23 January 2007
following is the full text of a speech given by Mr Ahmed Mujuthaba
who headed the first Human Rights Commission of the Maldives.
The speech was given at a reception held in honour of Mr Gary
Streeter, member of the UK Parliament and head of the British
Conservative Party’s International Office, the Conservative
Human Rights Commission and Conservatives Abroad. The reception
was given by the Open Society Association of the Maldives,
which includes many progressive ministers in the Maldive government.The
function was held at Bandos Island Resort on 20 January 2007.
For the sake of brevity the first (introductory) paragraph
has been deleted.
We have never had democracy in the Maldives.
The present constitution
which took 17 years to write is no improvement on the
previous one. To see that, all you have to do is read the definition
of Law. Law includes acts of Majlis, Government Regulations and
Government Practices - practices that can change whimsically. Furthermore
there is no practice of publishing these practices. Even several
regulations which affect the public go unpublished.
The print media was, till very recently, like the Soviet era Pravda
or the Peking Review of Chairman Mao days except for a
brief period in 1989 and 1990. Long bold headlines such as “President
Gayoom Sends Sympathy to the President and Prime Minister of India
after Gujarat Earthquake” or “President Gayoom Congratulates
Mr Tony Blair on his Election Victory” adorned the front pages.
It was not the earthquake or Tony Blair’s election victory.
No mention of the plight of the victims or Blair’s promised
agenda. You were lucky if more news on the events was given in tiny
print in the inside pages. The news on local radio and TV was much
The news of the awful death of Ivan Naseem, probably sent using
phones smuggled into the prison led to riots on the streets of Male
on 20 September 2003. Brutal suppression of prison riots on that
day resulted in further deaths. The presidential referendum was
not far away. The incident was so revolting that many people overcame
their fears and openly expressed their disgust. The self-exiled
people living in Sri Lanka and England had ways of passing news
to international press. And there was internet. So attention had
to be given to promises made in the campaign. That, now I believe,
was what led to the birth of the first Human Rights Commission on
10 December 2003. All 9 members decided that it should be honorary,
and so it remained till the appointment of members to the Commission,
on 27 November 2006 under the current law which entitles members
to salary and other allowances.
After intense consultation with the Commission, the President promulgated
the Human Rights Commission of Maldives Regulations on 24 December
Obviously a Commission formed by Presidential decree did not comply
with the Paris Principles. However the UNDP was willing to fund
some programs of the Commission which helped in securing some funding
from some countries including Britain through the British Council.
The members of the Commission except two with law degrees from foreign
Universities were new to human rights. So were the staff members.
The task ahead was daunting. The Commission moved ahead with determination.
By end of April 2004 it had visited places of police detention,
the prison, home for people with special needs, home for children
in state care and the drug rehabilitation centre and sent its observations
and recommendations to respective Government authorities. By end
of July 2004 it had organized a one day seminar on human rights
and the Human Rights Commission, a 2 day workshop on CRC and CEDAW,
a 2 day work shop on sensitising the media on human rights and its
reporting and a lecture on human rights in a model constitution.
Despite all these activities no one in his or her wildest dreams
believed that the Commission was independent and would criticise
This changed dramatically when the Commission gave for publication
its findings on the detainees of August 12 and 13, 2004 protests.
The Commission paid special attention to them, as under the Emergency
declared several of their basic rights were derogated and hence
more vulnerable to abuses. From then onwards the Commission’s
independence was established with some in the Government and a few
opponents. But many saw it as an organization that protected the
rights of criminals only. Since I was one of the 42 original signatories
in the application to register the MDP in 2001 many in the Government
assumed that I was protecting the MDP interests through the Commission.
Little did they know the impact made on me by what I saw and heard.
Any way I learned more of what was wrong with the country I was
born in and call home, in the 1 year and 9 months that I was in
the Commission than the entire rest of my life.
The state media gave no assistance in dissemination of information
when there was so little awareness of human rights. But when one
of its members resigned on the grounds of the Commission not functioning
in accordance with the Constitution and Islamic Sharia,
it was announced on the state media on 9 December 2004. His resignation
letter had several accusations against the Commission as a result
of which the Commission requested the President to do an investigation
and I informed him that I would not attend office till the outcome
of the investigation. The President replied on 22 December that
he had confidence in the Commission members, and although this was
not reported in the state media, I reported back to work on receipt
of that reply.
After the tsunami struck the Commission had to devote much time
in inspecting the shelters for displaced people in particular and
conditions of the affected people in general, realizing that displaced
people were particularly vulnerable to abuses. It sent its findings
and recommendations to the relevant Government authorities.The tsunami
had a good effect too. In a sudden gush of generosity, the President
released all the August 12 and 13 detainees, stopped further investigations
and dropped all charges including that of treason.
The Commission monitored the General Election held early 2005 and
declared it generally not free and fair and without undue influence
and published its findings. This increased the belief in the Commission’s
The Commission on 30 June 2005 organized a meeting to discuss human
rights in a multiparty democracy. One registered party and all three
applicants participated in the meeting and members of the public
asked questions. But five days later came the alarming announcement
on the state media that the Supreme Council of Religious Affairs
had banned the possession of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
as long as Article 16 and 18 were part of it. The Council instructed
the Commission not to distribute the document without deleting those
articles. It looked in the end that the Council which is under the
direct purview of the President had acted without his approval.
The Human Rights Commission Law was an ordeal. The first bill sent
for 2004 parliament was a far cry from Paris Principles. Fortunately,
with great pressure from the Commission, it was withdrawn. The revised
bill was passed with last minute amendments taking away some essential
powers from the Commission. The Commission sent its concerns to
the President but he chose to ratify it on 18 August 2005 although
it was to be amended. I tendered my resignation immediately.
There is a better Human Rights Commission Law now although I don’t
know whether it fully complies with the Paris Principles.
Now I should like to give my thoughts on the future of our country.
We have political parties and their leaders, one of whom is the
top judicial authority of the country. We have politicians and activists.
We are bombarded with spin from all sides including state media.
There is frustration. It is a delicate crossroad where a wrong turn
can plunge the country into chaos. Do we want the country to move
back to a subsistence economy? Do we want a strong man to emerge
to finally control the situation and install a military dictatorship
or an Iranian style theocracy or a Saudi type kingdom?
If the answer is no, the state radio and TV must become neutral
in reporting news and facilitate public debate on various issues,
and although the chief aim of a political party is always to reach
lawfully a position to run the government and to lawfully retain
it, at this moment, the politicians in power must stop trying to
cling onto power and those in the opposition must stop trying to
gain power and work together to ensure a better life for future
generations through a good constitution.
When a good constitution is made, it will take a very long time
with very hard work to make democracy and respect for human rights
a part of our culture.
Gary Streeter, MP, flanked by Mr Mujuthaba (right) and the
Maldive attorney general