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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Maldives

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Maldives, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 24 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 in 26 natural atolls scattered across an area 500 miles long by 75 miles wide in the Indian ocean with a population of some 225,000 persons. It has a parliamentary form of government with a strong executive. In practice, government authority in this small, homogeneous society rests largely in the hands of the President and a number of powerful Cabinet ministers. Political parties are officially discouraged. Candidates for the unicameral legislature, the Citizens' Majlis, run as individuals. The Majlis selects a single nominee for president who is subsequently approved or rejected by the voters.

In 1993 the Majlis nominated President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for a fourth 5-year term. His principal rival for the nomination, Ilyas Ibrahim, was subsequently tried in absentia for violation of the Constitution, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to more than 15 years' banishment in what was widely seen as a politically motivated legal proceeding. A number of Ibrahim's supporters were arbitrarily detained, and some were later tried and convicted for political offenses.

The National Security Service (NSS), which includes the army and police, is responsible for maintaining internal law and order as well as defending the country. Total NSS membership is estimated at between 1,200 and 2,000. NSS members generally serve in both police and military functions over their careers. The police division investigates crimes, does security intelligence work, makes arrests, and enforces house arrest.

Nearly half the work force engages in traditional activities such as fishing and small-scale agriculture. Manufacturing and tourism employ an additional 25 percent of the work force, with tourism accounting for 40 percent of foreign exchange receipts.

The Government continues to restrict human rights closely in several areas, including the right of citizens to change their government, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of religion, and women's and workers' rights. There are some political prisoners. Other problems include arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and lack of an independent judiciary. Some of these restrictions – on religion and women's rights, for example – are linked with the country's observance of the Shari'a (Islamic law) and other Islamic principles and customs.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of such killings in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances in 1993.

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

There were no credible reports in 1993 that persons were beaten while in police custody. Supporters of Ilyas Ibrahim were alleged to have been abused while in custody, but these allegations were not substantiated. Convicted criminals may be flogged under judicial supervision when this punishment is prescribed by the Shari'a. Usually, however, punishment is confined to fines, compensatory payment, house arrest, imprisonment, or banishment to a remote and sparsely populated atoll. Banishment is considered a particularly severe punishment because the banished person is not allowed visits by family members.

Prison conditions are reported to be adequate. Food and accomodation provided, especially for political prisoners, is reportedly quite good by Maldivian standards. Prisoners are allowed to work while in prison. Spouses are now allowed complete 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 undertake investigations either on suspicion of criminal activity or in response to a formal written complaint alleging commission of a crime. The complaint can be written by anyone, including a citizen, police officer, or government official. No warrants are required for arrests, but arrests are made only after clearance from a superior officer, such as the officer-in-charge, is received. Depending on the results of the police investigation, the Attorney General may refer the case to the appropriate court.

Complainants may also directly petition a court for its intervention. It is customary not to disclose to the public the details of the charges against a person until it has been established that the charges are likely to be upheld.

Persons under investigation generally are free pending trial, provided they do not leave a specified atoll. Depending on the charges, however, a suspect may be imprisoned or placed under house arrest without trial for 15 days while the case is being investigated. In most cases, if not brought to trial within 15 days, the subject is freed. After the first 15 days, detention or house arrest may be extended for 30 days by authority of the President. There is no limit on the detention of persons suspected of such crimes as illegal drug use, terrorism, or attempted overthrow of the Government. As a result, such detainees may be held without trial indefinitely.

There is no provision under Maldivian law for bail. Neither is there a requirement in law that persons be formally charged before being detained on suspicion, so some suspects, especially for political offenses, have been imprisoned or held under house arrest for weeks or months without charge. There is also no right to legal counsel during police interrogation or the making of a confession. One detainee, charged with withholding information about terrorist activities, was arrested in February 1991 and held under house arrest for 2 years before his trial (at which he was acquitted in March 1993) began. Some detainees reportedly have been held without access to lawyers, friends, or family. Persons held under house arrest may be prohibited visits by nonfamily members and access to a telephone. At times prisoners have been held incommunicado as a way to extract confessions.

Most, if not all, of the more than 50 persons arrested in November 1990 on what appear to have been exaggerated charges,

including terrorism and political subversion, have either been released or tried, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment or banishment to outer atolls.

In 1993 at least 20 supporters of Ilyas Ibrahim – the President's brother-in-law and chief rival for the presidential nomination – were detained. Three were charged with assisting Ibrahim in his campaign to win the presidency – an offense under the Maldives' Constitution (see Section 2.e. and Section 3). They were convicted and sentenced to 10 years' banishment. A fourth was sentenced to 7 years' banishment for withholding information about the above-mentioned crime. Other detainees were released after questioning, but approximately eight are believed to still be in police custody awaiting the filing of charges.

There were no cases of foreign exile in 1993. The practice of banishment to remote atolls is a form of internal exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The President exercises considerable influence over the judiciary as demonstrated by his power to appoint and dismiss judges. All judges serve at his pleasure; they are not subject to confirmation by the citizens' Majlis. The High Court falls under the authority of the Office of the President. Under the law, the President has the power to grant pardon and amnesty to offenders but, according to Maldivian officials, does not determine sentences. Some observers also believe that the President personally reviews some court decisions and may use his influence to affect the outcome of decisions.

There are eight lesser courts and a High Court in 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 deals with specialized cases, such as debt, theft, or property claims. On other islands, there are all-purpose courts. There are no jury trials. Most trials are open to the public and are conducted by judges trained in Islamic and civil law. Public and press attendance at trials of persons charged with political crimes has, on occasion, been restricted, but the major political cases in 1993 – that of Ilyas Ibrahim and his supporters – were open to the public and heavily attended.

Ibrahim was charged with having illegally attempted to become president of the Maldives. Under the Constitution, nomination of the presidential candidate is the responsibility of Parliament and it is a constitutional offense for an individual to actively seek the office. Ibrahim was also charged with having violated his oath as minister. Ibrahim, who was out of the country, declined to appear before the court as ordered. He was ultimately tried in absentia. Although he was represented by counsel during the proceedings, Ibrahim claims that his attorney was prevented from traveling abroad to meet with him and that telephone and fax communications between him and his attorney were monitored by the Government. Ibrahim was convicted on both charges and sentenced to 15 years' banishment on the first count and to 6 months' additional banishment on the second. He still faces two additional charges involving conflict of interest between his ministerial duties and private positions that he held concurrently.

Most Maldivians believe that the charges against Ibrahim were motivated primarily by political considerations and that the results of the trial were a foregone conclusion (see Section 3). However, most also believed that there was some substance to the charges by government officials that Ibrahim attempted to bribe parliamentarians to vote for him.

Cases on outer islands are usually adjudicated by traditional legal practitioners, 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 and call witnesses. He also may be assisted by a lawyer, but most defendants do not use them because there are few professionally trained lawyers in Maldives. Courts do not provide lawyers to defendants who cannot obtain legal counsel on their own. Traditional Islamic judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case as well as reach a legal judgment. Generally, the length and type of sentence are established by law and custom.

Shari'a and civil law operate simultaneously in the Maldivian legal system, but civil law is subordinate to Shari'a. Shari'a is applied in situations not covered by civil law as well as in dealing with certain specific acts and offenses, such as divorce and adultery. The courts that deal with matrimonial and criminal cases do not, as a general rule, allow legal counsel to be present because the interpretation of Shari'a used in Maldives argues that answers and submissions should come directly from the parties involved. The High Court of Maldives, however, does allow legal counsel in all types of cases, including those in which the right to counsel was denied by the lower court.

There are political prisoners, but there are no reliable estimates of the number.

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

The Constitution prohibits opening, or reading letters, telephone conversations, telegrams, and wireless messages exchanged between persons "except in accordance with the specific provisions of the law." The NSS sometimes opens the mail of private citizens and notifies them that it has done so. It is also widely believed that the Government taps telephones. The Constitution requires that private premises and dwellings be respected, but there is no legal requirement for search or arrest warrants, and police officials sometimes search private residences without prior warning.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression "so long as the specific provisions of Shari'a and the law are not contravened." In practice, however, freedom of speech, press, and broadcast are sharply restricted. Under Maldivian law and custom, a citizen may criticize or complain to the Government without fear if he does so through recognized channels. These include letters or oral complaints to the President, a Majlis member, a civil servant, or other person in authority.

Individuals who use other channels to express dissent, however, do so at their peril. The Penal Code includes a provision that makes it illegal to arouse the people against the Government. A November 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." This amendment so far has had no appreciable effect in easing journalists' concerns about publishing material that might be deemed to contravene the broad Penal Code provision. Law no. 4 of 1968 also prohibits public statements – either orally or in writing – that express anti-Islamic sentiment or that might threaten national peace and stability or that might be libellous to anyone.

The harassment, arrest, and conviction of a number of journalists following a short period of unprecedented press freedom in early 1990 eliminated the dissident press and created a persisting atmosphere in which newspapers are afraid to publish articles critical of the Government. The Government also holds printers responsible for the material they print, resulting in the printers' refusal to accept anything even slightly controversial.

Seventy-six newspapers and periodicals are registered, of which 13 are published by the Government. The only two dailies are owned by government ministers. Two politically outspoken newspapers, Sangu and Hukuru, whose official registrations were revoked in mid-1990, remain closed. Of the 2 journalists affiliated with Sangu who were among 50 persons detained in 1990, one, editor Mohammed Shafeeq who was originally sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment, was released from house arrest in May. The second, a journalist, remains under house arrest serving a 3-year sentence. Other journalists detained in 1990, including several from Hukuru, have reportedly either completed their sentences or been granted amnesty. There were no forced closures of newspapers or magazines in 1993. In the one defamation case brought against a journalist by a private party in 1993, the journalist was found innocent.

There is no prior censorship of newspapers, but officials in the Department of Information and Broadcasting sometimes call publishers to point out that certain articles are unacceptable for political or other reasons. Publications may be banned for containing criticisms of the Government "based on falsehood and unfounded speculation." The Government also reserves the right to take action against journalists who "bring discredit and dishonor to individuals or groups through the malicious use of mass media and create social unrest among the general public." Because these regulations are often broadly construed, self-censorship is well ingrained among writers and editors.

The Government owns and operates the only television and radio stations. Foreign broadcasts are not jammed. There is no prohibition on satellite receivers anywhere in the country.

There are no legal prohibitions on the import of foreign publications, except those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable in terms of Islamic values. No seizures of foreign publications were reported in 1993. There are no reported restrictions on academic freedom nor any governmental censorship or control over classroom materials. Some teachers are reportedly quite vocal in their criticism of government policies.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Article 15 of the Constitution guarantees Maldivians the right to assemble as long as they do not violate the law or the

Islamic code of behavior. Public political meetings are permitted during electoral campaigns, with Home Ministry permission, but so far political meetings have been limited to small gatherings on private premises. Clubs and other private associations are permitted if they do not contravene Shari'a and civil law. They must be registered with the Government. While not expressly forbidden by law, political parties are not permitted in practice. President Gayoom has publicly discouraged their formation, declaring political parties inappropriate to the homogeneous Maldivian society, at least for the present.

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.

There are no places of worship for adherents of any other religion, and the importation of figures for worship is prohibited. Clergy and missionaries of non-Muslim faiths may enter Maldives but are forbidden to proselytize or hold public worship services. Conversion of a Muslim to another faith is a violation of Shari'a law and could result in a loss of citizenship for the Maldivian convert, although law enforcement authorities say this provision of the law has never been applied. The practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited by law. Citizens of other nations resident in Maldives are, however, allowed to practice their religion if they do so privately.

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

There are no formal restrictions on freedom of movement within the Maldives. Although no law explicitly prohibits migration to the capital island of Male' or its surrounding atoll, these areas have become so overcrowded that the Government discourages migration there except for short periods of work, education, or medical treatment.

There are no arbitrary restrictions on foreign travel or emigration. A Maldivian who has acquired another nationality must maintain Maldivian nationality concurrently and must enter and leave Maldives on a Maldivian passport. The Government is not known to have revoked the citizenship of any Maldivian.

There are no refugees or displaced persons.

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

Maldives traditionally has been governed by a limited circle of persons, and Maldivians have only limited and indirect influence on the selection and organization of their government. A single nominee for president, who constitutionally must be male and a Sunni Muslim, is chosen by secret ballot in the Majlis from as many candidates as are proposed by members. Direct personal campaigning for the nomination by a candidate is not permitted. The nominated candidate is confirmed or rejected in a nationwide referendum, also by secret ballot. In 1993 the Majlis nominated President Gayoom to a fourth 5-year term in office.

Members of the citizens' Majlis, a unicameral legislature, are chosen for 5-year terms by secret ballot. All Maldivians 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. Individuals or groups are free to approach members of the Majlis with grievances or opinions on proposed legislation.

The most recent Majlis election was held in November 1989. Under the Constitution, Islamic law rather than the Majlis has legal preeminence. In practice, the President, who in addition to being the head of government and state is also responsible for the protection of Islam, and key members of his Cabinet wield tremendous power over the Majlis.

It is widely believed that through a combination of inducement and intimidation the President and key members of his Cabinet have been able to control the outcome of the presidential election process. In the 1993 campaign President Gayoom was challenged by his brother-in-law and Cabinet Minister Ilyas Ibrahim, who had also been nominated. In the nominating vote, Gayoom won 28 votes to Ilyas' 19. Ilyas, who charged that he had been forced to leave the country by the President, and who faced criminal charges should he return, alleged that the President improperly pressured Majlis members and denied him his right to contest fairly for the presidency. Government officials allege, however, that Ilyas improperly used funds from his ministerial portfolio to induce parliamentarians to vote in his favor.

In place of political parties, factions in the Majlis tend to form around individuals or points of view. Any member may introduce legislation. If seconded, it must be considered by the entire legislative body. Although the Majlis previously could not interpellate ministers, in 1993 President Gayoom instructed the Majlis to introduce a question time during which Members of Parliament will question ministers directly about government policy and administration. The Government has said that members of the Majlis are protected by law for statements made during Majlis debates; however, since the arrest and banishment of a member of the Majlis in 1990 on charges that were not made public and the harassment of several others for outspokenness in 1990 and 1991, the atmosphere in the Majlis reportedly has become more subdued than it was in early 1990. The Majlis still, however, proposes new legislation and debates some draft bills vigorously.

Women are not eligible to become president but may hold all other government posts. For reasons of tradition and culture, however, few women seek or are selected for public office. In 1993 2 women served in the 48-member Majlis. There were no female members of 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, and government restrictions on freedom of speech and press inhibit any organization from investigating and publicly criticizing the Government's human rights policies.

In general, the Government does not welcome international human rights organizations or the human rights inquiries of foreign governments, considering them an intrusion into Maldives' domestic affairs. However, there have been instances in recent years in which the Government has engaged international human rights organizations in discussion.

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


Women traditionally have played a subordinate role in Maldivian society, although they now participate in public life in growing numbers and gradually at higher levels. Well-educated Maldivian women report that although the upward professional mobility of women is not limited by statute, the education, career choices, and achievement of women is circumscribed by cultural norms and expectations. Because Islamic practice is the basis for Maldivian civil law, it is easier for husbands to divorce wives than vice versa. Islamic law also governs inheritance, according to men twice the share of women. Women who work for wages – for the Government, in business, or in garment factories – generally receive pay equal to that of men in the same positions. Approximately 10 percent of uniformed NSS personnel are now female.

The Government has shown interest in promoting the welfare of women in both the public and private sectors. A Department of Women's Affairs and a National Women's Council have been created to protect women in traditional roles and, to a degree, to expand opportunities for them in nontraditional occupations. These efforts must contend, however, with conservative sentiment among small businessmen and residents of the outer islands, due largely to orthodox Islamic training which opposes women being active outside the home.

There are no firm data on the extent of violence against women. Violence against women is probably underreported to authorities because of the value attached to privacy within the family in this conservative society. Police officials report that they receive only three or four complaints of assaults against women each year, and 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 are no reported patterns of abuse against children in Maldives. A Bill of Children's Rights is 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 direct authority for overseeing enforcement of this law and reportedly takes the responsibility seriously.

People with Disabilities

There is no legislation in Maldives that specifically addresses the rights of the physically or mentally disabled. The Government has, however, played an active role in the protection and rehabilitation of the disabled. There is a government institution for treatment of the mentally handicapped. The Ministry of Health and Welfare arranges for treatment abroad for physically disabled persons who need specialist care and for visits to Maldives by specialists to treat both the mentally and physically disabled. The Government also provides a monthly allowance for the blind and makes items such as wheelchairs, crutches, and eyeglasses available to those who cannot afford them. The Government has not legislated or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

While unions are not expressly prohibited, the Government 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 1993.

Maldives has a work force of approximately 57,000 persons, about 20 percent of whom are employed in traditional fishing. Approximately 17,000 foreigners work in Maldives. Many are brought in from Sri Lanka and India to work in resort hotels so that Maldivian nationals will be only minimally involved in the serving of liquor. A large number of factory workers are also foreign laborers, and many are engaged in road work and construction projects. The great majority of economically active Maldivians work outside the wage sector. Detailed employment statistics do not exist, but it is estimated that the manufacturing sector employs about 15 percent of the labor force and the tourism industry another 10 percent. Tourism, however, accounts for about 20 percent of the gross domestic product and 40 percent of foreign exchange receipts.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively are neither recognized nor protected by law. 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. In 1993 the Government asked a foreign union organizer to leave the country due to his efforts to persuade Maldivian seamen to join the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) for the purpose of obtaining wage and other benefits not provided to them in their employment contracts approved by the Ministry of Transport and Shipping. Maldivian officials also reportedly warned seamen against becoming involved with foreign seamen's unions, arguing that shipping company recruiters would stop coming to Maldives to offer jobs if they did so.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There is no legal code regulating the conditions of labor. Forced or compulsory labor is not prohibited, but there are no reports that it is practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There is no compulsory education law. However, in 1990 some 77 percent of those 5 to 19 years of age were enrolled in government or private schools. A law passed in 1992 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. Hours of young workers are not specifically limited by statute.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage for the private sector, although the Government has established wage floors for certain kinds of work. There are no statutory provisions for hours of work and length of annual leave. Given the severe shortage of labor, however, employers must offer competitive pay and working conditions to attract skilled workers. 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 those who work more than a 6-hour day was instituted in the public sector in 1990. Government workers receive 3 weeks' leave per year. There are no laws governing health and safety conditions.

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