The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) welcomes the statement, released soon after an ad hoc meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on the Maldives, held in London on February 24, 2016. However, we note that the continued disregard of core Commonwealth values by the Maldivian government warrants a formal action.
Following the forced resignation in 2012 of the democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives was placed on CMAG’s formal agenda effectively putting the government on notice to adhere to democratic values. In 2013, following Supreme Court interference, and a long delay in the presidential elections, Maldives was once again placed on CMAG’s formal agenda. Two years later, in 2015, Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison on trumped-up charges of terrorism and the Maldives found itself back on CMAG’s formal agenda for the third time in four years.
Invited by the Maldivian government, a three-member CMAG delegation visited the country in early February 2016. The mission aimed to develop an understanding of the situation on the ground and to consider how the Commonwealth “could assist and support the Maldives in building stronger democratic institutions and culture.”
Shortly before the Commonwealth ministers visited the Maldives, CHRI had commissioned an independent mission to the country and has recently released its fact-finding report. At the February 24 meeting where Commonwealth ministers discussed the situation in the Maldives, CMAG had CHRI’s report in its possession. Among our recommendations we had suggested the ministers keep a close watch on the country’s government and, if it continued to thwart democratic values, we called for the Maldives to be suspended or expelled from the Commonwealth. A statement on the outcome of its meeting was issued by CMAG the same afternoon.
We found the statement to be lacking on several fronts.
CMAG welcomed the commitment by the government of Maldives to a national political dialogue. The ministers also welcomed the “openness expressed by the government to work with the Commonwealth and other partners in addressing its national development challenges”. While the statement contained a list of measures to be implemented by the Maldives, it did not refer to consequences it would face if the country did not follow through on CMAG recommendations.
CMAG members expressed satisfaction that former president Nasheed had been allowed to travel to London for medical treatment, however the circumstances under which he was released did not bear mention. The statement also called for “purposeful, time-bound and forward looking political dialogue” without any specificity.
The ministers emphasised their “continuing concern regarding political space available to the opposition including the detention or custody of political leaders and the separation of powers and independence of the judiciary”. This forms the crux of the criticisms facing the Maldives and one deserving of action. Several reports have demonstrated that this is precisely the concerns on the ground in the Maldives including CHRI’s own fact finding mission. It is therefore crucial that the Maldives recognise the dangers of hypocrisy in touting values and then not observing them.
It is also worrying that the concluding paragraph states that “the Commonwealth’s continuing efforts to support Maldives in advancing the Commonwealth’s political values and principles would be reviewed at the Group’s next scheduled meeting in April 2016, with particular attention at that time to progress on an inclusive political dialogue and on the provision by the Secretariat of technical assistance.”
This implies that the Commonwealth’s efforts to assist the Maldives will be reviewed and not the country’s progress in rectifying violations of the Commonwealth charter. Exercising this level of caution against a state that is in clear violation of the Commonwealth standards of democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society space is to fundamentally compromise the importance of Commonwealth values as well as the ability and determination of the association to fearlessly defend those values.
We concede that the CMAG must exercise prudence and proceed in a manner that encourages state cooperation with the Commonwealth. However, this cannot be at the risk of being perceived as a toothless organisation. This becomes more important if one considers that it is a body striving to maintain its global influence and relevance. CMAG must, as it has done in the past, continue to demonstrate that non-adherence to, and repeated violation of, Commonwealth values have consequences.
We regret that despite mounting international pressure, the Maldives has escaped with no formal action.