Tagged: Maldives

The making of the Great Ocean of China

by Thilmeeza Hussain

The political impasse in the smallest country in the Indian Ocean is drawing global attention to India’s power in the region and its leadership role in the world.

If India does not act swiftly to ensure that the Maldivian people’s rights are protected and democracy is restored in the country, China, which has sided with the current Maldivian ruler Abdulla Yameen, is going to consolidate power in the region around India.

The Maldives has been on a downhill slope since the coup d’état in 2012, when former president Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign under duress; the country’s situation has deteriorated steadily since Yameen took office in a highly contested election. Soon after taking office, he has prosecuted every opposition leader and they are either in jail or exile.

For many Maldivians like me, the coup d’état still feels surreal. We watched parliamentarians getting beaten on the streets and peaceful protesters being met with batons and pepper spray. The death of Maldivian democracy stood in stark contrast to our euphoria after the hard-earned end of a 30-year dictatorship. Yameen’s older half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost the first multi-party election in 2008, was the only president many of us had known our entire lives.

For four years, we tasted freedom and rule of law.

Today, voices demanding freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, or calling to uphold the rule of law are thrown behind bars. The door to jail cells is a revolving one, and there is a continuous flow of political prisoners.

Not even members of Yameen’s own political party are safe if they are seen as a threat to his power. Not too long ago, we saw a member of Parliament (MP) stabbed to death with a machete on the stairwell of his home. When an investigative journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, started reporting on the murder, he was abducted from his home and hasn’t been seen since. Shortly after, Rilwan’s friend and political blogger Yameen Rasheed, who sought the truth of his friend’s disappearance, was stabbed in the neck and chest multiple times in the stairwell of his apartment building. State-sponsored attacks on citizens and a culture of impunity have taken over our country. Despite being under constant threat, harassment and fear, Maldivians are still fighting for their rights every day.

It’s clear that the current pressure from the international community, including our closest ally and neighbour India, has not stopped Yameen’s blatant disregard for the rule of law so far. For example, the international community condemned the current administration’s refusal to release former president Nasheed, eight other political prisoners and reinstate 12 members of Parliament. Instead of abiding by our Supreme Court ruling, Yameen’s government declared a state of emergency, arresting and jailing two Supreme Court justices, three MPs, his half-brother, former president Gayoom, and anyone whom he saw as a danger to his rule.

We Maldivians share strong ethnic, linguistic, cultural and commercial ties with India but if our human rights abuses are not enough to compel India into taking more concrete steps to stop Yameen, their own security should be reason enough.

The rapid deterioration of the situation in the Maldives since 2012 has extended far beyond the shores of our islands because of our location, and it has brought India’s significance in the region into question. The worth of this vast ocean to India cannot be exaggerated.

The Maldives lies next to crucial shipping lanes, one of the major choke points for the world maritime transit of oil which provides continuous energy supplies from the West to the Far East through the Indian Ocean (equivalent to just under half of the world’s total oil supply). Also, according to India’s ministry of shipping, about 95% of the country’s trade by volume and 70% by value comes via the Indian Ocean. As China swiftly grows its military presence in the Indian Ocean  in the garb of anti-piracy operations, India must come up with a more coherent plan; at the end of last year, it was forced to carry out a threat assessment due to the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives, since its independence in 1965, has had an “India first” policy and leaders of both countries have held high-level exchanges on regional issues. But since Yameen took office, he has aligned with China, which has defended his authoritarian rule. The Maldives now owes about 80% of its foreign debt to China, which has been spreading its wings rapidly in South Asia and has been eyeing the atoll nation for its strategic location. China has already cosied up to Nepal by helping the latter reduce its significant trade deficit; it has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. China is strategically encircling India under the fancy name of the “Silk Road Project”. A part of the road will also pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and may eventually help Pakistan take over Kashmir.

Is India losing its grip in the region and becoming a non-actor in the mighty Indian Ocean? Are we witnessing the making of the Great Ocean of China? If India loses its dominant power in Asia, it will not be able to safeguard its security or protect its interests.

Although ours may be the smallest country in the region, our economic and political value cannot be overlooked. Let’s hope it’s not too late by the time India recognizes this.

Thilmeeza Hussain is a former deputy ambassador of the Maldives to the UN and a 2018 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow

This article was originally published by LiveMint, www.livemint.com on 20 February 2018


Torture rears its ugly head in the Maldives … again

by Anonymous

The use of torture as a tool of citizen oppression is a hallmark of dictatorships. The past and recent histories of the Maldives have been defined by authoritarian rule with a flimsy façade of overt calmness and order. This belied the covert systemic use of torture in the country’s prisons, which has been documented over the years by torture survivor and late historian Ahmed Shafeeg and more recently, by citizen advocates and journalists.

Nevertheless, Maldives has made great strides to address the issue of torture in some ways. Maldives ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CAT) on 20 April 2004. On 23 December 2013, law number 13/2013, the Anti-Torture Law made history as the first such legislation passed in the country. A recognition of this magnitude can only be considered a great leap forward to eliminate the practice of torture, a heinous crime which robs society of its most basic moral values of humanity and respect for human dignity. In its statement issued on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June 2017, the United Nations said,

Torture seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and denies the inherent dignity of the human being.[1]

One of the most important milestones a society can achieve in its fight to eliminate torture is to acknowledge its presence and move towards redress through a process of truth and reconciliation. With the shift in the political environment since the historic change of government in November 2008, a group of torture survivors formed the Torture Victims Association of Maldives (TVA) in January 2010[2]. The TVA, in collaboration with the UK based NGO Redress with a mandate to end torture and seek justice for survivors, painstakingly documented torture survivor testimonials across the country. The testimonies revealed incidents of torture between 1978 to 2008, which is the duration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s 30-year long authoritarian regime. Two years since its inauguration, on 6 February 2012, the TVA submitted a dossier of testimonials provided by survivors of torture in prison, to the then President Mohamed Nasheed. The President “assured that he would do everything possible to find justice for the torture victims through the powers vested on him by the Constitution.”[3] The following day, on 7 February 2012, President Nasheed was removed from office in a coup d’état.

As the political situation in the Maldives took a turn towards transitional chaos, the efforts of the TVA risked invisibility. However, the commitment of some members of the TVA and Redress ensured that the torture report entitled, This Is What I Wanted to Tell You, was successfully submitted to the 105th Session of the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) held in Geneva in July 2012[4]. At this session, the Committee reviewed the Maldives State Report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The HRC also reviewed a record number of reports of human rights violations from the Maldives, submitted by various non-governmental human rights organisations and institutions.[5]

In its Concluding Observations of the country review, the HRC raised concerns about “reported cases of torture and ill-treatment by Police and National Defence Forces that occurred in the State party prior to 2008 which have not all been investigated.”[6] The HRC recommended the Maldives to “take steps to combat torture and ill-treatment in its all [sic] forms and prohibit it in its legislation. The State party should consider setting up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all human rights violations, including torture that took place in the State party prior to 2008 and provide compensation to the victims.”[7] The HRC’s recommendation to enact legislation to prohibit torture was met by the Maldives by the passage of the Anti-Torture Act in 2013, which is a welcome development.

However, five years on, other recommendations including the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations remain pending. There has been no move to address the important requirement to provide redress to survivors of torture. As the words of one torture survivor conveys clearly, a critical component of pursuing redress is to help survivors achieve some semblance of reparation and justice.

This is what I wanted to tell you. That is what I have to say.

I have no problems if you use these stories of mine anywhere.

If they and if I get some justice, that would be good. [8]

Following the Maldives ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in 2006, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) was assigned the mandate to prevent and investigate allegations of torture, as the appointed National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Further, it has a mandate to investigate and report on allegations of torture, under the Anti-Torture Act of 2013. In 2015, the HRCM produced its second annual anti-torture report, which investigated 37 cases of torture allegations.[9] However, the HRCM reportedly faces a multitude of challenges to its work, including the gathering of evidence, limitations in law and procedural standards as well as availability of resources.[10] In 2016, news headlines about allegations of torture investigated by the HRCM provide no evident change to the status quo from the previous year, except that the number of cases had increased significantly from 54 to 65.[11] Worryingly, the latter report explained that the HRCM said “it found no evidence to back up allegations of torture because of a lack of medical evidence, eye witness testimony, and CCTV cameras at jails and detention centres.”[12] Notably, the TVA/Redress torture report was also submitted to the HRCM in 2012, although to date it is not known what action the Commission has taken about the contents of the report.

In this context, recent allegations of torture in detention in the Maldives is an extremely disturbing development. Available documentation from the HRCM shows that during 2011, the Commission produced and publicly shared a number of reports about its monitoring and abuse prevention efforts in several places of detention across the country. The effect this monitoring and information sharing had, was a sense of accountability and reassurance that torture and inhuman and degrading treatment were no longer happening in prisons. However, after 2011 the HRCM appears to have become notably opaque on matters relating to the mandate of the NPM, with a significant decline in monitoring visits and reports. Although the consistent production of the annual torture report is a welcome activity, the acute limitations of the Commission noted in those reports are cause for concern.

Allegations of torture of high profile political detainees have surfaced through their lawyers and families in recent years. In 2016, media sources reported torture allegations of detained social media political activist Ahmed Ashraf (a.k.a Shumba Gong). His lawyer alleged that his client was “forced to sit on the floor in handcuffs” while officers “alternately poured hot and ice-cold water on him.”[13] In a media environment where news sources are being penalised for covering dissenting views using draconian laws, media self-censorship is the reality. Despite this, news sources have been consistently reporting alleged denial of medical access and healthcare to high profile political detainee Ahmed Adeeb, which has been described by opposition MP and lawyer Ali Hussain, as unlawful.[14] In deeply politically divided Maldives, Ahmed Adeeb’s alleged ill-treatment by the authorities is met with mixed views by members of the public, which alarmingly include reactions of indifference and vengeful acceptance. Although the premise that all humans have rights is commonly understood in the Maldives, ideas of justice and equality before the law remain elusive, perhaps due to its systemic absence. The occurrence of any form of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment in detention (when a person is already punished with loss of liberty) regardless of their crime, is an unacceptable social and civic standard in any society.

On 19 June 2017, further allegations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of a detainee emerged where the family of a suspected offender in custody released a public statement describing acts of torture perpetrated against him [15]. These include allegations of being detained in a place not deemed lawful for detention; being forced to sit and look at a wall for two days; being put in a cell where a strong smell of sewage made breathing difficult and requests for help were ignored, and later ridiculed; sleep deprivation by being constantly woken and interrogated; and providing drinking water with an unknown substance added to it, all of which affected the conscious state and well-being of the detainee.[16]

On 26 June, the HRCM issued a press statement on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.[17] In their statement, the Commission reiterated its mandate to address torture prevention and called on State authorities to strengthen their efforts to prevent torture. The Commission made no reference to the status of the long pending TVA/Redress torture report submitted to the UN HRC and the Commission itself, in 2012. There was no mention of any action by the Commission to achieve the recommendations to address torture, provided by the UN HRC in their Concluding Observations to the Maldives. Nor did the statement acknowledge the immediate, current allegations and related concerns in the public domain, shared by families and lawyers of detainees.

One of the recommendations of the TVA/Redress torture report is to “ensure that credible allegations of more recent violations of human rights are promptly, effectively and impartially investigated, that those responsible for wrongdoing are brought to account, and that victims are provided with reparation.” [18] Additional recommendations include ensuring that the HRCM, the Police and the courts “have sufficient independence and resources to effectively respond to allegations of torture … in line with their mandates.” [19] It is clear that nothing will change until the Maldivian State authorities collectively arrive at a point to embrace the civic duty to eliminate torture and uphold the inalienable right of every citizen to their inherent human dignity.

As the UN’s recent statement explains, torture results in “pervasive consequences” that “go beyond the isolated act on an individual; and can be transmitted through generations and lead to cycles of violence”.[20] Torture achieves nothing but the decay of humanity and the degradation of social cohesion. The practice of torture irrevocably erodes the humanity of the torturer and the victim. Its virulent effects spread across society as generations of Maldivians suffer in the cycle of violence it generates, directly and indirectly. The occurrence of torture in Maldivian prisons has always been known to the public. However, the most authoritative documentation of systemic torture was provided by the TVA/Redress torture report.

The inhumanity of torture does not remain forever confined within prison cells. The explosion of violence Maldivian society has been experiencing in recent years can be attributed to inhuman practices, impunity and the absence of accountability rooted within the country’s authoritarian governance system and structures. According to www.mvmurders.com the “Maldives has seen a steady increase in murders in recent times, to the point where the phenomenon is now a normalized part of Maldivian society.” The website is a response by concerned persons to document the issue of murder in an erstwhile calmer society where cases of murder rarely occurred. Starting from 2001, the website documents 58 murders to date. These include 2 toddlers, 8 minors, 30 young people between 18 to 30 years, 6 people between 30 to 50 years, 8 elders between 50 to 80 years and 4 of unknown age. Among these, 12% are female and 88% are male.[21] These figures do not reflect the criminal violence that take place due to gang fights or violence against women and children, which also result in grievous physical and psychological long-term harm to victims.


The legacy of systemic violence, impunity and the persistent practice of torture in the Maldives undoubtedly converge to bring society to its current reality of insensitivity, inhumanity and insecurity. The ineffectiveness of responsible authorities to address the issue remains a fundamental obstruction to begin to rid Maldivian society of the plague of torture.

[1] International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, UN, http://www.un.org/en/events/torturevictimsday/

[2] Pain and Politics : Torture Victims Association inaugurated, Minivan News, 21 March 2017, https://minivannewsarchive.com/tag/torture-victims-association

[3] Torture Victims Association calls on the President to help find justice, 06 February 2012, President’s Office, http://www.presidencymaldives.gov.mv/?lid=11&dcid=6722

[4] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[5] Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Centre), Maldives NGO review reports 2012, http://ccprcentre.org/country/maldives

[6] Maldives – Concluding Observations adopted by the Human Rights Committee at its 105th session, 9-27 July 2012, CCPR/C/MDV/CO/1, 31 August 2012, http://ccprcentre.org/doc/2012/07/G1245583.pdf

[7] ibid

[8] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[9] 54 cases of torture filed against police, Maldives Independent, 01 August 2015, http://maldivesindependent.com/crime-2/54-cases-of-torture-filed-against-police-115980

[10] ibid

[11] Watchdog lets police off the hook over torture claims, Maldives Independent, 03 August 2016, http://maldivesindependent.com/politics/watchdog-lets-prison-guards-and-police-off-the-hook-over-torture-claims-125885

[12] Ibid (emphasis added)

[13] Shumba Gong tortured in jail, says lawyer, Maldives Independent, 10 April 2016, http://maldivesindependent.com/politics/ashraf-tortured-in-jail-says-lawyer-123422

[14] Obstructing Adeeb’s access to medical care is unlawful : Ali Hussain [translation from Dhivehi], VFP, 21 June 2017, https://vfp.mv/f/?id=61956

[15] Statement published via Twitter by family member Maumoon Hameed, @maanhameed, 19 June 2017, https://twitter.com/maanhameed/status/876718581257347072

[16] Ibid [translated from Dhivehi]

[17] HRCM Press Statement on the occasion of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June 2017, HRCM, http://hrcm.org.mv/dhivehi/news/page.aspx?id=650

[18] This Is What I Wanted To Tell You : addressing the legacy of torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives, TVA/Redress, July 2012, page.2, http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/1206_maldivesreport.pdf

[19] ibid

[20] International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, UN, http://www.un.org/en/events/torturevictimsday/

[21] Data source : www.mvmurders.com (June 2017)

First they came for Faafu II

Scary-Sea-Monster (1)

by Azra Naseem

2. Of myths and monsters

This is a very interesting story.

Today’s Crown Prince and Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohamed was not always a very popular member of the aristocratic Saudi royal family. Those days, Mohamed used to spend a lot of time in the Maldives. He stayed on an island in Faafu Atoll and went snorkelling. When the Prince went past Himithi on these trips, he marvelled at its beauty.

His noble heart took a fancy to Himithi. He made contact with the government, and through it, the varuvaa holders. The Prince got permission to develop the island as his own private holiday retreat. At the same time, Mohamed’s star began to shine bright on the Saudi horizon. King Abdulla died and Mohamed’s noble father Salman ascended to the throne. Mohamed became Crown Prince, and was given the powerful position of Defence Minister. Prince Mohamed is the visionary who designed the present Saudi economy and drew up Saudi Arabia’s new development plans.

With so much responsibility to bear, the Prince no longer has the opportunity to swim in the seas of the Maldives. But the Prince has not forgotten Himithi. Even King Salman knows just how much Mohamed loves the Maldives. The King himself, with his own noble tongue, told Maldivian President Yameen so. What’s more, the King himself also loves the Maldives, just like the noble Son Mohamed. The King made an official visit to the Maldives at the beginning of President Yameen’s rule.

The Prince has now changed his earlier concept of creating his own private retreat on an island. The close friendship President Yameen has with Saudi King Salman and his Noble Son played an important role in making this change happen. The new drawings were created by the very best designers in the world. That President Yameen has been granted the opportunity to view these designs can be understood from what the President said in his latest speech in Faafu Atoll. There have only ever been just two or three such concepts in the entire world.

They will build a big big city like Dubai in the Maldives. They will invest dollars in many billions. Saudi Arabia has such vast riches this is nothing to them. Big land will be reclaimed to build this city.

The ‘interesting story’ above is an extract from the chief narrative the Maldives government is disseminating to tell people the story of how President Yameen has made a deal to sell territory in Faafu Atoll to a group of rich privileged men from the Saudi royal family.

It is a clever strategy.

Every state has its founding myths, narratives repeated so often through time they become ‘truths’. These narratives become the basis on which national identities—and often policies—are built. Take, for example, the narratives of American Exceptionalism, and Satthain Sattha Maldives. These narratives, when repeated in various forms, pull at the national ‘psyche’, and successfully reactivate nationalism, patriotism and other such emotive ideologies the disseminators want during a given period of time.

In the tone and manner of telling, the government’s Saudi sale narrative is very similar to the Rannamari myth at heart of the Maldivian identity of Satthain Sattha Muslim. Non-Muslim Maldivians living in darkness, plagued by monsters, and existing in a perpetual state of fear, were shown the light by a learned scholar from the holy lands of Arabia who, with the help of a wise King open to religious enlightenment, paved the way for Islam, prosperity, and eternal peace in the Maldives. Since then, says the narrative, Maldives has been a Hundred Per Cent [Satthain Sattha] Muslim country.

Until now, that is. Today the Satthain Sattha identity is under serious threat, says the government.

Irreligious Laa Dheenee locals colluding with the Great Satan of the West, have come together to threaten the faith of Maldivians. These monstrous forces have been launching sustained attacks on Maldivian belief systems ever since a majority adopted the Western concept of democracy. Embracing these values have stood in the way of development and prosperity, and weakened Maldivians’ belief in Allah.

Maldivians of the 21st Century need rescuing, just like those of the 12th Century. Fortunately for Maldivians, wise President Yameen, like the enlightened King who embraced Islam in 1153, has become friends with not just a multitude of Arab scholars, but the King of Arabia himself, and his Noble Son, the Crown Prince Mohamed. Mohamed will bring Islam back to the Maldives in its proper form. He will save the Maldives.

The plans for Faafu are far from mere economic genius.

So-called gentry and their jealousy

Another narrative planted in the ‘independent media‘, and successfully taking hold, is that criticisms of the Maldives government deal with the Saudi royal family are manufactured by the Privileged Male’ People jealous at the prospect of mega development somewhere other than Male’.

The Male’/Raajjethéré divide is not in itself a myth. Vast differences exist between the capital island and the rest of the country in terms of economic development and provision of primary needs such as education and health. Fostered by these inequalities  systematically created by the central government in Male’, a ‘truth’ was constructed in which people of Male’ are somehow superior to that of people born elsewhere.

This long surviving inferiority/superiority complex–although weakened substantially in recent times–survives like racism, apartheid and other such systems of inequality do elsewhere. Now the government is picking the scabs of this national wound, and drumming up support for the deal in Faafu by making people feel the injury afresh. The allegations of Male’ jealousy plays to audiences who have long suffered inequalities stemming from the centralisation of power. Given the familiarity of the narrative, it very much rings ‘true’.

The Yameen government has completely dismantled the fledgling structures and nascent plans geared towards decentralisation. In this light, the the idea that the Faafu project  is intended to empower people of the atoll and surrounding areas is laughable. Decentralisation experts have pointed out that when Yameen came to power, existing laws required atoll assets to be handed over to respective islands and atolls. But local councils have since been systematically stripped of any authority and power. If empowerment of the people is a motive that drives government plans for outer atolls, why strip people of the atolls of all authority over their own resources?

Fact is, Yameen has already signed the dotted line on the deal it made with the royal family. The deal was sealed long before people came to know about it. It was done with zero public discussion on the inevitable and irreversible damage the Saudi Mega City project stands to cause to the fragile Maldivian environment; national security implications; or how it will change Maldivian society and culture.  The most powerful way—perhaps the only way—to resist the future they have carved up for Faafu, and by association the entire Maldives, is for the people to consider these threats and unite against the plans.

The (re)telling of powerful national myths in times of crises is a tactic that can be more effective than the brutal crackdowns that bring democratic protests to a stand-still. To drum up support for the War on Terror, US leaders tapped the myths of American Exceptionalim and Manifest Destiny. The narratives being (re)told by the Yameen government work to unite people in support for the Faafu plans against the manufactured threats to their religious beliefs and their right to equality.

In selling Maldivian land to the great Saudi Royal Family, custodians of Islam’s holiest sites, the government has brought not just riches but also blessings from Allah to the people of Maldives. In a single deal, the president has paved the way to resist the Infidels who are attacking Islam in the Maldives on so many fronts, and to shrink the demon of irreligiosity. All the while he is cutting those privileged superior Male’ people down to size by making the people of Faafu equally rich, empowered, and closer than ever before to God (by association with the Saudi Royal Family).

Only the irreligious, the foolish, the jealous and the arrogant would object.

First they came for Faafu I: Of Kings and Pawns

First they came for Faafu III: Muizzing Maldives

Image source