Feedback by Hamza Latheef

 

Political collaboration in the Maldives: The Maldive opposition "democracy" movement regularly collaborates with the Maldive government in pulling wool over Western eyes. A recently published "reader's review" in the UK-based Maldive opposition website Dhivehi Observer (DO) lists the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that it alleges the Maldive government of failing to uphold. Conspicuously the review does not list Article 18 that relates to freedom of religion. The Maldive opposition Maldivian "Democratic" Party (MDP) has a written commitment in section 3.3(a) of its provisional constitution to violating this Article. In addition, DO regularly censors any reference to the provisions of Article 18 of the UDHR, unless such reference is to condemn those provisions. In September 2006, the Maldives ratified, without reservation, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol. Article 18 of the Covenant is based on Article 18 of the UDHR. That means the Maldives is under international treaty obligation to align all domestic laws with the Covenant within two years. Any Maldive entity, be it governmental or non-governmental, that does not uphold the provisions of the Covenant is now deemed to be in breach of international law. >>Read the DO article

The following is the feedback from the author of the DO article, Hamza Latheef. Although Mr Latheef wrote anonymously in DO, he wrote in his own name to us.

30 November 2006

In order to observe the niceties required by your website I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Hamza Latheef and I'm a 21-year-old 3rd-year undergrad at the University of Essex in Britain. I'm majoring in History and Human rights with a special focus on civil rights movements in modern and early modern history. I would like to consider myself a liberal in political and social matters and although I am in full support of constitutional reform and democracy which I strongly believe was ushered in by the activities of the MDP among other individuals, I don't identify myself with any political party in the Maldives at the moment. I only wished that I contribute to the current discourse.

Therefore, my writing should not, in any way, reflect the official party line of the MDP with regard to religious freedom, or the full extent of my political beliefs. What's more I meant that article as a light, satirical jab at the irresponsible comments of a single individual. I did not mean for it to be taken as a disputation, so I hope that much is clear. I support the freedom to choose how you live or what you believe as strongly as the next activist. I agree that it is both utterly pointless and an insult to the collective intelligence of a nation to require them to pretend to have/or not to have beliefs which they don't/do.

Yet, with all due respect, I must say that I have strong reservations about your approach towards establishing religious freedom in the Maldives. I believe that this can only be achieved with the utmost prudence, tact and sensitivity. As you well know, the Maldives has been ruled in past decades through religious legitimation of its rulers. Religion permeates every aspect of Maldivian life and politics. This is in no way an alien concept with regard to the history of any nation. The very reason that the Reformation redefined loyalties, borders and whole societies in early modern Europe is proof of this.

One might argue whether this is a valid argument in present times, but as I said in my article we Maldivians, as a people, did not actively take part in most major historical developments. The acounts of our history passed down to us orally, does not leave us with a palpable sense of what the Holocaust meant or why the more involved nations all over the world were vowing "never again". Therefore, one must appreciate the various factors behind the Maldivian people's reticence in allowing a change which most of us perceive as one that could rip apart the very fabric of our lives (whether this is a misconception is irrelevant as that does not change the fact that people believe in it wholeheartedly). This is an irrefutable fact which is demonstrated by the fact that no grassroots movement for religious freedom has arisen as yet in the Maldives, and until they do, and have been persecuted for it, I fail to see the urgency in this matter.

So, in ending, I would like to sum up by saying that in my opinion, religious freedom is not to be gained by insulting the predominant religion of a country or other such aggressively confrontational methods but by compromise which the larger political and social trends allow. As fellow academics (which I'm being so presumptuous as to call myself) I'm sure those of you who run this website can appreciate that common sense dictates that a political party looking for popular support in the maldives such as the MDP or the incumbent DRP cannot afford to alienate an overwhelming majority of the population by espousing ideals which that same majority aren't yet ready to accept.

Thank you
Hamza

Our reply:

1 December 2006

Dear Mr Latheef,

I assume you are referring to the anonymous article www.dhivehiobserver.com/review/Gayyoom_V_UDHR_2611200611828.htm . I have no issues if Maldivians collectively decide that they ought to or ought not to live by norms as they see fit. The Maldives is indeed a sovereign people. I have issues when Maldivians refer to international instruments such as the UDHR, giving the impression to outsiders that the majority of Maldivians embrace the principles in these instruments, when they clearly don’t, according to what you claim.

The Maldives has recently acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights without stating reservations over any of its articles [see comment]. That means, irrespective of local beliefs or tradition, the Maldives has now become a state party to an international treaty- the entire treaty and not just the portions that Maldivians feel ought to apply to them. The Maldives is also now treaty-bound to revise all domestic laws in line with the Covenant within 2 years. After September 2008, any Maldive statute or regulation that denies freedom of religion would constitute a clear breach of International Law. Whether or not there is a grassroots movement for religious freedom is now irrelevant because the Maldives has made that solemn commitment in a treaty with the rest of the world.

By making these insincere commitments the Maldives, its institutions, organisations and individuals are attempting to give a false impression to the international community in order to benefit from the latter. That is not honest. Honesty is very important. The Maldives should not have acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights if it thinks that it cannot uphold one of its provisions. The MDP, for example, ought to make their provisional constitution (section 3.3a, in particular) available in English just as they make their other documents available English. You ought to have mentioned Article 18 of the UDHR in your article as one that the Maldives is in breach of. Perhaps you could have added the points that you have written in your email to me, as to why you feel that Maldivians could not accept that Article.

It is not appropriate to attempt to gain from others, in this case the international community, by false pretenses. If Maldivians wish to live by the norms of the 7th Century, that is their absolute right but they have to be open about that wish. It is also the absolute right of other sovereign states to refrain from financial and commercial engagement with a state that wishes to live by norms that may not be in line with modern principles of human rights. Sometimes it is not possible to have the best of both worlds. That is a fact of life but we must not try to gain from others by false pretenses.

If you wish I can add your comments as feedback to what I have written. Please let me know if I may. Thank you for introducing yourself. Not many people that give feedback on what I write do so.

Regards
Majid

The Maldives has recently made a reservation on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

It has come to our notice that sometime after the Maldives acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it has made a reservation on Article 18. The reservation reads as follows:

"The application of the principles set out in Article 18 of the Covenant shall be without prejudice to the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives."

The Maldives is invoking its internal law to justify its failure to perform its international treaty obligations. This is contrary to the principles of international law and will be clearly unacceptable to the international community. It also contravenes Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

The reservations made by the Maldives in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights do not make the ad nauseam reference to the "100 percent Muslim population" of the Maldives.

Is the Maldive authorities attempting to give the international community the impression that it has now dropped its assertion that the Maldives has a "100 percent Muslim population"? Or has it in fact dropped that assertion?

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It is interesting that this reservation is more vague and less explicit compared to reservations made in relation to previous international instruments that the Maldives has acceded to. For example the following was the reservation made in relation to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women:

"The Government of the Republic of Maldives reserves its right to apply article 16 of the Convention concerning the equality of men and women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations without prejudice to the provisions of the Islamic Sharia, which govern all marital and family relations of the 100 percent Muslim population of the Maldives."

Several State Parties objected in very strong terms the reservation made by the Maldives upon accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. They have questioned the Maldives' sincereity to its international treaty commitments.

The watering down of the Maldives reservation expressed in relation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to a meaningless vague statement is a deliberate attempt at circumventing criticism. The Maldives is trying to treat respectable sovereign states the way it treats its rural citizens. This will not be possible and the Maldives is fooling no one.

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Objections to the Maldives' reservations
on the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
CEDAW

Austria:

The reservation made by the Maldives is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention and is therefore inadmissible under article 19 (c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and shall not be permitted, in accordance with article 28 (2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Austria therefore states that this reservation cannot alter or modify in any respect the obligations arising from the Convention for any State Party thereto.

Canada

In the view of the Government of Canada, this reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention (article 28, paragraph 2). The Government of Canada therefore enters its formal objection to this reservation. This objection shall not preclude the entry into force of the Convention as between Canada and the Republic of Maldives

Finland

In the view of the Government of Finland, the unlimited and undefined character of the said reservations create serious doubts about the commitment of the reserving State to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. In their extensive formulation, they are clearly contrary to the object and purpose of the Convention. Therefore, the Government of Finland objects to such reservations.

The Government of Finland also recalls that the said reservations are subject to the general principle of treaty interpretation according to which a party may not invoke the provisions of its domestic law as a justification for failure to perform its treaty obligations.

The Government of Finland does not, however, consider that this objection constitutes an obstacle to the entry into force of the Convention between Finland and Maldives

The Netherlands

The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has examined the reservations made by the Maldives [...]. The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands considers the said reservations incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.

The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands objects to the above-mentioned declarations and reservations.

These objections shall not preclude the entry into force of the Convention as between India, Morocco, the Maldives and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Norway

In the view of the Government of Norway, a reservation by which a State party limits its responsibilities under the Convention by invoking general principles of internal law may create doubts about the commitments of the reserving State to the object and purpose of the Convention and, moreover, contribute to undermine the basis of international treaty law. It is in the common interest of States that treaties to which they have chosen to become parties also are respected, as to their object and purpose, by all parties. Furthermore, under well established international treaty law, a State is not permitted to invoke internal law as justification for its failure to perform its treaty obligations. For these reasons, the Government of Norway objects to Maldives reservations.

The Government of Norway does not consider this objection to constitute an obstacle to the entry into force of the above-stated Convention between the Kingdom of Norway and the Republic of Maldives."

Portugal

The Government of Portugal considers that the reservations formulated by the Maldives are incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention and they are inadmissible under article19 (c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Furthermore, the Government of Portugal considers that these reservations cannot alter or modify in any respect the obligations arising from the Convention for any State party thereto.

Sweden

The Government of Sweden therefore objects to these reservations and considers that they constitute an obstacle to the entry into force of the Convention between Sweden and the Republic of Maldives.

Denmark

The Government of Denmark finds that the said reservations are covering central provisions of the Convention. Furthermore it is a general principle of international law that internal law may not be invoked as justification for failure to perform treaty obligations. The Government of Denmark finds that the reservations are incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention and accordingly inadmissible and without effect under international law. Consequently, the Government of Denmark objects to these reservations.

It is the opinion of the Government of Denmark that no time limit applies to objections against reservations, which are inadmissible under international law.

The Convention remains in force in its entirety between the Maldives and Denmark.

The Government of Denmark recommends the Government of the Maldives to reconsider its reservations to the [said] Convention.

Following these objections the Government of the Republic of the Maldives modified its reservation as follows:

"The Government of the Republic of Maldives will comply with the provisions of the Convention, except those which the Government may consider contradictory to the principles of the Islamic Sharia upon which the laws and traditions of the Maldives is founded. [sic]

" Furthermore, the Republic of Maldives does not see itself bound by any provisions of the Convention which obliges to change its Constitution and laws in any manner."

It is patently obvious that the Maldives arrogantly expects others to discharge their treaty obligations to the Maldives while it exempts itself from all its obligations to others. This is how a 7th century slave-owner would treat his slaves.

Conspicuously absent is the earlier reference to the Maldives having a "100 percent Muslim population". It is obvious that the number of objections clearly alarmed the Maldive authorities. That was why it has made its reservations on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights monosyllabically vague. Nevertheless the Maldives is still invoking its internal law to justify its failure to perform its international treaty obligations. This is contrary to the principles of international law.

Breach of CEDAW by the Maldives:

Recently our attention has been drawn to a case involving a serious breach of CEDAW by a Maldive court. The case involves the forfeiture by the state of part of the inheritance of three women on the grounds that they are women. We will report on this case in due course, once remedial steps have been exhausted.

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