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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Maldives

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Maldives, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Republic of Maldives comprises 1,190 islands scattered across an area 500 miles long by 75 miles wide in the Indian Ocean. The population is about 245,000 persons. The Maldives have a parliamentary form of government with a strong executive. The president appoints one-sixth of the Parliament, the Cabinet, and members of the judiciary. Political parties are officially discouraged and candidates for the unicameral legislature, the Citizens' Majlis, run as individuals. They are elected to 5-year terms by universal suffrage. The Majlis selects a single presidential nominee who is approved or rejected in a national referendum. The Majlis must approve all legislation and can enact legislation without presidential approval. Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law, but civil law is generally applied in criminal and civil cases. The President derives additional influence from his constitutional role as the protector of Islam.

The National Security Service (NSS), which includes the armed forces and police, has between 1,500 to 2,000 members who serve in both police and military capacities during their careers. The police division investigates crimes, collects intelligence, makes arrests, and enforces house arrest. Fishing, small-scale agriculture, and tourism provide employment for over half the work force. Tourism accounts for over one-quarter of government revenues and roughly 40 percent of foreign exchange receipts. Manufacturing is 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The Government restricts human rights in several areas, but the political process became more open in the past year. Political groupings at odds with the Government emerged in the Majlis which played a more active political role. However, the President's power to appoint a significant portion of the Parliament still constrains citizens' ability to change their government. An easing of government restrictions and creation of a Press Council has allowed a greater diversity of views in the media. Nonetheless, important restrictions continued on the freedom of religion. Women and workers faced continuing restraints on the full exercise of their rights. Some of these restrictions are linked to the Government's observance of Shari'a (Islamic law) and other Islamic customs.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of beatings or other mistreatment of persons in police custody. Convicted criminals may be flogged under judicial supervision when this punishment is prescribed by Islamic law. However, there were no reported floggings. Punishments are usually confined to fines, compensatory payment, house arrest, imprisonment, or banishment to a remote atoll. The Government generally permits those who are banished to receive visits by family members.

Prison conditions are adequate. Food and prisoner housing are good by Maldivian standards. Prisoners are allowed to work in prison and given opportunity for regular exercise and recreation. Spouses are allowed privacy during visits with incarcerated partners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution states that "no person shall be apprehended, except on a verdict specified by Shari'a or (civil) law." Police initiate investigations based on suspicion of criminal activity or in response to written complaints from citizens, police officers, or government officials. They are not required to obtain warrants for arrests. Based on the results of police investigations, the Attorney General refers cases to the appropriate court. The authorities generally keep the details of a case confidential until they are confident that the charges will be upheld.

Depending on the charges, a suspect may remain free, detained in prison, or under house arrest for 15 days during investigations. The President may extend pretrial detention for an additional 30 days, but in most cases the suspect is released if not brought to trial within 15 days. Those who are released pending trial may not leave a specific atoll. The law, however, permits indefinite detention without charge for suspects accused of drug abuse, terrorism, or attempted overthrow of the Government. There is no right to legal counsel during police interrogation. There is no provision for bail. The Government may prohibit access to a telephone and nonfamily visits to those under house arrest. While there have been no reported cases of incommunicado detention in recent years, the law does not provide safeguards against this abuse. There were no reports that security officials held citizens for prolonged periods without charge. However, 18 Sri Lankan fishing boat captains accused of poaching in Maldivian water were held for extended periods--in some cases over 9 months--without charge.

There were no reports of external exile in 1994. However, the Government sometimes banishes citizens to remote atolls.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are eight lesser courts and a High Court on the capital island, Male'. The High Court handles a wide range of cases, including politically sensitive ones, and acts as a court of appeal. Each of the lesser courts adjudicates specialized cases, such as debt, theft, or property claims. There are also general courts on the islands. There are no jury trials. Most trials are public and conducted by judges trained in Islamic and civil law.

Cases on outer islands are usually adjudicated by individuals without formal legal training, but more complex legal questions are referred to the appropriate specialized court in Male'. The Male' court may in turn refer the issue to four judges attached to the Justice Ministry.

During trial, the accused may defend himself, call witnesses, and be assisted by a lawyer. Courts do not provide lawyers to indigent defendants. Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case. They render verdicts based on law and custom.

Civil law is subordinate to Islamic law, or Shari'a. Shari'a is applied in situations not covered by civil law as well as in certain acts such as divorce and adultery. Courts adjudicating matrimonial and criminal cases generally do not allow legal counsel in court because, according to a local interpretation of Shari'a, all answers and submissions should come directly from the parties involved. However, the High Court allows legal counsel in all cases, including those in which the right to counsel was denied in the lower court. Under Islamic practice, the testimony of two women is required to equal that of one man.

The President influences the judiciary through his power to appoint and dismiss judges, all of whom serve at his pleasure and are not subject to confirmation by the Majlis. The President also has authority to affirm judgments of the High Court, order a second hearing, or overturn the Court's decision. The President may also grant pardons and amnesties. Supporters of Ilyas Ibrahim, the President's chief rival for the 1993 presidential nomination, who had been detained in late 1993, were brought to trial in early 1994. They were charged with involvement in Ibrahim's antistate activities for which he was convicted in absentia in 1993. Eight persons were tried, convicted, and sentenced by early 1994 to 7 years' banishment. The sentence was reduced to 1 year on appeal. There are some political prisoners, most of whom were associated with the 1993 presidential aspirant Ilyas Ibrahim.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits security officials from opening or reading letters, telegrams, and wireless messages or monitoring telephone conversations, "except in accordance with the specific provisions of the law." The NSS may open the mail of private citizens and monitor telephone conversations if authorized in the course of a criminal investigation.

Although the Constitution requires the authorities to respect private premises and dwellings, there is no legal requirement for search or arrest warrants. The Attorney General or a commanding officer of the police must approve the search of private residences.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Citizens enjoyed greater freedom of speech and expression in 1994. However, Law No. 4J/68 of 1968 still prohibits public statements that are contrary to Islam, threaten the public order, or are libelous. In September a court sentenced one person to 6 months for making false statements about the Government. The Penal Code prohibits inciting the people against the Government. However, a 1990 amendment to the Penal Code decriminalized "any true account of any act of commission or omission past or present by the Government in a lawfully registered newspaper or magazine, so as to reveal dissatisfaction or to effect its reform."In 1994 the Government established a Press Council, composed of government and private media representatives, lawyers, and government officials, which oversees the press and protects the rights of journalists. The Council is drafting a code of ethics for journalist activity. The Government is also reviewing regulations that made publishers responsible for the content of the material they published.

In 1994 there were no reports of government censorship of either the print or electronic media, nor were there closures of any publications or reports of arrests or intimidation of journalists. The last of the journalists associated with the closed newspaper Sangu was released in October 1993 from serving a 3-year sentence under house arrest and has resumed writing. The Government reportedly discontinued its practice of providing reporting guidelines to the media.

The range and diversity of viewpoints in the media also expanded in 1994. Television news and public affairs programming routinely discussed topics of current concern and freely criticized government performance. Regular press conferences were instituted with government ministers.

The Government owns and operates the only television and radio station. It does not interfere with foreign broadcasts or the sale of satellite receiving dishes. Foreign newscasts such as the Cable News Network (CNN) are aired on the government television station.

Seventy-six newspapers and periodicals are registered with the Government which publishes 13 of them. Aafathis, a morning daily, is published by the brother of the President's principal political rival, Ilyas Ibrahim, and is often critical of government policy. An evening daily, Haveer, is published by one of the President's supporters.

There are no legal prohibitions on the import of foreign publications, except those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values. No seizures of foreign publications were reported in 1994. There are no reported restrictions on academic freedom, nor any governmental censorship or control over classroom materials. Some teachers are reportedly vocal in their criticism of the Government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Article 15 of the Constitution provides for the right to assemble, as long as the law or the Islamic code of behavior are upheld. The Home Ministry permits public political meetings during electoral campaigns but limits them to small gatherings on private premises. The Government registers clubs and other private associations if they do not contravene Islamic and civil law. While not forbidden by law, political parties are officially discouraged by the President on the grounds that they are inappropriate to the homogeneous nature of society. However, there is an active and outspoken opposition group within the Majlis that has stimulated closer parliamentary examination of government policy.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is significantly restricted. The Constitution designates Islam as the official religion and requires all citizens to be Muslims. The practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited by law. However, foreign residents are allowed to practice their religion if they do so privately.

There are no places of worship for adherents of other religions. The Government prohibits the importation of icons and religious statues. It also prohibits non-Muslim clergy and missionaries from proselytizing and conducting public worship services. Conversion of a Muslim to another faith is a violation of Shari'a law and may result in a loss of the convert's citizenship, although law enforcement authorities say this provision has never been applied.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are free to travel at home and abroad, emigrate, and return. Bbecause of overcrowding, the Government discourages migration into the capital island of Male' or its surrounding atoll.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Maldivians' ability to change their Government freely is constrained, as a strong executive exerts significant influence over both the legislature and the judiciary. The Majlis chooses a single presidential nominee who must be a Sunni Muslim male. The candidate is not permitted to campaign for the nomination and is confirmed or rejected by secret ballot in a nationwide referendum. In 1993 President Gayoom was reelected to a fourth 5-year term.

The elected members of the Majlis serve 5-year terms. All citizens over 21 years of age may vote. Of the body's 48 members, 40 are elected--2 from each of the 19 inhabited atolls and 2 from Male'--and the President appoints 8 members. Individuals or groups are free to approach members of the Majlis with grievances or opinions on proposed legislation, and any member may introduce legislation.

The Office of the President is the most powerful political institution. The Constitution gives Islamic law preeminence over civil law and designates the President as the protector of Islam. The President's authority to appoint one-sixth of the Majlis members, which is one-third of the total needed for nominating the President, provides the President with a power base and strong political leverage.

Relations between the Government and Majlis have been constructive. The Government may introduce legislation, but may not enact a bill into law without the Majlis' approval. However, the Majlis may enact legislation into law without Presidential assent if the President fails to act on the proposal within 30 days or if a bill is repassed with a two-thirds majority. In recent years, the Majlis has become increasingly independent, rejecting 8 government bills since 1990 and sending 28 bills to committee for review.

In 1993 the Majlis introduced a question time in which members may question government ministers about public policy. Debate on the floor has since become increasingly sharp and more open. The last Majlis election was held in December. According to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation observers, the elections were generally free and fair. Irregularities were observed and repolling required in one of 20 constituencies. Over 200 candidates campaigned freely for 40 seats.

Women are not eligible to become president but may hold other government posts. For reasons of tradition and culture, few women seek or are selected for public office. In 1994 two women served in the Majlis and one in the Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no active local human rights groups. The Government has been responsive to at least one foreign government's interest in examining human rights issues. The Government also facilitated the visit of a team of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation election observors.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status


Women traditionally have played a subordinate role in society, although they now participate in public life in growing numbers and gradually at higher levels. Well-educated women maintain that cultural norms, not the law, inhibit women's education and career choices. In many instances, education for girls is curtailed after the seventh grade, largely because parents do not allow girls to leave their home island for one having a secondary school. Due largely to orthodox Islamic training, there is a strong strain of conservative sentiment--especially among small businessmen and residents of the outer islands--which opposes an active role for women outside the home.

Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than vice versa--absent any mutual agreement to divorce. Islamic law also governs inheritance, according to male heirs twice the share of female heirs. As noted in Section 1.e., a woman's testimony is equal to only half of that of a man. Women who work for wages generally receive pay equal to that of men in the same positions. About 10 percent of uniformed NSS personnel are women.

There are no firm data on the extent of violence against women because of the value attached to privacy in this conservative society. Police officials report that they receive few complaints of assaults against women. Maldivian women's rights advocates agree that wife beating and other forms of violence are not widespread. Rape and other violent crimes against women are rare.


There is no reported pattern of abuse against children. Children's rights are incorporated into Maldivian law, which specifically protects children from both physical and psychological abuse--including at the hands of teachers or parents. The Ministry of Home Affairs has the authority to enforce this law, takes its responsibility seriously, and has received strong popular support for its efforts.

People with Disabilities

There is no law that specifically addresses the rights of the physically or mentally disabled. However, the Government has established programs and provided services for the disabled. There is no legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

While the Government does not expressly prohibit unions, it recognizes neither the right to form them nor the right to strike. There were no reports of efforts to either form unions or to strike in 1994.

The work force consists of approximately 57,000 persons, about 20 percent of whom are employed in fishing. About 17,000 foreigners work in Maldives. Many are from Sri Lanka and India and work in resort hotels so that Maldivian nationals may avoid serving liquor. Many factory workers are also foreign laborers; others are engaged in construction projects. The great majority of workers are employed outside the wage sector. The Government estimates that the manufacturing sector employs about 15 percent of the labor force and tourism another 10 percent.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law neither prohibits nor protects the workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively. Wages in the private sector are set by contract between employers and employees and are usually based on the rates for similar work in the public sector. There are no laws specifically prohibiting antiunion discrimination by employers against union members or organizers. The Government has exerted pressure in the past to discourage seamen from joining foreign seamen's unions as a means to secure higher wages. There were no reported complaints alleging such discrimination in 1994. In addition, there were no reports in 1994 of government interference with workers' attempts to join unions.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is not prohibited by law. There are no reports that it is practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There is no compulsory education law. A 1992 law bars children under 14 years of age from "places of waged work" and from work that is "not suitable for that child's age, health, or physical ability" or that "might obstruct the education or adversely affect the mentality or behavior of the child." An earlier law prohibits government employment of children under the age of 16. There are no reports of children being employed in the small industrial sector, although children do work in family fishing, agricultural, and commercial activities. The hours of work of young workers are not specifically limited by statute.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In June the Government promulgated its first set of regulations for employer-employee relations. The regulations specify the terms that must be incorporated into employment contracts and address such issues as training, work hours, safety, remuneration, leave, fines, termination, etc. There is no national minimum wage for the private sector, although the Government has established wage floors for certain kinds of work. Given the severe shortage of labor, employers must offer competitive pay and conditions to attract skilled workers.

There are no statutory provisions for hours of work, but the new regulations require that a work contract specify the normal work and overtime hours on a weekly or monthly basis. In the public sector, a 6-hour day and a 6-day workweek have been established through administrative circulars from the President's office. Overtime pay for working more than 6 hours a day was instituted in the public sector in 1990. Under the new regulations employees are authorized 20 days of annual leave, 30 days of medical leave, maternity leave of 45 days, and special annual leave of 10 days for extraordinary circumstances. There are no laws governing health and safety conditions. Regulations require that employers provide a safe working environment and ensure the observance of safety measures.

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