Maldives: A Memo on Recent Developments
Maldives: A Memo on Recent Developments
1) Update on the Reform Roadmap
Work on the implementation of the Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, which was published on 27 March 2006, is being carried out in three streams, namely, within the People’s Special Majlis (Constitutional Assembly), the People’s Majlis (Parliament) and the Executive branch.
a) Special Majlis
The mandate of the Special Majlis is to write a new Constitution. It has before it several full drafts submitted by the President and civil society, as well as hundreds of specific proposals from the public.
Progress in the Special Majlis has been slow on account of deliberate disruption by the Opposition, weak parliamentary traditions and poor whipping along party lines as members have been elected as independents rather on party ticket.
To date the Special Majlis has completed deliberation on the chapter on fundamental rights, as well on the judiciary, and has asked the drafting committee to draw up the detailed drafts. An expert has been deputed by the United Nations to assist the drafting committee. At the present time, the plenary of the Special Majlis is debating on the form of the new legislature, and is expected to provide guidelines to the drafting committee shortly.
An unexpected turn of events was the proposal to hold a public referendum on the question of determining the future form of government. An organizing Committee has now been elected to supervise the conduct of the referendum by the Elections Commissioner.
The Government believes that, despite difficulties imposed by the Opposition, the Special Majlis is on course to complete on schedule its part of the Roadmap. The task of writing the new Constitution is to be completed by June 2007.
The objective of the Government is not merely to write a new Constitution, but also to transform the structures of governance to ensure that the product is a modern liberal democracy. A significant portion of that task lies with the legislature in carrying out legal and judicial reform, aimed particularly at strengthening human rights protection. Accordingly, the Roadmap includes a very heavy legislative programme for the Parliament.
As per the Roadmap, major reform bills have been submitted to parliament—covering media freedom, police powers, criminal procedure, defamation and the penal code. Only one bill was held back from submission on time—bill on evidence, which required alignment with the advancement of the date of accession to major international human rights instruments, but will now go through to parliament shortly. All these bills are expected to complete the legislative process during 2007.
A significant milestone is the statutory powers granted to the Human Rights Commission, established in December 2003 initially by decree. Members of the new Commission have been confirmed by Parliament in October and the President is expected to nominate its Chairperson and Vice Chairperson for confirmation by Parliament shortly.
c) Executive actions
As the aim of the President is to transform the political landscape of the Maldives as swiftly as feasible, a number measures have been implemented through executive action to fast track reform pending the completion of the legislative process. These are particularly focused on strengthening human rights protection.
A number of human rights instruments have been ratified or acceded. These include ratification of the UN Convention against Torture in 2004; the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 2006, making the Maldives the only Asian country to have ratified the OPCAT to date. Also in February this year, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was ratified. As a major step forward, on 19 September 2006, and well ahead of the schedule given in the Roadmap, the Maldives acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Pending the passage of the new penal code, the Government has suspended the application of the provision in the current penal code which provides criminal liability for defamation, removing a major constraint to a free press. At the same time, the procedure for registration of print media has been streamlined allowing for same day registration and other activities have been undertaken to develop a free press. As a result, the Maldives today has very lively, vibrant and free press.
The Government also in June last year introduced by a decree a regulatory framework to enable political parties to function in the Maldives for the first time in the country’s history. Four parties are registered and functioning today. The right to association and right to assembly were further strengthened by the provision of regulatory framework to protect peaceful assemblies and demonstrations in May 2006.
Other steps that have been taken include setting up a civilian Police Service, and carrying out intensive training programmes for the Police with the help of Western Australian Police and the Commonwealth Human Rights Unit. Overhauling and modernizing police procedure by increasing transparency and accountability in dealing with detainees. A Police Integrity Commission was established in September 2006.
A Judicial Services Commission has been established to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
The prison system has been re-organised to improve conditions and facilities. An agreement was signed with the International Committee of the Red Cross to permit access to prisons.
2) The Westminster House process
On 12 November 2006, the President invited all the parties in the country to convene an all party dialogue to formulate a roadmap for the Reform Agenda. The President appointed a National Coordinator and set up an office to convene the talks. A Commonwealth Special Envoy also sought to facilitate these talks. However, the Opposition parties declined to join the talks, citing various preconditions.
Thus, after four months of impasse, the President announced, at the State Opening of the parliament that he would within a month publish a Roadmap that would comprise the bulk of the Government’s intended legislative progamme for the next two years. While the Opposition parties continued to boycott inter-party talks, the Government was left with no choice but to publish its legislative programme and with it the Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, which it did on 27 March 2006. The main Opposition party, MDP initially welcomed it, but later backtracked and demanded early elections or an interim government.
The Governments of offer of informal talks to facilitate formal dialogue, made on New Year’s Day 2006, was finally taken up MDP in late June 2006. As the MDP had a bar on formal contact with the government, the talks were held discreetly in Colombo, at the residence of the British High Commissioner, who acted as facilitator.
Four rounds of talks were held—in June, July, August and September. The subject of the talks was t confidence-building and speeding up the reform programme. As confidence measures, the MDP requested the release of several detainees in return for toning down vilification of the government and operating lawful and peacefully, including in regard to the regulation on public assembly. The government agreed to release detainees including high profile detainees. It was further agreed that an informal contact group would be set up for speeding up work of the special majlis and that a formal dialogue process would start once Mr Mohamed Nasheed, the Chairperson of MDP was released from detention. The informal contact group had one meeting, but failed to generate momentum in the face of continued vilification by MDP and failure to demonstrate good faith on the part of MDP through repeated breaches of the agreements and public denial of the concessions that they had made.
A joint statement was to be issued on 21 September 2006, but this failed to materialize as the government quickly learned that MDP had no intention of subscribing to the common ground identified through the Westminster House process. Further, it became evident that MDP did not subscribe to the substance of the draft joint statement. The process finally stalled when on 4 October 2006, MDP resolved to stage the overthrow of the government by force on 10 November 2006.
3) A Planned Overthrow of the Government
On 4 October, the National Council of MDP decided to convene a mass gathering on 10 November 2006. That same day, Minivan news, a sister organization of MDP, called for the assassination of the President.
On 9 October 2006 it became clear that the objective of MDP for 10 November gathering was to overthrow the government. At a meeting of the 20 top leadership of MDP at the Headquarters at midday on 9 October, a Committee to Organise the Overthrow the Government was selected, and specific persons were assigned specific tasks relating to the 10 November event and the overthrow of the government. The meeting also decided to set up a sizeable militia or security force.
On 10 October, the public campaign began to mobilize for 10 November through MDP media outlets.
On 13 October, Acting President Zaki made it explicitly clear while addressing a gathering in Dhihdhoo that the objective of the 10 November gathering was to overthrow the government by force. Zaki said that this government has to be overthrown by force, and done so on 10 November.
“Most of us believe this is an illegal government… no one supports a dictator… we can see how dictators fall, with the help of foreign elements, with foreign influence… MDP’s has foreign support… We will soon overthrow Maumoon Abdul Gayoom… many Ministers have defected to our side… many officers of the police and of the security service have defected to our side…there is now no one who will protect the president… you would have seen the Orange Revolution, Rose Revolution.. these are people’s revolutions, carried out by the people… there is absolutely no way that a dictatorship can be overthrown except by a revolution by whatever means… you should face this reality… no foreign country will oppose you for carrying out a revolution.. a revolution is something peaceful and when you bring a revolution, the government will fall.. let us finish our agenda on 10 November.”
By mid-October, the moderates within MDP began to distance themselves from the militants. This was particularly the case after the number of arson attacks and other violent incidents began to rise, including the torching of a residential building owned by the Chief Justice, injuring several and imperiling the lives of many families who were residing there.
On 21 October, the parliamentarians issued a public statement of dissent from the militants. A member of that group gave a signed statement to the police expressing concern over plans for violence.
On 25 October, Nasheed forcibly landed at Naifaru and Manadhoo using thugs with box cutters to intimidate the public. Some five persons were slashed at Manadhoo.
An oath was taken on 3rd November at the MDP headquarters to fight to the bitter end.
MDP continues to claim foreign support.
Response by the Government
22nd October, the government informed the public about the hidden agenda of MDP and advised them of the legal liability in supporting incitement to violence and other unlawful acts.
On 30 October, Home Minister declared that the gathering was illegal, on the basis of the information gathered about the intentions of the gathering.
Last week Zaki was summoned to the police to assist with inquiries relating to statement that he had made in Dhihdhoo. He has not been arrested.
In response to numerous public calls for a more firm maintenance of law and order and the rule of the law, Police began to make arrests on 30 October, and so far 27 have been held for various offences. The include people who had intimidated the residents of Naifaru, used box-cutters, impeded police activity and caused disruption.
Two foreigners were asked to leave yesterday.
The Government’s response is characterized by restraint, seeking to avoid provoking but nevertheless ensuring the safety of the public from planned actions of violence and arson.
Possibility of disruption outside the Majlis tomorrow!