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Maldives is at a critical crossroads: UN Special Rapporteur

Ahmed Aiham
20 June 2019, MVT 09:08
UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / MIHAARU
Ahmed Aiham
20 June 2019, MVT 09:08

The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, on Sunday, stated that Maldives is at a critical crossroads.

Speaking at a press conference held at Maagiri Hotel, Bennoune welcomed the country’s renewed engagement with the UN human rights system, adding that the current governments' reform programme could greatly benefit the human rights situation in the country.

The Special Rapporteur's preliminary findings and observations highlighted the negative consequences of framing the Maldivian identity as "homogenous".

Bannoune observed multiple diversities between atolls, including the way people speak the native language 'Dhivehi', celebrate important events and how the people developed songs, dances and crafts. She addressed the insufficient public policies for the protection and promotion of these "rich practices".

“Promoting the Dhivehi language and its dialects, increasing awareness of the complex history and heritage of Maldives and supporting diverse cultural and artistic practices, especially those dwindling due to stigma, are key to facing these challenges."

Moreover, she addressed past failures to adequately teach, preserve and share knowledge about the nation’s art, culture and history.

“Such factors have contributed to an increasingly monolithic and foreign interpretation of the Muslim religion and identity, neglecting the specificity of local practice of Islam, the country’s cross-cultural history and the richness of Maldivian island culture", said the Special Rapporteur.

“I have heard many worrying reports of extremist positions being advocated, including online and by teachers, and of people being harassed and threatened by those motivated by fundamentalist ideology."

She iterated that such intimidation shrinks the space for freedom of expression, and for work to protect culture and cultural diversity.

"Those who speak out against fundamentalism, including in the fields of arts and culture, need unequivocal support and for their safety to be ensured urgently."

Bennoune said fundamentalist ideologies has resulted in deadly violence against people and attacks against culture, such as the destruction of important pieces of pre-Islamic heritage in 2012.

“...Maldives also needs to ensure the right of all to take part in cultural life and have access to public spaces, without discrimination, including women, persons with disabilities and expatriates”

She expressed her concerns over discriminatory cultural attitudes towards such people and the low rate of women's political representation.

Furthermore, she demanded urgent assistance from the international community to meet the threat of climate charge.

At a national level, she hoped that the laudable human rights based approach to climate change in the Maldives will be further implemented,

“Culture, traditional knowledge and cultural heritage represent a powerful resource to address the challenges caused by climate change", said Bannoune.

She urged Maldives to consider developing a cultural policy incorporating the cultural rights guaranteed in Maldivian law and international standards, adding that a nationwide survey of Maldivian cultural heritage could make a key contribution.

“The current moment can and should produce a dynamic new emphasis on cultural rights, maximising the potential for the rich Maldivian culture to serve as a resource for sustainable development and promotion of all human rights"

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report along with recommendations during the March 2020 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Her visit was a result of an invitation extended by the government of Maldives, from June 9-18.

During the visit, she met with multiple cabinet ministers, various high-level representatives and former government officials.