Friday, May 10, 2013

Maldives: Maldives approaching ‘critical juncture’ with upcoming elections

UN - 9 May 2013 – The upcoming elections in the Maldives represent an important opportunity to move forward with its democratic transition, a senior United Nations official stressed today, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the country.

“We are at a critical juncture in the Maldives, and the forthcoming elections will be an important step in its democratic transition,” Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told reporters in the capital, Malé.

He encouraged all stakeholders to ensure the conditions for free, fair, inclusive, credible and non-violent elections when voters in the South Asian nation go to the polls to elect a new president on 7 September.

Multi-party presidential elections were held in the Maldives for the first time in 2008, ending 30 years of one-party rule. Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected in those polls, resigned in February 2012 in contested circumstances, and was succeeded by his former deputy, Mohammed Waheed Hassan.

The Government set up a National Commission of Inquiry to probe the events leading to the regime change, with the Commission presenting its findings last August.

“I stressed that while respecting the Constitution, the credibility of the electoral process and acceptability of the results depends on whether all candidates wishing to participate in the presidential elections are able to do so,” said Mr. Fernandez-Taranco.

“I made it clear to all that elections by themselves are not sufficient to address the long-term social and economic challenges facing the country,” he added. “In the public interest, and with a view to the day after elections, I called on political leaders to commit to dialogue and focus their campaigns on needs and concrete proposals to meet them.”

Mr. Fernandez-Taranco also called for the strengthening of the justice sector and the independence of the judiciary.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, found during her visit to the country in February that judicial officials there are not sufficiently independent from external pressures and interferences.

“The concept of independence of the judiciary has been misconstrued and misinterpreted in the Maldives, including among judicial actors,” she had stated, adding that there was insufficient dialogue, respect for the new Constitution created in 2008, transparency and access to information, and accountability to allow the judiciary to function property.

She had also noted a relatively low number of sitting female judges, lack of education and training possibilities for persons in the judicial sector, and the lack of trust the general public has in the country’s judiciary.

Also wrapping up a visit to the country was the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, who said the upcoming polls provide a key opportunity to safeguard the rights of children.

“I am confident that the unique opportunity to promote a lasting consensus around children’s well-being and protection will be seized by Maldives, and this vision will inform the future of this country,” she said in a statement, following a five-day visit that concluded yesterday.

The Special Representative expressed her support to national efforts to address concerns about a 15-year-old girl who was a victim of sexual abuse and was sentenced to flogging.

“I welcome the expression of condemnation by the President and other Maldivian authorities, as well as civil society, of the sentence issued against this girl,” said Ms. Santos Pais, who added that the case is emblematic of the wider situation of violence against children.

The case also provides an important opportunity to push for change to prevent similar cases from happening again, she stated. In this regard, she welcomed the decision of the President to set up a Child Protection Committee to identify loopholes in the child protection system, and to present recommendations to overcome existing challenges.

She noted that the country had a “sound foundation” to effectively prevent and address incidents of violence against children. “Nevertheless, incidents of violence remain hidden and concealed, are sensitive to be raised as a public concern, and difficult to report.”

Ms. Santos Pais stressed that it is crucial to prevent social acceptance of violence against children by investing in awareness-raising about children’s rights amongst the public-at-large and supporting families in their child-rearing responsibilities to protect children from violence.

There is also an urgent need to promote capacity-building and training initiatives for teachers, social workers, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and other child protection actors, as well as to ensure the legal prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including in the home, in care and justice institutions, and as a form of criminal sentencing, she added.