Government uses human rights review to reinforce the status quo

Press release

(Geneva, Paris) The Maldivian government has failed to make progress on key human rights commitments during the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR), FIDH and its member organization Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) said today.

“Instead of using this UPR cycle to make bold human rights commitments, the Maldivian government adopted a conservative approach that reinforces the status quo and risks leaving important issues unaddressed.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

During the Maldives’ third UPR, the Maldivian government accepted 192 (187 totally, five partially) of the 259 recommendations it received from other UN member states on 4 November 2020. The government “noted” (i.e. did not accept) the remaining 67 recommendations.

Despite the high acceptance rate of recommendations, the government did not go far enough to show its commitment to address some of the serious human rights challenges that the Maldives faces, particularly with regard to: the limited space for civil society to operate; the death penalty, the right to freedom of religion or belief; the right to freedom of expression; the fight against religious extremism; and the treatment of migrant workers.

“Sadly, the government of the Maldives has not demonstrated adequate commitment to protect the fundamental rights of its people. It has in fact regressed on its international obligations and frustrated the tireless work of human rights defenders. There is much for the government to adhere to before taking on a seat as a member of the Human Rights Council.”

Shahindha Ismail, MDN Executive Director

FIDH and MDN urge the government to immediately commence the process of implementing the recommendations that it did not accept and that are consistent with the Maldives’ human rights obligations under international law.

Below is a brief analysis of the government’s response to the recommendations made by UN member states with regard to selected human rights issues.

Civil society and human rights defenders

With regard to the oppressive environment in which Maldivian civil society operates, the government claimed it was “committed to ensuring a safe environment for human rights activists, media and associations to operate freely.” It accepted nine recommendations that called for allowing human rights defenders - including women - and non-governmental organizations to operate freely and for their protection against threats, intimidation, and violence. However, a recommendation that called for combating attacks against human rights defenders who promote freedom of religion did not enjoy the government support. In addition, the government brushed aside international concern over the dissolution of MDN and refused to make a commitment to conducting an investigation into its closure.

Freedom of expression

The government stated it was “committed to providing” the right to freedom of opinion and expression and accepted nine recommendations that called for the protection of this right. It also accepted two recommendations that called for measures to combat hate speech and another recommendation that called for the establishment of “secure contact points for victims of hate speech and hate crimes” and said it was “committed to effectively addressing” online hate speech. However, hate speech and violence continue with impunity.

Freedom of religion or belief, religious extremism, LGBTI rights

The government issued a blanket refusal to accept all 16 recommendations it received concerning freedom of religion, including recommendations that called for: the repeal or amendment of laws that limit freedom of religion or discriminate on the basis of religion; the adoption of measures to fight religious intolerance; the promotion of dialogue and public debates on religious issues; and the withdrawal of the reservation to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPPR), regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The government stated it was committed to taking “all measures” to combat “violent extremism and extremist ideologies.” It accepted a recommendation that called for the adoption of a national plan to prevent and combat violent extremism but, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, claimed the recommendation had already been implemented. Furthermore, these commitments are belied by the government’s failure to accept the recommendation that called for an investigation into the dissolution of MDN, which was the result of a violent smear campaign organized by religious extremists.

The government’s insistence on social cohesion is exacerbated by its continued denial to recognize sexual and religious minorities in the country, which effectively deprives them of legal protection. In this regard, all seven recommendations that called on the government to ensure the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals and to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were not accepted.

Death penalty

The government “noted” all 26 recommendations concerning the death penalty. Recommendations included those calling for the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and the commutation of all death sentences. The government claimed that capital punishment could not be abolished “without preceding domestic legislation and wider public consultation” and indicated that it would uphold the “informal moratorium on the application of the death penalty.”

Enforced disappearances

The government accepted all eight recommendations that called for the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). It stated that it was “in the final stages” of ratifying the ICPPED, which the Maldives signed in February 2007.

Torture and detention conditions

The government accepted all five recommendations that called for improved detention conditions, in addition to the only recommendation that called for the effective investigation, prosecution, and punishment of all acts of torture and ill-treatment.

However, the government’s commitment is questionable, given its failure to implement the majority of the over 180 recommendations it received in 2019 from the independent Prison Audit Commission, which had been formed to assess the country’s prison conditions and achieve basic compliance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Migrant workers

The government did not accept all seven recommendations that called for the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The government claimed that the Maldivian legal framework afforded “adequate protection” to migrant workers in the country. It added that it was committed to the “provision of fundamental rights and basic necessities” to all migrant workers. It accepted six recommendations that called for the protection of the rights of migrant workers, including from xenophobic and racial discrimination.

However, the government’s statements have been contradicted by its own actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, when authorities repatriated thousands of foreign migrant workers without disclosing whether they consented to being sent back or whether they received due wages and compensation.

National human rights institution

The government accepted four of the five recommendations that called for the adoption of various measures to strengthen the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and ensure its compliance with the Paris Principles. However, the government rejected the notion that a non-Muslim could become a member of the commission.

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