Dismal human rights record: Maldives faces Commonwealth ouster

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has previously helped Maldives avert suspension from Commonwealth bodies. Photograph:( AFP )

Delhi, India Sep 22, 2016, 01.38 PM (IST) Umaima Rasheed Hussain
Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is to meet on the sidelines of the 71st session of UN General Assembly in New York on Friday to discuss human rights standards and political situation in the Maldives. 

The CMAG, a body of foreign ministers from nine member countries, is set to review Maldives' progress on a six-point reform agenda - progress in political dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition, release of political prisoners, put an end to the government using the country’s anti-terrorism act to jail political opponents and dissidents, a separation of powers and an independent judiciary, and freedom and space for civil society - it had proposed earlier this year.

To avoid being put on the CMAG formal agenda, which is a step towards suspension or expulsion from the multilateral body, Maldives needed to take certain steps by September.

On September 18, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) submitted a report to CMAG after a visit to Maldives earlier this month. 

The review said the Maldives government had failed to make progress on priority areas identified by the Commonwealth action group in February. 

"It is clear that the government is not engaging sincerely with the Commonwealth or the United Nations to implement reforms that will strengthen democratic institutions and enable realization of fundamental rights" the report stated. 

CHRI has urged CMAG to suspend Maldives from the Councils of the Commonwealth, exclude the country from all Commonwealth inter-government meetings and events and halt all Commonwealth technical assistance, other than the mandate of the Secretary General’s Special Envoy.

CMAG had done a similar review in April and had expressed concern regarding the lack of progress. 

But the action group had decided not to take action against Maldives. Instead, it gave the island nation time till September to make "clear, measurable progress" in its polity and human rights standards. 

India on the horns of a dilemma

India has kept quiet on Maldives despite the continuing political instability in the country. 

During the CMAG extraordinary meeting held in February, India along with Pakistan spoke in defence of the Maldives. Their backing helped the country avoid facing action. 

President of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had thanked India and Pakistan for helping them avoid action. 

"There were some who attacked us. But we were saved because of the work done by both of our neighbouring powers,” he said a few days after the CMAG meeting. 

During the visit to India few days ahead of the CMAG meeting in April, in a joint press statement with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Yameen said the main reason for his visit was to express gratitude for India’s role in helping the Maldives avoid actions by CMAG.  

"Mr Prime Minister, the reason I visited India today is to express my appreciation for the very steadfast leadership India has shown in protecting Maldives in the CMAG deliberations," he had said. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed at India's role as "the net security provider" in the Indian Ocean. 

"The Maldives is among India’s closest partners… The stability and security of the Maldives are in the interest of India" he said.

While India has played a vital role in preventing CMAG actions against Maldives till now, Maldives former president Mohamed Nasheed has urged the CMAG to base its decision on facts rather than political considerations of the stakeholder states.  

On September 23, a decision will be made about putting Maldives on the CMAG formal agenda. 

India, the largest democratic nation in the region, has a choice to make: whether to support Maldives or base their decision on the report made by the action group.