Diffidence, Defiance and Delusion: Maldives in Denial
Anushree Ghisad

'That which springs from comfort & consolation,
is delusion of perception;
For truth is absolute,
not contingent on convenience'

Human beings often conveniently slide into a ‘state of denial’ to avoid and evade unsettling realities transcending their mental and physical comfort zone. Wealthy parents turning a blind eye to their children’s indulgent ways; a drug addict refusing to acknowledge his condition; societies wearing blinders on child marriages and farmer’s suicides could be some examples of blocking out the realities by embracing the denial mode. Governments too quite often slip into ‘state of denial’ when collective psyche of authorities want to parry confrontations with ugly and inconvenient realities. Many governments have gone denying the obvious ranging from Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa denying atrocities committed by the armed forces during last phase of the Eelam war to Pakistan’s attitude on terrorism. Pakistan of course is in a league of its own by perfecting this art and can easily pass as the leader of this league. Maldives seems to be the latest entrant into the league, by trying to give an impression that the paradise island is in peace though the string of events unfolding in past few years suggest otherwise.

A pattern seems to have evolved in Maldives which has been in news for continued political turmoil. Whenever an international body or forum or NGO or country mounts diplomatic pressure by pointing at the ‘political motive’ behind ex-President Nasheed’s 13 year jail sentence, their Foreign Minister not only snubs such allegations, but labels other party as ‘biased, propagandist and attempting to meddle in internal affairs of Maldives.’ This pattern of defiance was replayed when the recent ruling of United Nations Working Group found Nasheed’s detention illegal. Such an imperious approach on the backdrop of continued international uproar against government’s increasingly autocratic tendencies may not bode good for the future of Maldives.

Nasheed’s Case – UN Working Group verdict:

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, a Human Rights activist and champion of democracy; was arrested on terrorism charges early this year and was convicted and sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by the Criminal Court following a rushed trial. In April 2015, Nasheed formed an international legal team consisting of Ben Emmerson, Jared Genser and Amal Clooney. On April 30, his legal team submitted his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, seeking urgent action and formal request for an opinion of the Working Group. On October 5, 2015; the UN Working Group ruled Nasheed’s detention as arbitrary and in violation of international law. It urged the ex-president’s immediate release, to which the Maldivian government replied that it “does not accept the decision,” and that it “will not be made to act on the basis of a non-binding opinion.” This is in perfect consistency with government’s reaction in the recent past.

Recent instances of defiance:

In June this year, some Commonwealth member countries including Canada were pushing for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives government. The group has mandate to recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule. Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon rebuffed this by denying the allegation saying ‘there are no serious violations in the Maldives’ and warned that ‘Maldives will seriously consider its membership of the Commonwealth if it is placed on the agenda of CMAG.’ She further reminded that Maldives has been questioning the relevance of remaining in the Commonwealth since 2012, as the country did not receive much aid or development assistance from any Commonwealth country. While responding to his Canadian counterpart, Maldivian Foreign Minister tweeted that she was shocked by the ‘cultural genocide by the Canadian Government’, and said that Canada was no exception when it came to ‘upholding democratic principles’. She further slammed Canada by saying that “selective application” of democratic principles was a “highly hypocritical approach to adopt”. What Maldives has failed to recognize that having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles will only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world, which will be detrimental for Maldivian interests.

In another instance, Supreme Court of Maldives stripped powers from the country’s human rights commission in June 2015 and barred it from independent communication with foreign organizations, following its submission of a report to the UN which causticized judiciary. The judiciary had already come under fire after the imprisonment verdict against Nasheed.

On June 15, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) released its briefing paper on Maldives, pointing at “the deplorable human rights situation in the country arising as a consequence of the singular aim of President Abdullah Yameen to sentence key political opponents to long term imprisonments and disqualifying them as candidates in the 2018 Presidential elections.” It also pressed for Maldives’ suspension in UN Human Rights Council. Maldivian government reacted by adopting more draconian measures.

Nasheed’s fast tracked trial which lasted just 19 days was criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a “hasty and apparently unfair” trial that made a “mockery of the country’s own constitution.” Amnesty International called the trial a “travesty of justice”, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul called it ‘serious due process violation’, European Parliament has deplores the ‘serious irregularities in the trial of former President’, while the US Secretary of State John Kerry, during a visit to Sri Lanka said that Nasheed was “imprisoned without due process.”

Assassination attempt on President :

Recently, Maldives arrested the newly cherry picked Vice President Ahmed Adheeb for the assassination bid on the President. Adheeb’s arrest came as a big surprise as former VP Mohamed Jameel was removed in July by the same government controlled parliament in what was widely regarded as a move to set Adheeb up for the coveted post. Adeeb was then tourism minister. The constitution was amended in a haste for the first time since it came into effect in 2008 to lower the age limit for presidency and vice presidency from 35 to 30 years, which paved the way for 33 year old Adheeb to be appointed as VP in place of Jameel. And within three months of his appointment he is accused of high treason.

A palpable sense of insecurity that is pervading President’s Office is an outcome of persistent state of denial in which the Maldivian government has been, by refusing to acknowledge political infighting and instability that is rocking the country. The same President who had vested extraordinary authority in Adheeb now doubts his political motives given that the Vice President ascends to Presidency in the event of latter’s death. Security agencies believe that a ‘palace coup’ was in making.

President announced a state of emergency in the first week of November 2015 citing threat to national security and national safety. Some sections believe that emergency was declared to clamp down on possible protest rallies by the opposition. The state of emergency was however quickly revoked following widespread international condemnation and concerns about its impact on the country’s crucial tourism industry.

The dramatic arrest of Adheeb and subsequent imposition of emergency has raised concerns over recurring political crisis in Maldives and reflects impact of this state of denial on a government which still claims that there is no political instability in Maldives. The Indian Ocean archipelago is clearly slipping into a shell where authorities believe and want to give an impression that ‘all is well’ in Maldives, irrespective of ground realities.

Continual denial of the fact of existence of deep political divide and crisis in the midst of fast rising aspiration for political change, establishment of real democracy and observance of human rights in the country will only help further intensification of political churning in Maldives. Nasheed may not be a perfect man, but he does seem to represent a school of political belief that Maldives needs a change from the track it has been moving on.

This compels political analysts to contemplate upon a core question- should governments try to preserve the tenets that they feel are cardinal in defining the character of a nation or evolve with changing times and embrace new political aspirations? If the former is true, then it’s easy to argue that Gayoom’s denial mode is nothing but a ‘defensive response’ to justify and turn a blind eye to the unwarranted developments that have potential to shake ideological and political fulcrum of his government. But as John Green says, ‘perhaps lives are supposed to be lived in pursuit of some great ideals worth sacrificing endlessly for’. If so, then President Gayoom could very well continue to jail the likes of Nasheed or force the Jameels into exile but not, in the long run, extinguish the political force or ideals that they seemingly represent. Maldives perhaps need to urgently, in national interest, acknowledge that it faces a serious political challenge that must be addressed politically through peaceful political engagement and dialogue in a spirit of cooperation and accommodation.


Published Date: 18th January 2016, Image Source: http://www.haveeru.com.mv
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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