Maldives: Human rights reforms must allow freedom of religion, UN expert says

10 August 2006

A United Nations expert just back from a visit to the Maldives today hailed the country’s efforts at human rights reform but stressed that these must respect religious freedom.

Welcoming the adoption of the law on the country’s Human Rights Commission, Asma Jahangir noted, however, that it does not fully satisfy the requirements of international principles. “I am fully aware that all Maldivians are Muslim, yet to unduly stress this as a qualification of the members of the Human Rights Commission defeats the very spirit of seeking to uphold human rights,” she said in a statement released in Geneva.

“Maldivians are eagerly looking forward to, and preparing to embrace, the political changes in the country, yet open and honest discourse on the question of freedom of religion or belief is vigorously denied and the few that dare to raise their voices are denounced and threatened,” said Ms. Jahangir, who, as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, serves in an unpaid, independent capacity.

“Any reform in the field of human rights has to go hand in hand with freedom of expression and association, independence of the judiciary, and the mainstreaming of freedom of religion and belief,” she stressed.

Commenting on her visit to Maafushi Prison, Ms. Jahangir said she plans to recommend in a report to the Human Rights Council the introduction of religiously sensitive rules in places of detention, concerning, for example, respect for the spiritual and dietary needs of foreign prisoners in the Maldives.

During her 6 to 9 August trip to the country, she also met with government officials, members of civil society, including the law society and members of the press, political parties, religious scholars and citizens.


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