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MALDIVES – 30-year dictatorship ends: A new chapter begins with its challenges

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mohamed_nasheed.jpgMany human rights issues are ready to challenge the new government of the Maldives, after its historic elections in October 2008. The shift from the dictatorial one-party system to this democratically elected parliament brings the government to a new phase: to actively investigate human rights violations, and develop and strengthen its human rights institution.

This was the subject discussed between Maldivian human rights activists and Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. In their dialogue on 19 January 2009 in Bangkok, during the Third Annual Human Rights Defenders Forum, the activists said that now is a “new and exciting chapter” for the Maldives, as well as the time of challenge to protect and promote human rights.

In October 2008, the Maldives held multi-party elections for the first time in its history. Mohamed Nasheed, leader of the opposition party, finally won on 29 October. This meant the end of the 30-year dictatorship by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gayoom, Asia's longest serving leader, was criticised by many human rights organisations for running an autocratic state, which caused anti-government violence on streets. Disappearances, political persecution and crackdowns on opposition groups were common.

Mohamed Nasheed, the new president and leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, is a former Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience" (In the picture). He had been imprisoned and sentenced a number of times for political reasons: he had criticised the government and set up an opposition party. Many human rights campaigns were launched to call for his release.

Now the Maldives has a new constitution, which provides for a free and fair election process and a new supreme court. Human rights is a part of the new government's agenda: the government created the post of Ambassador for Human Rights. Mohamed Lateef, a long-time activist, has been appointed to be the first to be in the position. The Maldives also became a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In order to promote and monitor implementation of these agreements, the civil society says, the government must strengthen and expand the mandate of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM). This commission established in 2003 is composed of nine members. Within a year of its establishment, all of them resigned because of its ineffectual nature and limited mandate.

The organisations say that the mandate of the commission must be expanded, in order to actively include economic, social and cultural rights, and all aspects of civil and political rights. They also noted that the commission must have a promotional role on these treaties, in order to refer respective cases to the treaty bodies.* 

The activists also raised the issue on freedom of expression: the government also must establish free and independent media, free from censoring criticism on the government.

A new chapter begins, with its challenges. The activists expressed their eagerness to continue addressing human rights issues to their government, no matter who the leader is.

(Photo courtesy of AFP)

* Over the past two years, the Maldives has acceded to numerous human rights instruments. These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Maldives had previously acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.