For the past few months, India’s relations with the Maldives have been under considerable strain over the Maldivian government’s actions against former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his visit to the island neighbour in March 2015 at the last minute. And in June, he extended Ramzan greetings to leaders of all Muslim countries in the SAARC region, but notably ignored Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.
Even so, with the possibility of a U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Presidential statement censuring the Maldives, India is caught in a familiar bind, between its own disapproval of the Maldivian government’s undemocratic moves and its resistance to action against a sovereign neighbour — much like it was some years ago over the situation in Sri Lanka.
The latest stand-off has been sparked by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s statement against the Maldives Supreme Court for passing strictures and threatening imprisonment of members of the Maldives Human Rights Commission for submitting a report to the UNHRC.
“Imposing such extraordinary and broad restrictions on the Human Rights Commission, including on their engagement with international organisations, is completely unacceptable,” Mr. Al Hussein said. “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former President Nasheed.”
UNHRC President Joachim Rücker also raised the matter at the council’s meeting on June 26, leading to speculation that the next step would be a presidential statement at the end of the current session on July 3. In a letter to Delhi-based Asian Human Rights Centre Director Suhas Chakma on the issue, Mr. Rücker wrote that he “will continue to closely follow this case, continue the dialogue with the government of the Maldives, as Member State of the U.N. Human Rights Council, and stand ready to take appropriate actions within his mandate”.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Chakma said the statement was “unprecedented” and showed how “the U.N. body is seized of events in the Maldives,” adding that a presidential statement would lead to a resolution on the Maldives during the UNHRC’s September session, much like Sri Lanka faces.
In response to a query by The Hindu, the Maldives High Commission said that such “statements made from afar at a time when the Maldives is strengthening the foundations of its democracy would be counterproductive.” It explained that the Maldives government could neither interfere with its Supreme Court, nor would it allow any “restrictions on the human rights commission.”
Nervous about the developments, the Maldivian government has been in diplomatic overdrive, with President Yameen visiting China and Germany in June, while Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon spoke with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to apprise them of the latest government moves regarding Mr. Nasheed, who has been convicted on “terror charges,” but has now been moved to house arrest pending his clemency appeal, as well as 18 “new human rights legislations” passed by the government.
On June 25, the government also allowed human rights group Amnesty International to visit Mr. Nasheed in incarceration. In a statement on June 26, Ms. Maumoon said Ms. Swaraj had “welcomed the positive developments in the Maldives”.
While the MEA made no official comment on the conversation, the government does not seem convinced yet that the Maldives government is making moves in the desired direction. In a break from its normal stand of not commenting on internal matters, India had criticised the trial against Mr. Nasheed, as well as an alleged assault on him by police forces outside court on February 23. However, sources concede that if there is international action against the Maldives, India will have to rethink its stand. Maldives is, after all, a neighbour in the Indian Ocean region, with close ties despite the recent strain. Indian officials also closely watched President Yameen’s visit to Pakistan in May, and don’t want to concede any more ground either to Islamabad or to Beijing.
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