Human Rights Watch: Maldivian government failed to protect human rights

Migrant workers wait for a bus to take them to the airport for repatriation. (File Photo/Sun/Fayaz Moosa)

The international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch has laundered heavy criticism at the Maldivian government, branding it to have failed in protecting human rights in their annual report. 

In their annual report publicised on Thursday, eight main issues were highlighted with regard to Maldives, which are the COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers, lack of accountability, environmental harm, torture and ill-treatment, women and girls rights.

Human Rights Watch said in their report that the pandemic underscored weaknesses in the government's capacity to provide essential needs and services. It also stated that COVID-19 spotlighted longstanding abuses, including wage theft, passport confiscation, and unsafe living and working conditions for migrant workers. 

Although the government's publishing of new migrant worker rules to regulate employer responsibility for arranging migrants’ arrival in Maldives, accommodations, registration, and repatriation was noted, the report went on to state that the government "failed to implement adequate measures to identify and support trafficking victims or investigate and prosecute abusers."

Human Rights Watch said there was a lack of accountability in Maldives. The report brought up the lack of conviction made with regard to the government-appointed commission to investigate deaths and enforced disappearances, even after it was found that groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda were responsible for the murder of several prominent activists and politicians, including journalist Ahmed Rilwan in 2014 and blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.

Furthermore, it stated that "a transitional justice bill has been submitted to parliament, but no justice mechanism for investigating past incidence of torture and other abuses is in place."

Stressing that Maldives was one of the most vulnerable countries to environmental impacts, the report said that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's government failed to adequately enforce environmental protection laws governing developmental projects, and failed to fulfill the pledge to grant Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more independence. 

It further claimed that "government ministers have bypassed environmental impact assessment requirements in pursuit of infrastructure projects. In January, the environment minister approved a project to expand the Maafaru airport, overriding the EPA, which had rejected the project because of erosion risks and harm to coral reefs."

Shedding light on torture and ill-treatment complaints filed with government commissions since the Anti-Torture Act was passed in 2013, the report stated that not one of those reports has led to a prosecution or official or redress for victims, adding that cases of police brutality are regularly dismissed based on lack of evidence in Maldives.

"Despite government promises in 2019 to address mistreatment in prisons, conditions remained deplorable, with extreme overcrowding, some at almost double capacity."

In addition to this, it said that gender-based violence was an epidemic that was in the Maldives, referencing the United Nations report on "increased domestic violence during the Maldives’ Covid-19 lockdown, while government support services remained under-resourced and understaffed."

As per the organization, the Word Report 2021 is the Human Rights Watch's 31st annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in over 100 countries.