Dr. Asim Ahmed, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations Office and other International Organisation in Geneva,
at the Plenary of the Seventy Sixth Session of the UN General Assembly:
Report of the Human Rights Council
29 October 2021
Thank you, Mr President,
I would like to thank Her Excellency Ms. Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, the President of the Human Rights Council, and her bureau for guiding the Council's work this year. I would also like to extend my appreciation to Her Excellency Ms. Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, and her Office, for their commitment to advancing human rights globally.
This year's report once again demonstrates the importance of the Human Rights Council as the forum of global conscience. The Council's mission, which is to ensure that violations of human rights and dignity are not met with apathy, but with the full weight of the world's attention and scrutiny, is vital in today’s world.
The Maldives has prioritised the promotion and protection of human rights as an integral component of the Government’s domestic reform agenda1 and foreign policy. This includes deepening our engagement with international human rights bodies. In this regard, in June 2019, we welcomed the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights to the Maldives; followed by the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 2019. We warmly welcome more engagement and visits from Special Procedure Mandate Holders, and again reiterate our open standing invitation.
Last week, the Maldives successfully completed its review of the sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. We were represented by a multisectoral delegation of 30 high level representatives led by the Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services, Her Excellency Aishath Mohamed Didi, with participation from all three branches of the State.
Last year, the Honourable Aisha Shujune Muhammad, one of the first female Maldivian Supreme Court Justices, was elected to the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Last year also saw the review of the Maldives during the 36th Universal Periodic Review, providing us with both, the opportunity to highlight the significant progress made under this administration in the promotion and protection of human rights, and to constructively engage with the international community. Concluding the review, our government accepted 187 of the 259 Member State recommendations.2
The Report of the Working Group on the UPR noted the significant progress achieved by the Maldives in the area of human rights in recent years. The Government’s reforms have included the establishment of a Presidential Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances; the Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery to investigate misuse of state funds; and Presidential Committees focused on unfair dismissals and corruption.3
Of course, one of the salient lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is that human rights protection cannot rest on the establishment of rules and institutions alone. It requires constant vigilance. The pandemic exposed the fragilities of domestic and international institutions and challenged the underlying norms of equality and fraternity. Human rights were too often bypassed in national responses to the pandemic, rather than human rights informing those responses.
Side-lining human rights has real world consequences for billions of people, and women and girls disproportionately bear the most negative consequences. Recognizing the importance of financial security as a cornerstone of gender equality, the Maldives initiated a basic safety net as part of our COVID-19 response, providing income support mechanisms, debt moratoriums and tax relief programmes. We managed this despite the negative impact of the pandemic on our tourism-dominant economy due to international travel restrictions, and shows the government’s commitment to protecting human rights.
I note the Council's resolution 47/15 on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. In this regard, to further enhance the rights of women and children, the Maldives has recently withdrawn several reservations to CEDAW, and we have ratified the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and signed the Declaration under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture. On 1 October 2020, the Maldives judiciary passed the first conviction for marital rape in a historic verdict, an important step in our efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.
I also note the Council's resolutions 46/7 and 47/24 on human rights, the environment and climate change and the landmark resolution 48/13 adopted at the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council, recognizing for the first time, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and resolution 48/14 establishing a Special Rapporteur on climate change poses an undeniable threat to almost all human rights - from the rights to health, housing and employment, to the fundamental right to a life with dignity. For Small Island Developing States, such as the Maldives, climate change and environmental degradation is an existential threat. Yet we lack the requisite resources to adequately respond to this multi-dimensional threat to our very existence.
The economic tolls of climate change and the pandemic threaten the precarious fiscal balance that SIDS must tread in relation to sovereign debt. In these conditions, onerous debt burdens risk evolving into crises of debt distress. In line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the world must redouble its efforts to alleviating these pressures through increased access to concessional financing. The unpalatable alternative sees a regression on development gains, and the achievement of the SDGs, where limited funds are directed towards debt-servicing, at the expense of other important investments in climate resilience and the realisation of human rights.
This year's Council Report highlights the devastating conditions of many people who are denied a life with dignity. The Maldives expresses deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, further exacerbated by the pandemic. We reiterate our call for an internationally agreed two-state solution, with an independent and sovereign State of Palestine, based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is the only way towards achieving long-lasting peace and prosperity in the region.
The Maldives denounces the military coup in Myanmar and calls upon the military regime to return power to the civilian government in line with democratic norms. We also reiterate our call upon Myanmar to cease all hostilities and atrocities committed against the Rohingya people and to permit repatriation efforts to be conducted humanely and swiftly.
Respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights and gender equality informs all Maldivian policy, foreign and domestic. The continuing work of the Council is vital in facilitating international cooperation and accountability in this area, and we remain committed to working with Member States towards a peaceful, sustainable and secure future for all.