Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, the Voice of Women and the Maldives NGO Federation to urge the Government of Maldives to put in place measures to ensure free and fair elections later this year. CIVICUS also joins Maldivian civil society in opposing the unprecedented pronouncement by Maldives Minister of State for Home Affairs (Registrar of NGOs), Abdulla Mohamed, to dissolve nearly 70 percent of the country's NGOs. The decision represents yet another setback for independent dissent and democratic freedoms in the run-up to presidential elections in the country scheduled for September 2013.
Civil Society raises the following concerns:
- On 18 March, the Minister revealed that the Ministry of Home Affairs will dissolve approximately 1300 of 1853 legally registered NGOs for allegedly failing to adhere to reporting requirements and to elect executive committees. The Minister's assertion that only 200 NGOs have complied with reporting and governance requirements has created uncertainty about the criteria being used to punish some NGOs and let others continue with their activities. Civil society groups have raised deep concerns about the future of the NGO sector in Maldives and believe that the Minister's statement is part of the government's ongoing attempt to restrict freedom of association and silence dissent in the country.
- Any decision to arbitrarily dissolve civil society organisations would be in violation of Article 30 (b) of the Constitution of the Maldives which guarantees the right to form associations and societies and the right to participate in them for economic, social, educational and cultural purposes. In line with Articles 42 and 43 of the Maldivian Constitution, the government must ensure judicial oversight by an independent and impartial court of any executive decision to dissolve NGOs. The government must also immediately communicate the grounds for its decision in each and every case, citing clear examples.
- Since assuming power on 7 February 2012 following the disputed resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the coalition government lead by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has initiated a wide ranging campaign to suppress civic action and political activism in the run up the September 2013 elections. To this end, the government employed a number of tactics including repression of peaceful demonstrations through arbitrary arrest and excessive force, attacks against independent journalists and human rights defenders and the judicial harassment of opposition party members. Most recently, from 5-6 March, over 80 protestors were arrested on charges of causing "disturbances" during demonstrations calling for the release of former President Nasheed who was accused of illegally detaining a judge during the final days of his presidency.
CIVICUS, the Voice of Women and the Maldives NGO Federation urge the Government of Maldives to put in place measures to ensure free and fair elections later this year. At a minimum, fundamental freedoms in compliance with international human rights law and the Maldivian Constitution should be protected by: (i) retracting the announcement to dissolve NGOs in the country; (ii) issuing orders to law enforcement officials to refrain from the use of unwarranted force and arbitrary detention, and (iii) publicly condemning attacks on and threats to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders.
Ahmed Nizam, President of the Maldives NGO Federation said:
"The decision to dissolve 70 per cent of the country's NGOs sets a particularly dangerous precedent and should be overturned without delay. The authorities should first and foremost consult with NGOs and provide them with enough time to redress any alleged administrative lapses before taking a decision."
David Kode, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVIUS said:
"The government's escalating clampdown on the freedoms of association and assembly is heightening fears of democratic backsliding in the country. It is essential that government refrains from further incursions on civil society freedoms as the Maldives readies for only the second democratic election in its history."