Statement by His Excellency Mr. Abdulla Shahid,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives On “The Maldives Reform Agenda” at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting organized in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly, 28 September 2007, United Nations Headquarters.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is twenty-five years since the Maldives joined the Commonwealth. During that time our small island nation has been engaged in an unprecedented period of profound economic, social, and political transformation.
On the eighteenth of August, our people voted in a historic public referendum to choose a new system of government. More than 70% of the population chose, in the words of the Harare Declaration of 1991, “to exercise their right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live”. The overwhelming majority chose a Presidential system of government. We believe that this referendum will be seen as a defining moment in the political evolution of the Maldives - the day that democracy in the country came of age.
The Commonwealth team that was sent to monitor the election was the latest illustration of your solidarity. For twenty-five years this family of nations has been a consistent and reliable friend to the Maldives. On behalf of the government I thank you for your continued engagement and support.
The landmark referendum was the most visible part of a comprehensive and wide-ranging reform programme initiated by his Excellency President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on 11 November 2003. Designed to usher in a modern, liberal democracy with strengthened human rights safeguards, the reform process has deepened and evolved over recent years sand now contains specific goals and deadlines that maintain our momentum towards political change.
Today I am pleased to report that the Government has achieved significant progress on commitments and deadlines laid down by our “Reform Roadmap”.
Notable achievements include:
- On Human Rights reform the Maldives has acceded to a wide-range of important international agreements such as, inter alia, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) with its Optional Protocol, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Further progress includes the establishment of numerous independent oversight and executive agencies including a national Human Rights Commission and an Anti-Corruption Board. The government is observing its reporting obligations under these conventions and the corresponding special Rapporteurs have begun working in and reporting from the Maldives.
- The development of a multi-party governance system was unanimously adopted in June 2005. The Maldives now has five active political parties and more are in the process of being registered. Political rallies and demonstrations are now commonplace; campaigning for the Referendum was the freest, fairest and most innovative in Maldives’ history.
- With regard to media and civil society there is a vibrant and critical media that combines hard-hitting exposés on issues such as child abuse and rape with regular articles criticizing the Government or calling for the resignation of Government officials. Moreover, we have an active civil society today numbering more than 600, a dramatic increase over the lifetime of the reform process.
- These developments are increasingly being underpinned and protected by strengthened institutions including an assertive parliament, an independent judiciary, a robust Human Rights Commission and an engaged international community
A new Constitution that is currently being drafted in the constitutional assembly will form the heart of the reformed political process. With nine out of eleven chapters of the new constitution’s draft now completed it is expected that the revised deadline of 30th November 2007 will be met.
Progress on the reform agenda, particularly with regard to the revision of the constitution, has been slower than anticipated. However, the nature of the reform has been unprecedented and remarkable given the severe human, financial and technical resource constraints faced by the Maldives. For example, the country’s first trained lawyer only qualified in the 1990s and even today there is a chronic shortage of legal expertise in key Government ministries. Moreover, the devastating tsunami, which struck Southern Asia in December 2004 required a massive reconstruction effort and enormous investments of resources. The need to rebuild lives and communities inevitably led to delays in implementing the reform agenda.
These setbacks, combined with the fact that the Maldives is aiming to achieve, in a few short years, the kind of political transformation that took larger more developed countries centuries to complete, mean that progress towards the Roadmap’s goals have not always been smooth.
The Commonwealth continues to play a positive and welcome role in promoting democratic and human rights reform in the Maldives. I thank you for your ongoing assistance to build capacity in our institutions and trust in our politics.
I would also like to use this opportunity to thank the European Union for today’s Declaration, which, in addition to expressing support for Commonwealth initiatives in the Maldives, offers a positive assessment of progress in implementing the Government’s Reform Agenda. This Declaration by EU Presidency represents a strong endorsement of the current political process in the Maldives and provide significant encouragement to all those in the Maldives who are determined to make the Reform Agenda a success.