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Inquiring into the Inquiry

The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), established under a Presidential decree by Dr. Waheed, has been at the centre of much controversy since its inception. The establishment of an inquiry commission after a national crisis can often be seen as a quick win mechanism to demonstrate that the state is addressing people’s demands for answers and justice in lieu of a well functioning judicial system, or it can be a farce. Waheed, as per usual, went down the farce route. Not so quick nor keen to address issues of legitimacy surrounding his accession to power, but in an effort to subdue national and international pressure (and mainly because of the fact that it wasn’t an early election he was giving into, but a well-staged inquiry) he went ahead with it.

However, if Waheed’s primary motive was to try and placate those ‘questioning’ his position and to stop the MDP from calling for an early election, he has failed. This is due to the individuals he chose to appoint, the terms of reference he assigned, and his coup coalition’s bullheadedness in defending the impartiality of this obviously partial commission. Most of all he failed to note that even those who don’t have the courage to call a coup a coup, -but don’t have anything to lose if it is so concluded- still want to get to the bottom of what happened on 7th February 2012.

Easier said than done, I suppose, when your authority depends solely on the conclusion of the events that took place on a day preceded by a police/military mutiny. While the political bigwigs of the country wheel and deal over the CNI, we must remember that the probable findings of this commission could have huge ramifications for many individuals in involved in this political crisis. The question arises- are we ever going to know what happened on 7/2?

Firstly, for a commission to inquire about a sequence of events as contentious as the ‘questionable transfer of power’, its existence, members and mandate are going to invite controversy. So why shoot it in the foot before it had even got started by appointing Ismail Shafeeu? MDP, CMAG, the wider international community and even ‘Thinvana Adu’ requested Waheed’s administration to ensure that the commission was impartial, and credible. Impartiality, I take to mean as having firstly no political affiliation or as having equal representation by all Parties concerned, and secondly, credibility. The CNI met neither one of these requirements for the almost three months that it was in operation. Time, is no doubt crucial to an inquiry of this nature and while it is of an essence to the MDP, it is in the best interests of the Waheed regime for the inquiry to be delayed for as long as possible.

104 days of coup later, you have to wonder, what made Waheed change his mind over the CNI? If they don’t believe the CMAG has any right to a) put Maldives on the agenda or b) any grounds to make these recommendations, why bow down to them? Were some harsh facts made clear to him on his official visit to India? Either way, the gates of the CNI, no matter how reluctantly, have opened, albeit an inch or two. This has resulted in the appointment of a foreign judge as co chair, Nasheed being ‘permitted’ to propose a member to the Commission, and changes to the mandate of the CNI being strengthened, allowing it to summon individuals, accept statements, videos, photos, and most importantly request telecommunication and financial records. These agreements and the resumption of the all-party talks have been hailed as a thaw in national coup politics, and to be fair it is progress, but how much of it is sincere? I know. It’s a naive question, but humour me.

With regards to Nasheed’s representative to the CNI, the public is aware that he has proposed nine names, all of which have been rejected by Waheed’s regime for being too politicised. Nasheed has now been given two weeks to propose an individual to the CNI, who has not served in a political position in the past two years, must not have taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must be of good behaviour and integrity. The Commonwealth states that these conditions must apply to all members of the CNI, including ones previously appointed. I wonder what the parameters are for determining good behaviour and integrity, and who in Waheed’s regime decides whether these characteristics are up to par in any individual that Nasheed proposes. Are Waheed and Coup. really not going to budge on the case of Ismail Shafeeu – whose stint as Maumoon’s former Defence Minister, surely places his ‘integrity’ in question. Forgive me, I forgot this approval of Commission members scenario is a one way street. Coup coalition gets to say the yay and the nay, but MDP do it and they are seen as the uncompromising troublemakers.

Also of confusion is the fact that Waheed earlier stated that he had no role in changes to the composition of the CNI. His Commission members then contradicted this by turning the responsibility back to him. Then we have the fact that Waheed stated that the Prosecutor General is responsible for the Commission, yet all the negotiations and public statements have been given by Azima Shukoor, and Jameel. Speaking of which, who is this all-elusive lawyer to be appointed to the CNI, if Nasheed’s nomination doesn’t meet with the coup coalition’s high approval?

There are also pressing concerns over the amendments to the CNI’s mandate and terms of reference. Although it has not yet been made clear whether the concluding report will still be the opinions of the CNI’s members, or whether the findings can lead to criminal cases, the ability of the Commission to now request phone records and financial statements give it more bite. I wonder how the CNI is ensuring the securing of this information. Are legal requirements going to be placed upon service providers, Dhiraagu and Wataniya for their cooperation with the CNI? Are all banks operating in the country- notorious for their non-cooperation with the Police over previous investigations into alleged corruption- now going to hand over their clients’ financial records without a fuss? And what about the intelligence departments of the Police and the MNDF? How does the CNI confirm that information relevant to the dates of interest to the Commission, obtained by these services has not been destroyed? Or what about officers under oath, who’ve signed confidentiality contracts? Does a summons from the CNI, waive them of the restrictions as applied by these documents? I also cannot get my head around how many of those who will be called upon to give evidence will be doing so without any suspension to their current duties as either law enforcement officers, government officials or civil servants.

Questions, questions, questions, my head is milling with them, and I wait with bated breath to find out Nasheed’s nomination. This individual who is going to have to be the incarnation of all things apolitical and integral in the world. Does such a Maldivian even exist? Someone very special to me who claims that Male’ is the cesspool of humanity would say, probably not. On the other hand, is there a point to all the analysis on the mandate and the members of the CNI? Surely, the findings have already been concluded. Hasn’t the unique Dr. Hassan Saeed already alluded to them? There are three possible conclusions – coup/illegal transfer or power, legal transfer of power or the middle.
I cannot imagine the CNI will conclude it is a coup, considering the fact that there are three members appointed by the coup boss himself on the Commission. Also think about the responsibilities of the international community if it is declared a coup. They’re not going to want the fuss of the Maldives, when they still have Syria, the Eurozone and the Olympics on their plates. Let alone the mess of where Indian HC Mulay comes into it. It also cannot be concluded as an entirely legal transfer of power, due to the blurry lines around mutinying politicised officers, resignations under duress, opposition politicians celebrating in the Police HQ, hijacking of state media and so on. The politically easiest conclusion must therefore be the middle.

What will be of further interest is what happens next? What will the conclusions lead to? Criminal cases, blanket amnesties, an exit clause for Waheed, constitutional amendments and of course election dates? No doubt there will be an awful lot of political wrangling over the next few days with regards to the Commission. Political actors on both sides have specific interests. Waheed & Coup. will want to seem democratic and budge on certain measures, whereas MDP will want to demonstrate that they are compromising and coming to the table, in order to drive home the importance of early elections. I hope that in the midst of this, civil society groups which claim to be the alternative, ‘third voice’ persist in emphasising that although political stability is important, a CNI that allows for the greatest level of truth and justice is far more essential to the future of the Maldives.

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Maldives – Not in Splendid Isolation

As a country of just over 350,000 people, the Maldives may not be considered more than a speck of dust on the realist’s international relations’ billiard table, but I believe three years of a MDP government led by Nasheed challenged that. Still small, still relatively minor, but oh so loud. The Maldives punched above its weight on all global platforms, and despite its size, its message was taken seriously.

The Maldives was never known for its political troubles. In fact, one of the reasons Maumoon’s regime survived for so long was because of his ability to present a façade of domestic harmony through a successful tourist industry and questionable UN development goal statistics. Nationally, any one who tried to shake things up was conveniently put away, internationally; his annual static speech to the UNGA was considered adequate enough for diplomats to ask no further questions and nod politely. The world didn’t expect anything from the Maldives apart from colourful cocktails and coral and the Maldives accepted nothing but money in exchange – tourist dollars & developmental aid. A somewhat ‘this is my dance space, this is your dance space’ situation if you like, reiterated by the fact that the majority of foreign citizens visiting Maldives often had no clue what was going on beyond their resort.

Come 2003, the international community were forced to pay attention to wider issues in the Maldives. Missions based in Colombo accredited to Maldives began adding further detail to what used to be quite stagnant telegrams back to base. Custodial deaths, riots in the capitol, dissidents who just wouldn’t stay down, the problems of decades of dictatorship, finally coming to head. With nowhere to go for assistance in Maldives, where else were pro democracy supporters to go but out? MDP in exile and its friends lobbied the international community fiercely, and it is precisely because of this lobbying that international partners began to take notice and exert pressure on Maumoon’s regime. A period of protests, mass arrests, police brutality, a tsunami, international mediation, and constitutional reform finally produced the first multi party presidential election in the country, and the Maldives was the star of South Asia. As the first ‘100%’ Muslim state to have achieved a peaceful transition to democracy, the Maldives was globally hailed as a success story.

The talk of diplomatic missions then turned to supporting the consolidation of democracy. The difficulty of consolidating democracy in a global recession, in a politically polarised society with high expectations and an infantile judiciary is represented by the fact that most diplomatic missions found it almost impossible to know where to start – budgetary support withstanding -, in efforts to help the Maldives.

Less than three years later and the democratic ‘light’ surrounding the Maldives has been dimmed by an attempt at a clever cover up of a coup. Members of the international community who did not bother to take the time to figure out what was happening on 7th February chose only to see a President resigning and his Vice President taking over. They chose not to see the gleeful faces of a brutal yesteryear engineering their way back to power through the instigation of a police/military mutiny combined with politicised brutality. They, global democratic giants, chose to see a façade of stability in a strategic point of the Indian Ocean rather than a forced reversal of democracy.

That’s how the game is played? Yes. Maybe. India will lookout for India, and for that its relationship with the military and the coast guard maybe more important than with the civilian government in Male’ who have so obviously been forced out by these armed forces. The US, although technically wary to recognise a somewhat questionable transfer of power finds it ok to jump on the bandwagon since India has already done so. Helped of course by the many links to the US that Dr. Waheed holds – but a Stanford diploma and a US green card does not a democrat make. If only the US would care to admit it. Lets not even get into the UN. Wait, that was a UN employee photographed at Jumhooree Maidhan on the afternoon of 7th February waving the national flag was it not? Was that also the very same individual who was in charge of the UNDP’s Access to Justice program, and therefore knew the nitty gritty of judicial incompetence and injustice in the Maldives? Also, was that the very same employee who used to reside in Bandos? I digress.

So, we are left with an I imagine somewhat bewildered international community, dealing with a reversal of democracy, mutiny, and a coup d’état without the blood and gore of Mali, Syria, or Bahrain. Maldives’ thunder is so easily stolen though. We are dealing with the new administration claiming that the international community have no right to interfere in the matters of Maldives’ internal affairs and with the MDP and those against the coup pleading for the international community to increase the pressure on Waheed. However, it is obvious that the coup coalition care a great deal about the perception of the international community. If not they wouldn’t have ‘charmed’ Waheed into accepting his role as Commander in Chief of Coup, and they wouldn’t be hiring Ruder Finn to ‘leverage outcomes from relationships with governments, academics and NGOs’. We now have international actors situated on a range of outcomes with regards to the Maldives. The UN unapologetically behind Waheed and the solution through a ‘national mechanism’, India and the US who appear somewhat mollified that they recognised the new regime so quickly and are now raising the issue of early elections and independent inquiries more stringently behind closed doors, the UK/EU saying all the right things safely in the middle, and CMAG in the far corner warning of disciplinary motions if early elections and an independent inquiry are not established.

Like democratic reform in 2004 – 2008 could not have been done without the assistance of the international community; neither can the restoration of democracy in 2012. Firstly, India must step up its game. It has become embroiled in this situation more than it would like, it has been embarrassed, but it can still choose to play the role of the world’s largest democracy and support democrats rather than dictators in its neighbourhood. India, use your leverage. With 9 days to go, I would urge members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to remain steadfast in their recommendations to the Maldives. An independent inquiry is a necessity and the farce of a commission that Waheed has established is a slap in the face of those against the coup when the police and military have already brought them to their knees. Early elections in 2012 – another must, to reiterate that it is votes and not batons, which must determine governance in the Maldives, and in fact everywhere. Help make the Maldives an example again, of the hardships of infant democracy and the importance of its restoration and consolidation.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like MPS?

Today marks 79 years of Policing in the Maldives. Pity, that it has become so controversial an issue to appreciate. A mistrust of the Maldivian police, or security services has been ingrained in me for most of my life. I grew up with stories of arbitrary arrests, brutality in jails, and the concept that the Police were not there to protect and serve my interests, but those of their immediate superiors. In fact, one of the fundamental things that I had to accept in 2008, after the country’s first multi-party Presidential election was the idea, that the Police were no longer ‘enemies’, or even the ‘golha-force’, but very much part of the apparatus of state that any government had to take into consideration. It wasn’t an easy task.

Controlling my body not to shudder at the sight of a blue camouflaged uniform and black ankle boots and understanding that not every arrest the Police made was arbitrary. Most of all learning to trust the Police took time, commitment and a lot of stubbornness. Maybe that sense of apprehension and mistrust went both ways. No doubt, the prospect of a MDP government would have filled most senior Police officers with a high sense of foreboding. After all, these were the very people that they had seen on the other side of an investigation table, inside a jail cell and on the street loudly confronting them at every given opportunity. Lets not take lightly the extent to which the Police were a political tool of Maumoon’s authoritarian regime, and as a result, that they were very much a product of the democratic reform process in the Maldives at that time.

The Maldives Police Service was created in September 2004. Mostly out of the need to placate the international community, and to perform a PR exercise after the human rights debacle that was 12/13 August 2004. Instead of Policing duties being conducted by the National Security Service or the Army, we got the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Force. Basically – blue and green uniforms. Two hastily divided institutions plunged into a fast-changing political environment to which they were inextricably tied. Millions were poured into investing in the MPS – equipment, training, strategic action plans, philosophies of policing and of course, new blue uniforms. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the training went into how to use new equipment rather than how to Police within new democratic laws. Of course, Adam Zahir being at the helm was never going to help. Neither did the Hussain Solah incident, especially after Evan Naseem.

Nonetheless, the MPS emerged, as an institution with heavy amounts of funding, a select group of highly educated officers, very young, not always disciplined recruits and a top brass that was intent on maintaining the status quo. Many in the top brass had spent years in the NSS, looked up to individuals like Adam Zahir as father figures and in some cases, had managed to log quite a few ‘favours’ through the Maumoon regime and therefore were heavily indebted. Add to this, the ‘Star Force’, the frontline of an authoritarian defence whose very existence and modus operandi depended on the long leash of their superiors and Government.

During the establishment of the MPS, human rights discourse, although in the Maldivian mainstream and a significant facet of the MPS PR machine had not and it now seems has not filtered through to the officer on the street. The MDP government due to their personal histories of being victims of human rights violations and their voicing out against police brutality faced greater pressure to ensure that these incidents did not take place under their watch. Political prisoners were no longer an issue, but it would be unfair to say that maltreatment of detainees in jails completely disappeared. We could say it lessened significantly and that it was no longer systematic. There was definitely more oversight, with the Human Rights Commission, and the Police Integrity Commission, but it was still a work in progress. A work in progress, which was focussing on issues such as the reduction of drugs, terrorism, gang violence and theft rather than simply on political protests. Yes, the whole institution still unnecessarily stuttered at the sight of a protest, but there was more to the ‘Protect and Serve’ during the last 3 years than ever before. I suppose however, that works in progress especially in an infant democracy are vulnerable, and leadership was not always forthcoming.

The extent of its vulnerability and the ability to which outside forces with vested interests managed to manipulate the disenchanted and politicised officers on the inside was evident on 7 February 2012. As a result, I find myself asking, now what? Now that the Police have played such an inexplicably outrageous role in engineering a coup and bringing down the country’s first democratically elected government – who are they protecting and serving now?

It cannot be the Maldivian people. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall, how much you hate Anni and the MDP, I cannot imagine that many people genuinely condone the actions of the Police on 6-8 Feb. Unless you’re vicious Visam (MP) of course! I for one condemn it with every fibre of my being. I don’t believe that all police officers participated or even supported the actions of the mutinying officers on the 6th night. Many went along out of an ill begotten sense of camaraderie to their fellow officers who they believed would have been arrested by the MNDF. As they should have been. Nothing justifies a coup. Especially the very politicised actions that preceded it. I understand that many officers who don’t accept this new situation cant just up and leave, be it because of a need to provide for their families or a sense of duty to an institution that they have helped develop, but it is difficult to remember that when faced with footage of the carnage that was 8th February and the stories that have followed since.

The re-emergence of individuals like Abdulla Riyaz is frightening. He may have undergone a course in customer needs and conducting business through social media, but the nature of the man remains the same. Brutal. Unapologetically so. As such, the use of force although granted to Policemen by law, seems again far too easy a whim for officers to use rather than a measure to be taken in the gravest of circumstances. The fact that they have to be accountable to their actions, that they must provide a greater example is non existent. That Abdulla Riyaz is surrounded by deputies who seem to either share his beliefs or are willing to silently submit to it is scary, that his superiors are opportunistic nitwits like Jameel and FA is even more chill inducing, and most of all that the Police Integrity Commission is powerless is incredibly frightening.

So, how do I feel about the Police now? Scared. Infuriated. Frustrated. And heartbreakingly disappointed. On the 79th anniversary of Policing in the Maldives, I do not wish Police Officers hearty congratulations. Instead, I wish for them a sense of responsibility and understanding of their role in the disruption of a democratic state. I continue to wish that action will be taken against officers who so blatantly violated the Police act and abused unarmed citizens. I call for somebody to be held accountable for the actions of Police officers on 8th February, I call for a re-evaluation of the need of the ‘Special Operations’ Unit and I call for the resignations of Abdulla Riyaz, Hussain Waheed, Abdulla Phairoosh, FA and Jameel, and I call for an early election.

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Warped Waheed

46 days in to this warped world of Waheed as President still astounds me and I remain bewildered at the lengths he has gone to, to legitimise his role in what is no doubt a coup d’etat. Monday was no exception. By-passing the very channels of dialogue – the all party talks – that he himself established in order to resolve this current political crisis, Waheed chose to provoke a showdown between his security forces and thousands of protesters.  His ‘address’ to the Majlis was nothing other than the raising of a finger to the significant number of people who not only question the legitimacy of his so called leadership, but the manner in which he got there and what he has done since.

The ‘riyassee bayaan’ to many in the Police, MNDF and the current regime was seen as personal challenge to the very shaky foundations they forcibly built on 7th Feb 2012. They showed with their actions that they were prepared to do anything to prevent MDP Parliamentarians from disrupting the Majlis, in addition to using excessive force against protesters on the street. The rumours of celebration and adulation in the Police and MNDF mess rooms once Waheed was finally able to get out, what I believe was a summary of the actual address on his 3rd attempt, is a reflection of the extent of politicisation and dependence the current leaders of the country’s security institutions have in the maintenance of this illegitimate regime. More than it being distasteful, it is frightening.

It is because of this that it is difficult to justify Police action for the rest of the day as necessary and lawful. By all means, proper action should have been taken against those who were violent, for instance those who threw rocks at VTV, or those who attacked the Police. However, the Police’s job is to protect, not provoke. Some officers on Sosun Magu that day mockingly patted their chests proudly when the song, ‘Bagaavai Ma Kuveri Kuran’ came on, others raised their middle fingers at the crowd, some just randomly sprayed pepper spray into the eyes of people who weren’t even resisting their orders, others told those being detained, that they would do whatever they want to them. Furthermore, the ripping down of posters and painting over graffiti depicting police brutality did not serve to reassure people of the priorities of the Police.  These days it feels like the Police/MNDF/Waheed are all out to prove that the wishes of the people really are irrelevant. Be it in the question of an election, implementing proper law enforcement procedures, or even in the case of congratulating a President. Intimidation, threats and demands are the name of the game.

I have tried and tried to get my head around why Waheed would do this, why he would go along with this farce of a government, why he would collude with the very people who beat, abused and tortured his and his wife’s family and friends? It cannot be in the interest of national unity – for the nation has never been so fractured. It cannot be to uphold his constitutional duty – for in that case should he not be implementing a MDP manifesto with a MDP cabinet? It cannot be as he said by twitter ‘because he’s trained his whole life for this’ – for there is no glory in this moment.

In the last month and half, Waheed and Co. have only carried out the ceremonial functions of the state. Swearing in, addressing the Parliament, orchestrated meet and greets and obnoxious tweeting. If only he would realise that the chances of him holding onto even a shred of credibility – aside from within the UN world – remains in his ability to distance himself from the old guard, and agreeing to hold elections within this year. Alas, the fear is that Waheed is too far gone. His strings are held too tightly in the grasp of those surrounding him, and it seems his want to shake them off is non-existent. Good luck to us.Image

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