‘It’s not political’

by Azra Naseem

stay-cool-and-no-politicsMohamed Nasheed, opposition leader and former President, was jailed for 13 years on charges of terrorism for an act that does not fit into any of the over 300 definitions of terrorism that currently exist across the world. One of the five co-defendants in the case, Moosa Jaleel, the current Defence Minister and Nasheed’s Chief of Staff at the time of the said act of ‘terrorism’, was cleared of the same charge yesterday. For Nasheed, the conviction came because he could not prove he was innocent. For Jaleel, the acquittal came because the prosecution could not prove he was guilty. Neither of the verdicts, according to the government, was political.

Rtd Col Mohamed Nazim, Defence Minister until charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government in February 2015, was found guilty of a lesser charge of smuggling weapons into the country. The evidence against Nazim could not have been any more frivolous or, frankly, any more ludicrous. Allegedly, he was planning to shoot and kill Yameen, his right-hand man Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, and a few others in the current government. He laid out detailed plans of how to do it and supposedly saved them on a pen-drive. More sophisticated event planning can be found in a primary school exercise book. Nazim’s legal team pointed 12 gaping holes in the evidence against him. Yet, he was pronounced guilty and jailed for 11 years. Nothing political about it, maintained the government.

Nazim's alleged Plan to KillNazim’s alleged Plan to Kill

Next came Mohamed Nazim, MP for Dhiggaru area, and, until Ahmed Adeeb weighed into the relationship, Yameen’s closest political ally and partner in all businesses above and below board. Yameen and Nazim went way back, even founded a political party together – People’s Alliance – which later merged with Gayoom’s PPM. Adeeb’s presence somehow muddied the waters between the friends and, before Nazim could say ‘jangiya’, he had been sentenced to 25 years (life) in prison for corruption worth 1.4 million Rufiyaa. The fraud was committed when Nazim was working in the Atolls Ministry back in 2004. When things were good between Yameen and Nazim, the same courts had said about the same allegations that ‘Nazim had no charges to answer.’ But now, out of favour with Yameen, not only were the charges worth answering, they were also worth life imprisonment. Meanwhile Adeeb, who is basking in the sunshine of Yameen’s approval, can happily ignore allegations of corruption worth millions of US dollars. Not only that, the Auditor General who dared expose the allegations, was removed from his position and a more ‘friendly’ figure put in his place so Adeeb does not have to put up with listening to such ‘drivel’ against him. On top of it all, news came yesterday that the Tourism Ministry is to have ‘extended powers’. ‘It’s not political’, says the government.

Meanwhile, life keeps getting harder to live on the islands of Maldives. Taxes have gone up, along with living expenses. Salaries, however, remain as low as ever. While each tourist who arrives in the Maldives – and according to Tourism Ministry figures there were over a 100,000 in February alone – spends an average US$350 a day, the average monthly salary of a civil servant remains below that amount. While the price of fuel has gone down dramatically across the world, electricity bills have become impossible for people to pay. Not only are the bills remaining as high as ever, the government is also cutting subsidies which made it possible for people to pay them in the first place. ‘Don’t make this political’, says the government.

Amidst all this came the news that the President’s Office has given each of the five Supreme Court judges, along with the president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, newly built apartments in Male’ at a discounted rate. Land is the most precious commodity in the Maldives, especially in and around Male’. Decades of centralisation has meant all essential services such as healthcare and education are only available in the capital city with even a modicum of satisfaction. People are desperate for housing in the area – the apartments in Male’ are meant as some sort of a solution for this problem. Yet, instead of the desperate, they are given to the already flush. ‘It’s to protect their integrity’, said Adeeb, speaking for the President’s Office. ‘It’s not political.’

While coping with the hardships of surviving in the messed up economy, half the country is out on the streets attempting to save, through peaceful civil resistance, the last remaining vestiges of democracy. The government has responded by describing civil and political rights enshrined in the 2008 democratic Constitution as ‘loopholes’ through which people are abusing the ruling party. Laws will be made to close them holes, it has said. So the authorities first moved to ban protesting in certain areas, then at certain times, then at certain decibels and, most recently, without prior permission of the police.

Nazra Naseem, MP Mahloof's wife, at the time Mahloof was being led away by policeThe police have taken into custody close to 200 people in less than a month, and the courts have taken to imposing unconstitutional conditions on their release, demanding that they don’t protest for days, weeks or even months, if they want to remain free citizens. Those who defy the bans are locked up, deprived of basic rights and even abused psychologically and physically. Opposition parliamentarians are often the victims. Most recently, MP Ahmed Mahloof defied the conditional ban on protests only to see his wife being physically, and she alleges sexually, abused by a group of policemen as he was hauled away to detention without charge for an undefined length of time. ‘Don’t make this political’, says the government. ‘It’s rule of law’.

To prove that ‘it’s not political’, the government continues to behave as if none of these events are taking place. It has announced plans to prettify Male’ with flowers all over the city; the Clock Roundabout is to get a new clock; one part of the land-sparse Male’ is to be turned into a show area of ‘what it used to be like’; buildings are to be painted; and a dozen or so Maldivians are to sky-dive into the national stadium in a grandiose gesture. Meanwhile, a travelling band of PPM activists are to tour the country setting off fireworks on various islands, when they are not travelling to award air-conditioners and other bribes ahead of by-election votes, that is.

Of course, none of this is political. These are not attempts to pretend that everything is fine. These are not attempts to show that only a few dozen mad people are out protesting, trying to upset the smooth running of a democratically elected, benevolent government which is only trying to do best by its people.

Of course not. All these activities are to celebrate 50 years of independence. Independence? Where is the freedom? you ask. Oh, don’t get political.


Correction: This article previously said Rtd Col. Nazim was jailed for 12 years. This has now been amended – he was jailed for 11 years. This article also incorrectly said the flats given to Supreme Court justices were in HulhuMale’. They are in Male’.

Thanks to Ali Abdullah for pointing out the errors.

    Migrant workers’ voice: illegal and silenced in the Maldives

    ExpatriateWorkers

    by Mushfique Mohamed

    As news of socio-political turmoil forces the world to shift its eyes away from the pristine beaches of its beautiful tropical islands, Maldives is losing its untainted image as a luxury tourist destination with more exposure of its appalling track record on human rights. This article looks closely at the lack of both compassion and adequate law enforcement in the Maldivian society’s (mis)treatment of the South Asian expatriate community. It highlights not just the plight of the many Bangladeshi labourers but also the increasing number of South Asian women who are becoming victims of the corrupt and prejudiced criminal justice system of the country.

    In addition to the Maldivian population of approximately 330,000, there are 200,000 expatriate workers living in the country, of which a quarter does not have legal status in the country. The Maldives’ treatment of migrant workers is degrading enough for it to be called ‘modern-day slavery.’ The trade generates over US$ 123 million in illegal profits in the Maldives. Last week two Bangladeshi workers, Shaheen Mia and Kazi Bilal were brutally killed bringing to the fore, in tragic circumstances, the unheard voice of the subaltern in today’s Maldivian society.

    The government on 25 March banned a planned protest against the deplorable treatment faced by expatriate workers. The protest was planned to highlight the resurgence in violent crime against the South Asian workers. The government of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s brother; Asia’s longest serving leader until August 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, also criminalised a planned protest following similar racially motivated assaults in August 2007, threatening expatriates with deportation.

    In addition to silencing their voices and denying them agency, the criminal justice system, primarily the Criminal Court and law enforcement authorities perpetuate injustices against the marginalised. The violation of their fundamental rights is facilitated through certain judicial actors who are untrained, uneducated and corrupt. These judges do not pay any attention to the Constitution or domestic laws or international legal instruments the Maldives has ratified. Increasingly women are becoming victims of the system.

    Malékalyanam: buying brides

    RubeenaAn Indian woman was arrested night before last on allegations of infanticide and attempted suicide, raising concerns that she could be subject to the same judicial torture as Rubeena Buruhanudeen who was kept under pre-trial detention for over four years. The New Indian Express reported that Rubeena was part of a procedure known in India as ‘Malékalyanam’ in which impoverished girls from the Indian state of Kerala are married off to Maldivian men. Rubeena, married off to a Maldivian man under this procedure, ended up in pre-trial detention in the Maldives for over four years, accused of killing the child she had with her Maldivian husband.

    Fareesha Abdulla, a Maldivian lawyer who took the case in 2012 on a pro-bono basis, emphasised that the investigation and remand hearings were not conducted with interpreters. “She [Rubeena] can’t understand Dhivehi, but the entire investigation was carried out without an interpreter. Maldives’ police wrote down a statement in Dhivehi and she signed it,” said the defence lawyer. “Infanticide is a serious allegation but when she requested legal aid before I took on the case, the Attorney General denied it,” Fareesha Abdulla explained further.

    Before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, the Manmohan Singh government’s Minister for External Affairs also urged Maldives to repatriate such detainees. Modi was scheduled to visit the Maldives last month but with international concerns growing over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on 23 February 2015, took the Maldives off his tour of Indian Ocean island nations. Soon after the diplomatic brushoff, Rubeena was repatriated to India in early March.

    Aminath Zara, a Nepalese woman who was fighting for custody of her child with a Maldivian succeeded only after a yearlong legal battle at the Family Court. Zara arrived in the Maldives initially in October 2009 as Tasi Telisa to work at a beauty salon as a beauty therapist. She converted to Islam in 2010. She then left the country in September 2011 and returned after marrying a Maldivian in Sri Lanka in December 2011. When the baby was three, her husband demanded Zara to go back to work; she was the sole breadwinner at times. According to Zara, the marriage came to an end due to her husband’s infidelity while she was away working.

    The couple filed for a divorce at the Guraidhoo Magistrate Court in September 2013, but the proceedings and documents were all in Dhivehi, and an interpreter was not offered. The magistrate decided “disobedience” by the wife was sufficient grounds for divorce. As a result Zara became a homeless – and soon to be illegal – single mother. She filed a complaint at the Gender Ministry because her ex-husband was threatening to deport her and gain full custody of the baby. A Maldivian lawyer, Lua Shaheer, who was providing pro-bono legal assistance, said that Zara’s husband repeatedly told her “you are a foreigner, you will have no choice but to leave this country without the child.”

    The Gender Ministry provided Zara with temporary accommodation for three months. At the end of the three months she moved back to the island of Guradhoo but could not stand the abuse she was subjected to. With nowhere to live, her former lawyer Lua Shaheer took Zara in to her own home. She is now represented by another lawyer, Fathmath Sama, whose firm took the case on pro-bono.

    The husband was represented by Ibrahim Riza, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives. The main argument in court was that “the mother is a Buddhist, the mother’s family is Buddhist, and the child would be deprived of a Muslim upbringing.” Zara’s husband also accused her of “abandoning the baby for monetary greed.” Shaheer testified in court that Zara is a practicing Muslim. Even though Zara won custody, the verdict states she cannot leave the country without the ex-husband’s permission if she decides to leave with the baby, effectively leaving her stranded in the Maldives without a place to live.

    According to the Indian High Commission in the Maldives, an Indian woman named Manyama Orsu was charged with pre-marital sex and abortion. According to the new penal code, abortions after 120 days of pregnancy are illegal, but a pregnancy caused by rape is an exception to the 120-day rule. Orsu was charged before the new penal code came into effect. The court proceedings against her went on for two and a half years. She confessed to the first charge, and the State dropped abortion charges bringing an end to her arbitrary detention, facilitating her repatriation in late March this year.

    DhoonidhooThere are also reports of other foreign women held at Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Centre on allegations of prostitution, abortion and drug trafficking. Some of these women are victims of sex trafficking and trafficking in persons. But without a systematic mechanism to identify victims, or the mentality to view such individuals as victims, Maldives’ authorities exacerbate psychological and physical trauma suffered by human trafficking victims.

    Two foreign women identified by police as sex trafficking victims in 2008 were provided temporary shelter before being repatriated with the help of their home country’s diplomatic mission in the capital Malé. Due to the lack of investigative infrastructure based on the problem of Trafficking in Persons, nobody was prosecuted for the crime, and the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence.”

    Lack of infrastructure & lack of will

    There are other instances where lack of legislation, and lack of enforcement, have hindered any efforts to tackle the problem. In 2009, a Bangladeshi man was chained inside a small room for weeks; the chains were removed only when the man was put to work. The employer was released after merely four months’ imprisonment due to lack of anti-trafficking legislation at the time.

    The Maldives’ government passed anti-trafficking legislation only in 2013, motivated only by the fear of threatened international sanctions. The Bill had been in Majlis since 2011. However, expatriate workers from South Asian countries continue to be victimized under forced labour conditions notwithstanding the legislation. The US State Department’s Report on Trafficking in Persons states that ‘the [Maldivian] government does not have procedures in place to identify victims of human trafficking.’ As a result trafficked persons are further victimized by the corrupt criminal justice system. At the same time, the legal system remains highly inaccessible to foreigners, especially in relation to criminal law.

    Transparency International’s local chapter provided over 560 expatriate workers with legal aid in 2014, mostly with regard to cases that consist of forced labour indicators. ‘We believe that migrant workers are the most vulnerable community in the Maldives today, they do not have access to the legal system due to the language barrier,’ Transparency Maldives’ Senior Project Coordinator for its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, Ahid Rasheed, has said.

    ‘Maldivian society in general views Bangladeshi expatriates as lower class non-citizens; harassment against them has been completely normalized. The authorities view them as the problem and not victims of discriminatory attacks and human trafficking offences.’ Highlighting a history of institutionalised xenophobia, Rasheed said ‘the latest word from the government we heard – regarding the protest – questions basic rights afforded to migrant workers, similar to how all previous governments neglected migrant workers’ grievances.’

    The Maldives enacted the Employment Act in 2008, and as a Member State of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Act harmonises domestic law of the Maldives with the principles and standards prescribed by the organisation. Independent institutions such as the Employment Tribunal and Labour Relations Authority were established through this Act. ‘Forced labour’ is prohibited and broadly defined to be any instance where there are elements of undue influence, threat, or intimidation with regards to employment. The Act also addresses discrimination at the work place and ensures both local and foreign employees right to freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, social standing, political beliefs, marital status, gender, or family obligations.

    It is a common misconception that ‘human trafficking’ or ‘trafficking in persons’ requires illegal entry, similar to ‘human smuggling.’ Human trafficking sometimes begins as smuggling, can end up as exploitation and trafficking, but not all trafficking involves crossing-borders.The United Nations (UN) defines ‘trafficking in persons’ as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

    The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution was ratified by the Maldives in May 2003; a legal instrument recognizing the importance of establishing effective regional cooperation for preventing trafficking for prostitution and for investigation, detection, interdiction, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for such trafficking.

    The ILO defines the following as elements of forced labour: withholding payment and identity documents; abusive working and living conditions; debt bondage; restriction of movement; excessive overtime; deception; isolation; physical and sexual violence; and intimidation and threats. All of which are daily grievances faced by most low-skilled expatriate workers in the Maldives.

    A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) in February 2009[8] states that Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian nationals are detained at the Malé Immigration Detention Center, managed by the Expatriate Monitoring Center under the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Ordinarily detained for not holding a valid passport, visa or work permit. HRCM urged the Maldives to become a member of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers (ICRMW). The national human rights committee’s report recommended development and implementation of systematic procedures for government officials to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as undocumented migrants and women in prostitution, who are human trafficking victims. It also urged identified victims of trafficking to be provided necessary assistance and not be penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of them being trafficked.

    CaptureThe US State Department has consistently raised the issue of increasing debt bondage among South Asian migrant workers under its annual Trafficking in Persons report. According to its most recent report, migrant workers pay agents around US$2,000-4,000 to work in the Maldives. There have been reports that some of the 200 registered agents bring migrant workers to the Maldives under terms of employment that amount to criminal acts of deception or fraud, entangling employees in a vicious cycle of debt. The report also recommends that Maldives accede to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

    The government has failed at implementing enacted laws, and it appears to be using the rise in violent crime to militarize the police service, and enact legislations that strip away the protections, freedoms and liberties enshrined under the Constitution that introduced democratization to the Maldives. As the focus remains on suppressing dissent from citizens who oppose the regime, the plight of the subaltern stays at the political periphery. The Maldives has yet to fulfill the minimum standards required to eliminate human trafficking.

    Human trafficking victims are regularly penalized for acts that are the result of being trafficked; excluded from the legal system; and viewed as offenders. Maldivian authorities are known to detain such victims under inhumane conditions. The real perpetrators of trafficking such as employers, officials, recruitment agents or firms are rarely brought to justice, giving full impunity to these powerful offenders who have connections to transnational organized crime. The insularity observed among majority of Maldivians is reinforced on an institutional level by denying inalienable rights that are to be afforded to all citizens and non-citizens indiscriminately. Sex trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and other forms of exploitation do not end with enacting legislations or acceding to treaties in order to be accepted as a member of the international community. A stipulation under law is only powerful to the extent to which it is realized, and for the subaltern – without the qualification to even speak – those rights are continually denied.


    Mushfique Mohamed is a practising lawyer at Hisaan, Riffath & Co., and also works as a consultant for Maldivian Democracy Network.

    Main Photo: primecollective.com, Rubeena Buruhanudeen, Minivan News

     

      Consciousness and the Development Paradigm

      Leftover Illustration

      Illustration by Ahmed Fauzan

      No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created It. ” - Albert Einstein 

      by Salma Fikry

      Here I am traveling in Denmark, in a rickety van, cramped together with people from all around the world trying to learn about sustainable development. From the Freetown of Christiania in Copenhagen to the remote island of Samsoe to the appropriately entitled Friland (Freeland) near Arhus, I found people trying to return to the very roots that they came from.

      I try to understand why Pia and Johan have chosen to live in a caravan with their two children for the past three years while their ‘home’ is being built on “The Self-Sufficient Village”, using second-hand material. I try to understand the purposefulness in Mai, the gentle but strong woman with whom I cooked a meal for 70 people for the dinner they have as a community four days a week. She chose to build her own house with her bare hands when she could have got hired help or a construction company to do it. I try to understand why Christiania (Freetown) functions with its community rules and community spirit, even while not having any elected body to oversee those rules or foster that community spirit. I try to comprehend why Soren and Anna, the sophisticated and obviously wealthy couple, chose to built their own home, with recycled material and live in the remoteness of Halingelille. I am amazed at the leadership of Soren Hermanson, an Environment Teacher who mobilized the Samsingers to turn the island of Samso into a model of Renewable Energy, no longer dependant on fuel from the mainland.

      Sadly, they are just a few. They are just a handful of people in the Global North, seeking to reverse the harm done. The majority is still driven by ideologies of capitalism and democracy, propagated by institutions and powerful nations that brought ruin to many of our life-systems in the Global South.

      In the search for superiority and certainty, the Global North taught us to split subject from object – res cogitans – thinking substance, consciousness was separated from res extensa – matter, the physical universe. Monotheistic religions taught us that Man was superior to all else in the world and everything in the universe was there to satisfy Man. Devoid of soul, the material world was investigated like a machine, vivisected and exploited through colonialism, Newtonian physics, the industrial revolution and more recently through vehicles of globalization. Thus developed our contemporary development paradigm.

      We were given engineering and mechanization plans and money for capital-intensive infrastructure development as the key to alleviating poverty. In doing so, we pushed ourselves into the concrete jungles of cities, where clean air and water became a commodity to be bought and sold. We were forced to give up traditional livelihoods and millions were made jobless. In doing so our self-sufficiency was converted to the laws of demand and supply, driven by market forces. We were told that norms should be prescribed into Constitutions and Laws in order to ensure participation of people. In doing so, millions of years of traditions, social norms and social contracts that were sacred and unwritten in the Global South, were eroded.

      And here we are now. We now regard the environment and our communities as a problem to be solved. We look for technological and institutional innovations. Few of us stop to ponder that it is neither the environment nor the lack of institutions that is the problem. The problem was and is Us. It is our individual mindsets and habits that have contributed to Collective Ruin. Our level of consciousness is such that we have moved from exploiting resources for human comfort, to trying to develop systems where technology and democracy can revert the degradation that we ourselves have brought to our environment and our once thriving participatory communities. We fail to realize that the environment has its secrets and it will outlast us; it is the fittest in the great scheme of things where we are the weakest link, especially when we are not united by the bonds that make us a community.

      As I sit in the community dinners with old and young alike, who come from varied backgrounds, talking about their vision and plans for the community, talking about the chores for the next day, I become nostalgic. I remember how I used to belong to and live under one roof with an extended family. I remember how the neighborhood got together to mark festivals, clean the road, celebrate a birth or mourn a death. It was not so long ago. Life has changed now, although there are a few remnants of what it was like before. I remember how inspired I was working in small communities when people came whole-heartedly to participate in community projects to renovate their school, to build their sea-wall, to clean their roads, to build their water tanks, to do a lot of things that were deemed as ‘collective’– for the service and enjoyment of everyone and not a few. There were no laws subscribed, they did it voluntarily. Ironical that I, who found it so beautiful had wanted to and worked to ‘institutionalize’ this aspect of social capital not knowing that I would be contributing to consolidating ‘power and politics’ into the hands of a few.

      I realize painfully, that our mindsets, mine included, and our development paradigm remains at the same level of consciousness as those that crafted this vicious cycle of rootless growth, a few thousand years ago.

      It is the level of consciousness that we have made many mistakes, that we need to rectify the harm done and rise above our individual mindsets to develop a new paradigm, a new life system for our world that strikes me in the eco-villages. Perhaps, Pia , Johan, Mai, Soren, Anna and Hermanson reached a new level of consciousness in order to do what they are doing now. Sadly, I have not reached that level of consciousness yet. My mindset is changing but it is not totally there yet…


      Salma Fikry advocates decentralised governance and sustainable development through community empowerment. She wrote the above in November 2010, while on a study trip to Denmark. She has a Master’s in Development Management. She is a recipient of the National Award of Recognition for her services towards improving good governance in the Maldives.

      If you are worried about the government’s plans to concentrate all development in the ‘Greater Male’ Area’ while ignoring all other parts of the country, sign the Avaaz petition and lobby the government for more sustainable ways that would decrease rather than increase the inequalities that currently exist among the Maldivian population.