. If we believe in democracy, if we oppose Islamism, and if we recognise the threat to our own interests, we must stand up for Maldivian democrats and take action to restore the democracy for which the people have struggled for so long and have tasted for only a little more than three years.” So I look forward to Farah and Dr. Shaheed going into these issues in much more depth and offering us some thoughts on what the international community can do to help the Maldives get back on the path to democracy and a moderate, tolerant nation. Thank you.
John Glen MP
Thanks very much Ben. Farah, you can go ahead.
Thank you and, well, first of all can you hear me at the back? Yes? First of all I’d like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for organising this event. It’s very, very good that you could support us and we are very grateful for that, and of course John Glenn and Ben for their support in this difficult period. What I propose to do is I just want to give you, sort of take you through, the coup for the first part of what I’ve got to say. But to do that I’m actually going to use passages from the report that recently came out from the Commission of National Inquiry and then I’ll let you think about whether you think it’s a coup or not and whether you agree with their conclusions. Before I do begin, just to give a quick recap on what happened in the last six months, on 6 February there was an uprising, a mutiny from my perspective by the police and the military joined in. And President Nasheed was forced to resign. And, since then, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had called upon the government to hold early elections, which was of course rejected by the current government. And the person who is currently heading the Maldives government, Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, he was the Vice President of President Nasheed but he is from a different party, and a very small party with no members of parliament and no elected counsellors – I just want to say that for future reference.
So what happened is that the there was a commission set up by the current regime and the person who was chairing the commission was the former defence minister of Gayoom who had ruled Maldives for 30 years. I mean, we of course objected to that commission. We certainly didn’t believe that could be independent and impartial when the person who was actually heading the commission was part of the group we believed was behind the coup. So the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group insisted that they actually appoint somebody from President Nasheed’s side as well as a Commonwealth judge, a retired judge. That happened in June and with a lot of threats from the Commonwealth but, unfortunately since June, the report came out the end of August. But, between the two months’ time period, the retired judge who was forced to co-chair the commission was away for 31 days – in effect leaving the old chairman very much controlling things. But, having said that, I just want to read bits from the report and take you through what happened that night.
On the night of 6 February, the opposition had a protest on the eastern end of Malé, the capital. They had been protesting for about 20, 21 days, and it wasn’t massive but they were quite vocal. And President Nasheed’s party, the MDP, had also been organising rallies. Now the night of the 6th, the protest started about 10:30 as usual, and the Specialist Operations Police, which is the riot police in the Maldives, they were there trying to control the situation. Now I’m just going to read from what happened that night – ‘The problems with the Specialist Operations, specialist operations refer to the riot police, wasn’t when the MDP protesters pitched themselves in the vicinity of the opposition protest rallies from 4 February 2012. On the evening of 6 February, President Nasheed and the Commissioner of Police asked the Assistant Commissioner to resign on the ground of no confidence. The Assistant Commissioner went home saying he would give his answer within three days. In the evening by 10:30, the pro-government and anti-government protesters were facing each other. Both sides carried offensive objects like sticks, rods and bottles. It was likely that there would be a violent clash. Nevertheless, President Nasheed gave orders for the withdrawal of the specialist operations from the area, but they refused to depart claiming it was an unlawful order’.
So the police themselves have decided that whatever the orders President Nahseed had given, and we aren’t sure whether he actually gave it or not but this is what the report says, they decided it was an unlawful order.
‘President Nasheed then contacted the head of the Marine Police who was off-duty and other police personnel who he believed were dependable. They were instructed to withdraw the Specialist Operations from the scene. The head of the Marine Police expected some Specialist Operations commanders to be arrested and transported to the island of Dhoonidhoo. The Specialist Operations refused to budge. They said that if the military was sent there as a peace-keeping force they would withdraw. At the request of the Commissioner of Police, the Malé area commander of the military dispatched a military command to the Artificial Beach.’
Artificial Beach is the area where the protest was happening.
‘The Specialist Operations withdrew from the scene and headed for Republic Square. When President Nasheed learned that the military was there, he was displeased.’
I don’t know how they came to that conclusion but that’s what it says.
‘Immediately he ordered the military to withdraw. A clash then ensued between the opposing groups. Some witnesses claimed, about this time when the specialist operations were retreating, they attacked them at a restaurant known as Tuscaloosa. It is not disputed that the specialist operations pursued an attack there.’
So we are talking about the report itself saying the police actually attacked the people in this restaurant.
‘They also vandalised the MDP meeting place called Harugay and battered some MDP members including senior members of the government. Thereafter they returned to Republic Square and joined the rest of the police. Some witnesses, “we don’t know who,” but some witnesses were of the view that President Nasheed was himself shaping the events of the night to declare a state of emergency. A valid declaration of emergency would suspend several vital, fundamental freedoms under the constitution. The tense situation at the Artificial Beach however fizzled out by midnight. The Specialist Operations were by now alive to President Nasheed’s intention to arrest, incarcerate and punish them. On his orders, the military approached them to make the arrest. The Specialist Operations backed by the non-specialised police objected and refused. They stated their demands in plain and simple words. First the commissioner police must give the assurance that there would be no unlawful orders. Next the Commissioner of Police must give the assurance not to arrest, incarcerate or punish them for their actions on the night. Some policemen were heard to call for the resignation of President Nasheed.’
Now imagine a scene where the MET gathered in Trafalgar Square and calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister, or let’s make it the head of state, President Nasheed is the head of state, her Majesty the Queen. I mean this is the same kind of thing that is happening in the Maldives. The Republic Square is our version I would say of the main square in Malé.
‘Also about the time the military headquarters was turned red alert under the directions of the Malé area commander, signifying preparations for war. This is the highest level of readiness in the military, reserved for external international security or national calamity and it is accompanied by the sound of a siren which can be heard across the whole of Malé.
And then, it goes on to say, that a team was sent from the military to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Specialist Operations, nothing materialised. This time they asked for the Commissioner of Police to meet them personally and give the assurance they sought. They remained in riot gear. As time wore on, more policemen joined them at the Republic Square. Some of the new arrivals were off duty. Some had been transferred away. They all rallied to the course of the Specialist Operations. The swell of support continued to grow.
And then it goes on to say that, on the ground there was an impasse. The military wanted to avoid an armed or unarmed combat as it would irreparably divide the nation and their own families. The military had family connections with the police and vice versa.’
So basically, they talk about why the military refused; they gave a reason that they have family connections, apparently. Then it goes on to say that ‘at about 7.00am, President Nasheed walked out of the military headquarters to deal with the situation personally. There is no evidence that either the cabinet colleagues’ or military officers’ persons advised him. He was heckled. The crowd, comprising both police and civilians, hurled abuse at him including clear calls for his resignation. About then, the MDP supporters were gathered near the Reefside Junction, walked toward the centre of the Republican Square, calling for the arrest of the mutinying police. Once they were within close proximity, the police turned on them and a squirmish ensued in which the MDP supporters were subjected to violence, forcing injury to a number of senior MDP members including members of parliament.’
This is where it says about the police beating up the parliamentarians and the other MDP members. And then it goes on to say, that ‘in Malé on that day, there were some 300 active army personnel compared with about 1000 police. Teargas canisters were thrown at them and was subsequently hurled each way with adverse effects. At this time the wind favoured the policemen so the soldiers were more affected by the gas. The Republic Square descended into chaos. Command and control was lost completely by both the military and the police. Around this time a group of soldiers from another area [name of island] marched down the street and joined the protesters at the Republic Square.’
This is how they describe the military coming and joining the police. And then it goes on to say how a civilian and ex-military officer came and joined them and went into the military headquarters and this is what he said when he came out. Nassem, sorry, let me digress a little bit. Nassem who was the former military personnel (who was a civilian) then met the defence minister in the presence of high ranking military officers.
‘He conveyed to the Defence Minister the crowd’s demand for the resignation of President Nasheed. They came out and met the crowd at the Republic Square. At the Republic Square, Naseem’ -the civilian- ‘addressed the crowd in these words. “Assalamu Alaikum, I hope everybody’s ok, yes, I have just met with the Defence Minister and all high ranking military personnel and made a proposal of ours. The proposal was that the President should resign without condition, and after that to transfer all power to the Vice President. Our second condition was that the Commissioner of Police and both his deputies resign at once. We told them these are non-negotiable conditions. These are not things for further discussion. We assure the beloved Maldivians, military, and police who are with us that god willing, these things will happen this way by the deadline we have set for 1:30 today. When I entered the military headquarters I was given a very happy scene. Everyone within the military lifted me up and very completely revealed their support for me. God willing, things will happen today as we want. I ask the military, the police, and people to patiently remain with us.”’
And so following this, following the chaos that ensued when people were throwing things, and President Nasheed was taken from the headquarters to his office where he resigned. And this is basically, in a nutshell, what happened on the night. And then the Commission Inquiry concludes, ‘the resignation of President Nasheed was voluntary and officiated on free will. It was not caused by any illegal caution or intimidation.’
Now since then, we have had a review of the report by a former Attorney General and President’s Council of Sri Lanka, and obviously he can’t comment on the contents of the report, but one thing they did was they raised several issues with the commission’s report. One thing that was quite noticeable and obvious is that former President Gayoom’s party deputy leader had gone on record and said “I called President Nasheed that night, I was in the command centre, and I told him that his life was at threat if he didn’t resign.” And he not only said this publicly, he also reported this to an Australian news channel and that news channel item, the documentary, is on YouTube and the commission failed to interview him. So basically this is the situation we are in. The commission decides that with all this happening with the military, and the police, and the President holed up in the military headquarters, and the Naseem coming in and saying “the military are with me, I’ve told the President he has to resign unconditionally,” and Naseem is now the Defence Commissioner, with all that, there was no intimidation whatsoever.
Since then, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group had a teleconference yesterday, and we’ve been told that the positive thing for us is that they didn’t endorse the report. They didn’t accept the findings, but they have delayed the discussion to their former meeting later this month where they are going to deliberate on both the report and the legal review that we have. One thing I just want to touch before I wind up is that the Vice President was sworn in very hastily that day, soon after President Nasheed resigned. He was sworn in in front of the Speaker and the Chief Justice. And our constitution very clearly says that if the President resigns, then the Vice President takes over. Article 1.2.6 of the constitution states: ‘any person temporarily discharging the duties of the office of the President or Vice President shall take and subscribe before the Chief Justice or his designate the relevant oath of office set out in Schedule 1 of this constitution. But it says that: any incoming President or Vice President shall assume office upon taking and subscribing before the Chief Justice or his designate at a sitting of the People’s Majils’, which is the parliament, ‘the relevant oath of office set out in schedule 1 of this constitution’.
That’s the Article 1.1.4 of Maldives’s constitution which clearly states that the President or Vice President must take oath of office in a sitting of the parliament, which did not happen with the current President. I will ask any questions later on once Dr. Shaheed has finished.
John Glen MP
Ok, well thank you for that sort of forensic account of events which I think will be very enlightening to many of us and I’m sure it will attract some questions. Would you like to go ahead now and hopefully we can have some time for questions after you’ve spoken.
Thank you very much, and thank you all for hosting the event and for being here today. We heard about the coup d’état and the events that went into that. Just to preface that with a little bit – on 23 December, all the opposition parties gathered in massive coalition, calling it Coalition Defence of Islam. That’s the actual point where the movements towards a coup coalesced. And then from there on they marched straight on into a full-like bribing the army or converting the army into Islamist ideas and then had the coup d’état. At around 2:45am, the night of describing the events, I was watching TV, and the Vice President came on with a message stating that I support the current efforts of the people to defend Islam, he said, and the constitution and essentially called the army not to follow through with the President’s actions. But the point where he said I support the efforts of the people to defend Islam and the constitution, and while all this was unravelling around 7.00am, a group of masked people went into the museum and smashed the entire collective of the pre-Islamic era of the Maldives. And that was like the Islamism undercurrent that’s in there in the current situation.
But I want to focus more on the human rights situation in the Maldives, and let me just point out that in May 2010, Maldives became the country to have attained the highest number of votes ever to a seat in the Human Rights Council. That was the point we attained for like in terms of respect for what we were doing to promote human rights. And the month before we were appointed to the Commonwealth Action Group for Democracy again as a watchdog on commonwealth for human rights and democracy, that’s where we were. But if you look at what’s happening now, you have before you the report from the Paris based Federation of Human Rights Defenders called From Sunrise to Sunset. We had just two weeks back a report by Amnesty International called The Other Side of Paradise, and we had a report from RSF and so on, all documenting very serious, alarming human rights violations in the Maldives.
I just want to speak to four points if I don’t bore you to sleep by doing that. It’s first of all what are the main rights at stake in the Maldives, and then I just want to talk about the observations made by the UN Human Rights Committee which reviewed the Maldives just two month back, and then talk about the obstacles to progress and human rights for the Maldives, and my thoughts on what may be the way forward for the Maldives. If you look at the reports of FIDH and Amnesty International, you find that one of the most alarming trends is a growing sense of impunity. Farah just mentioned to you for the crimes committed the night and the CONI [Commission on National Inquiry] Report said, well, ‘let it be’ basically. Not one person has been arrested for nearly killing MPs on two days back to back. Not one person has been arrested for all the violations that occurred on the two days and thereafter and we do have a human rights commission. Their conclusion was, ‘well the police were very emotionally charged.’ That’s it. And basically the sense of impunity is just overbearing at the moment. Of course we have tremendous amount of police brutality documented in the reports I just mentioned. We fought long and hard the right for peaceful assembly in the Maldives. It wasn’t there when Ben went there 5 years ago, we’ve had it for some time but now it’s under great danger. The police have systematically dismantled any assembly using force. They can drive very close through the protesters, they have dismantled a number of MDP camp sites, we speak to people to have their views and their views [inaudible] very close range at all designed to intimidate and destroy avenues where people gather peacefully. Right to free expression again, journalists are being arrested, they have been beaten up by the police. We just heard about Hilath Rasheed, the journalist who had his throat slashed. Not one arrest has been made. It was done at about 8pm in Malé in broad daylight; Malé doesn’t sleep until way past midnight. And not one arrest had been made on that. The government said only he is to blame for the attack on him. And the government, the army, and the prisons office has said openly that they will not cooperate or provide protection to the only TV station that is not pro-government. And they had their offices raided and destroyed and they have made no arrests. They quite openly said that we will not give them interviews or invite them to press conferences or have anything to do with them as a TV station which is a flagrant violation on the international norms on that.
Right to life is also in great danger in the Maldives. We haven’t had the death penalty for 50, 60 years now, and now of course everyone is adamant in government on imposing death penalty as a compulsory penalty. In fact there was a murder two – three months back and the courts had a sentence assured in two weeks – three weeks. I went through the judgement and the judge was citing not law but Koranic verses as reasoning for his judgement. Of course he does cite the law in the end, but this is something very, very alarming. He said under Islamic law, the state or the President cannot exercise clemency in case of conviction, it belongs totally and completely to the victims of the deceased. It is not in Maldivian law, and this creates a set-up for people like mandatory execution of people sentenced to death. So right to life is under serious danger, and given our judiciary is consistently attacked for its failings, we believe that the death penalty would be brought back only as an avenue to kill off political opponents. Torture is again rampant in the Maldives. Although we have signed onto the Commission Against Torture Without Reservations, which means we cannot in fact flog anybody, the government has a flog obsession. This week, they were determined to flog a 16 year old girl. This breaks both the CAT obligation and the Human Rights Commission on Children and our own laws as well. But they seem adamant to carry out flogging sentences.
We believe right to take part in public life is also under great danger. We had the first elections in the country democratically conducted and we just heard a description of how that President was deposed and following that we’ve had two MPs immediately removed by the Courts of Corruption for dubious evidence. And there are now 12, a dozen MPs from MDP, facing serious charges which could end up again forfeiting their seat in parliament. And people voted in large numbers to remove Gayoom and his power. Now the Vice President says he’s continuing the government of Nasheed but he has filled his cabinet with Gayoom’s family and friends and party leaders. So we believe we’ve been robbed of our right to freely participate in public life and to choose a government of our choice.
And of course a big issue in the Maldives is the freedom of religion. It is, in fact, written into our constitution and it goes through entire laws in the country and it is a major point of our difficulty for the Maldives. It is actually the result of historical accident, we’ve not had other faiths in the Maldives for a long time although today we host large numbers of expatriates who need to practice their faith but we ask them to practice them quietly, which is again a violation of our international obligations. Maldives did make a reservation to actually [inaudible] but we did not make a reservation to say what they can do. Our laws say our people can practice their faith, but we did not make it clear enough as to what that may be. So now we have a situation in which teachers can be deported even if they describe the [inaudible], someone can see a cross in that, that’s it. We had ministers, I was thrown out of the cabinet, for supporting making teaching Islam an optional subject. It’s now compulsory, we said we must give a choice to parents also only in 6th form, grade 11 – 12 , not at other levels, that was not, I feel like mullahs, and we had a mass resignation of cabinet members in July two years ago. Coming into this coup d’état there was a pamphlet written by people in the government currently, I think it’s called President Nasheed’s Devious Plot to something, and it accuses for example, Salisbury features in that, it accuses a general from Salisbury of plotting to blow up the Islamic centre in the Maldives and build a cathedral there. So you can imagine, and of course the judges said, “oh let us not investigate, we won’t hold account people who write this kind of stuff”. Anti-Semitism and opposition to other faiths is endemic. We also believe arbitrary detention is becoming quite, quite rampant. More than a thousand activists have been detained since the coup, or 79 have been charged formally with terrorism charges which are politically motivated.
Now the main points made by the Human Rights Committee which reviewed the Maldives, was lack of redress. It said torture in the Maldives was systemic and systematic, and the people in this cause who had no redress whatsoever to the Gayoom and they called the government to have the Commission of Inquiry to look into this. They refused to do this. Non-cooperation on international obligations on flogging, on freedom, and so on. And then of course Nasheed’s government made a number of pledges at the Universal Political Review to ban flogging totally, to entrench in law the moratorium on the death penalty, and to remove reservations to SIDO and to the Children’s Convention. Now all that has been negated by the current government.
Let me just fast forward to what I think are the ways forward. Now there are three main problems with the Maldives. One is lack of regard for rule of law, the other is social context, the Sharia based Islamic context, the third is lack of political will. Now we have to ensure we strengthen the bigger framework. Our laws are very deficient in a number of areas, legal framework must be strengthened and we must insist that rule of law is adhered to. Secondly, we have to increase advocacy for human rights because people have to be told, just because we’ve been an Islamic state all these years, you have to start behaving like a state that respects its obligations to international law. But that requires, I think, advocacy of human rights and promotion of that. Today, human rights is an ugly litigation in the Maldives. Those who defend human rights are being trashed as something that people should not be doing. Then we must focus on transitional justice which requires establishing the truth, getting justice, making reparations, and eventually non-recurrence. I think we failed in actually pursuing the order regarding this manner, because not having done that, we have failed in non-recurrence, I think we put people at risk by doing that. And then we must continue international engagement. Now I met Ben six years ago when I was a minister at Gayoom and since then I have of course resigned and joined the opposition and have joined the new government as well. Throughout the period my experience is that international pressure on the Maldives does work. They will say all sorts of mad things, they will say they want to quit the Commonwealth, but at the end of the day, the want to look good with their own people, and if there is someone out there bashing them, they have to shuffle to see the light. And finally, to achieve all of this, we have to insist that there be democratic elections. Without people being able to choose their governments, none of these things will be realised: advocacy, rule of law, or transitional justice. Now I’ll leave it there, and if anyone wants questions about the obstacles we have I’ll be quite happy to come back to it. Thank you.
John Glen MP
Thank you very much, and thank you to all our speakers. We’ve got 15 minutes remaining, I hope in that time we can have a meaningful discussion and some questions can be taken. Has anyone got any reactions to that? Yes, sir – if you could say your name and who you represent or where you come from.
My name is James and well I had a friend from school and I helped him in the days after the coup in the foreign office, and I was following it at the time and the government’s position, and I think it’s surprising that David Cameron accepted the new arrangements pretty quickly. And I don’t know what has happened with the British government position since then, so I was interested to know what our government’s been doing, were you happy with what they’ve been doing, and is it the things that you’d like them to do?
John Glen MP
Can I just take a couple more observations; I definitely want to make sure I can deal with some of that myself, say two more and then we can ask the panellists to respond. Yes – the lady in the back.
I’m from Burma and I would like to ask the speaker first thank you so much for this really interesting presentation and I would like to know how the rest of the international community will respond to current conflict, not just the British government.
John Glen MP
Ok, and anyone else? Ok, can I just respond as a Member of Parliament on the Prime Minister’s reaction. My sense of what happened is that in those 24 hours whilst the coup was going on, there was lots of ambiguity and uncertainty from the perspective of the voices on the ground and what got to the foreign office and in terms of the briefing that actually ended up on the Prime Minister’s desk as he prepared for Parliament’s question time. I think subsequently, the my sense is that the British government basically concluded that the former President Nasheed, he made some mistakes in terms of the way he handled an entrenched vested interested of the judiciary that was in my words corrupt, but he didn’t have a solution in terms of how to move it, because it became an impasse to bring some of the final reforms he needed to bring through. That therefore, he couldn’t carry the situation politically, and so therefore he was forced out, and as he is such a decent and honourable man he wanted to avoid bloodshed in his country, therefore giving the impression that it was a peaceful transition which of course it wasn’t.
I then think that the international community generally has a degree of pragmatism if you put like that, around what can happen going from here forward. In the sense that a country with 300,000 – 400,000 people with strategic interests that are perhaps not as pressing as some at the moment, means that there is no practical solution. So what they’ve actually done is allowed a very fudged process of assessment to take place. I’m very disappointed with where we’ve got to in terms of 5 or 6 years ago, I remember thinking well this was a fantastic opportunity for a new democracy. And I went out there in the summer of 07 and summer of 08 and I was just overwhelmed with joy with what happened at the end of that year. I mean its tragedy what happened in the Maldives and I think we should be bold in saying it. I think there’s a gap in the received wisdom in the Foreign Office and the position of the Conservative Party and I’m here tonight as a Conservative who wants to support the MDP and to argue forcefully for elections. But I’m very saddened by the way that that young democracy has just been blown apart and it doesn’t seem to be any infrastructure in the international community to compel interventions and change quickly enough. And you know I defer to Ben who’s spent most of his life after university fighting against regimes that undertake some of the miserable activities that we heard about, because he will probably have more insights on where we go from here. But that was my reaction to that. And perhaps you might want to address that Ben and also the wider point of that international action because you’d be better appraised of the qualities of someone who could do something about it.
Well thank you very much John, I entirely agree with everything you’ve just said and I just want to make two or three very quick points. The first is that I think in the field of human rights and democracy work generally around the world, there is too often a perception that working for human rights and democracy is something that’s idealistic and nice and a good thing, but that it conflicts with our short term strategic interests. And I think that’s a misplaced perception, because I believe that it cannot be in our at least long term interest, maybe short term interest is separate. But it cannot be in our long term interest to allow democracies that are just being born and are struggling to develop to die so quickly. It cannot be in our interests to allow old dictators to come back or indeed new dictators to take root. Because dictatorship, history shows dictatorship creates instability.
The situation that has been outlined in the Maldives is one of not just dictatorship and human rights violations but also growing radical Islamism, and all of those things I think threaten our long term interests because they create instability in the region, potentially provide a breeding ground for extremism which could then grow and spread beyond the Maldives from there. So I think it cannot be in our interests to allow this situation to continue. In terms of what can be done, Dr. Shaheed said that regimes like this do respond to pressure, and I think you’ve seen in the case of Burma and other countries that targeted sanctions can be effective. They are not the only tool, they are not a magic wand, but they can have some effect and I think that’s something that should be looked at. Not sanctions that will effect all the Maldivian people, but targeted sanctions like maybe freezing the assets of people in this new regime who have property, or banking assets in Britain or in Europe. In terms of other international institutions, probably I would defer to Dr. Shaheed or Farah because you work within the United Nations and you have not once mentioned the EU in regards to the Maldives so perhaps you could pick up on those points.
What can be done, I think we learned that we don’t need sanctions yet, because if you look at the amount of time and effort the government is spending to be out of the [CMAC – inaudible]agenda is indicative of how much they feel the pressure of sanctions, so I think even statements, op-ed articles, reports that criticise the government really force them to take notice and do things properly. The only reason why President Nasheed is not in jail today is simply because the world is watching.
John Glen MP
And from an EU perspective, Farah in terms of what you see amongst other governments across Europe, I mean what’s the sort of appetite to offer resistance to what’s happening in the Maldives?
I think the EU was very supportive of our democracy journey in the past when Gayoom was in power, and even today I mean when the CONI report came out, by the way when I say CONI it’s C-O-N-I, but I think it’s an appropriate title for the report, the CONI report came out, the EU was one body which actually said, “we take note of the report but we believe that there must be period of violations quickly” which is, I think, what we are looking for in the international community. But from the perspective of the US and the Indians who are our nearest neighbours, it was very disappointing in a sense that the Indian government and the Americans had very quickly accepted the new regime although they backtracked a little bit later on, but they have been very quick again to accept the report without even bothering to actually go through. I’m pretty sure no one even read it, you know, it’s just looking at the executive summary and saying that. From the EU perspective, I think that it’s much more heartening and we really need to engage with the civil society organisations working for human rights and democracy in the European Union. I think both Dr. Shaheed and myself, we are kind of stuck in Britain for the last six months because I don’t have my passport to travel and he’s waiting for his passport as well so we are unable to actually travel out to reach out to more people but anybody who’s working for a civil society movement is greatly welcome and in that regard we really appreciate what both FIDH and the Amnesty and the RSF has been doing.
John Glen MP
We’ve got a few minutes left I just wanted to make sure if anyone else has got any questions or observations. The lady in the front there and then the gentleman behind.
I’m from RSF, we’ve been doing a report on Iran but we have published a few statements on the problems in the Maldives and I just wanted to add that what we have seen time and time again is when a country is persecuting its journalists and when they are having problems with their media, or they are trying to silence them, that is a sign that there are other human rights violations and lots of other problems bubbling underneath. And I think the best way or one of the best ways to approach a situation like that is by involving the international community, bringing a lot of public awareness on all levels but particularly using the NGOs to state your case, international NGOs, like RSF, like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and a bunch more that I haven’t mentioned. That seems to work without the most countries, and we’re talking about nuclear weapons or things like that, they say “you have nuclear weapons,” or “the US has nuclear weapons why can’t we.” If you focus on human rights trafficking, they don’t want that, so that usually works to incentivise them to hopefully make changes.
John Glen MP
Thank you I think that’s a very helpful observation. The gentlemen.
Yeah I’m not linked to any particular organisation, just to go back to your point on early democracy, could you speak a bit more to what’s happening here in your own party to address this.
John Glen MP
Yeah well you know I’m shocked in a way because I feel like, you like to think that government, and I’m a relatively new MP I’ve just become a Parliamentarian Private Secretary to a Cabinet Minister and you begin to realise that government even in our mature democracy does not have all the answers and all the power to influence all the outcomes that we would like and what I would say is that from my particular personal experience and my link to Salisbury, I’ve become more familiar to this country than virtually any other. I don’t want to make it, I don’t think it’s about this government or it’s a party political point, I think it’s about…
[Inaudible from the audience]
John Glen MP
No, no, I know you’re not, I’m just trying to broaden it. I just feel like the definition of British policy and foreign policy needs to be more acutely sensitised to human rights, and I think the comments of the last lady were absolutely spot-on. You know, universal human rights, be it in China, be it in the Maldives, be it in Iran, need to be spoken about and we need to expose all instances where human rights have been betrayed. Now there may be complicating factors in terms of trade relationships, diplomatic pressures, gaining consensus amongst other countries, but it doesn’t negate the necessity for everyone here to talk about what you’ve heard today.
The bell is going so I’m moving to conclusion. Because we do recognise, I think by publicising what’s happened, I mean to hear that list of atrocities that are happening today, not we think they might happened, they are verifiable and I’m sure Farah and Dr. Shaheed know people who are personally in considerable risk tonight, we need to talk about it. Ben will be writing articles, or I’ll write articles, we need to table questions, I need to table questions, and I hope today has been useful to sort of raise awareness. This small, idyllic country that we go to for exotic holidays, you know there’s a deeply dark other side to it, and we put on record today some fundamental issues that I hope many of you will reflect on and take forward. Now I have to go and vote I’m afraid so I have to go, but thank you very much indeed. Thank you to our speakers and thank you to the Henry Jackson Society.