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HRCM negligent in abuse of 22 minors under state custody

Mariyam Malsa
25 August 2019, MVT 14:00
Members of Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) being questioned by the Parliament's Gender and Human Right's Committee. PHOTO: PARLIAMENT SECRETARIAT
Mariyam Malsa
25 August 2019, MVT 14:00

The anti-torture report compiled by the United Nations Committee Against Torture revealed that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) was negligent concerning the abuse of 22 minors under state custody.

According to the report, HRCM received 10 cases of abuse perpetrated against children residing at Vilimale' orphanage 'Kuda Kudhinge Hiyaa', Hulhumalé orphanage 'Fiyavathi', and Children's Service Centre in Thinadhoo, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services forwarded the information to HRCM after taking administrative action against 10 orphanage employees culpable in the abuse.

However, the annual report of the human rights watchdog clearly stated that the aforementioned cases would not be investigated.

According to HRCM, the decision to not conduct an investigation was finalised due to difficulties in collecting evidence since the reported matters were brought to the commission's attention in July 2018. At the time of reporting, some of the cases were a year old.

However, the session of the Parliament's Gender and Human Right's Committee conducted on Wednesday confirmed that HRCM reached its decision to forgo investigation without initiating any effort to collect proof or evidence.

In several of the reported cases, the children were forced to strip naked - an action defined as torture and criminalised under the Anti-Torture Act.

HRCM is the institution mandated to investigate such matters according to the constitution.

Discrepancies in HRCM's response

HRCM's responses to the Parliament's Gender and Human Right's Committee did not align with the information conveyed in the anti-torture report.

Jeehan Mahmood, the committee's chair and former HRCM member, expressed concern over the watchdog's decision to not investigate abuse cases concerning children under state custody and questioned whether the decision was reached after an enquiry.

Initially, HRCM members evaded the question and began explaining their standard procedure.

HRCM's reply to the committee's request to provide a direct answer to the question clarified that no effort to collect proof or evidence was conducted.

Furthermore, HRCM's vice president Mohamed Zahid requested permission to send a written reply to the committee's repeated questions concerning HRCM's negligence.

Despite assertions in the report, certain HRCM members later claimed that the investigation was ongoing.

HRCM member Aishath Afreen asserted that they went to the shelters to look into the alleged abuse, adding that HRCM attempted to conduct a joint investigation with the police under the provisions of the Anti-Torture Act.

"The police investigated the abuse, then the police sent the matter to the Prosecutor General's Office", said Afreen, noting that the cases were filed after a delay which made it difficult to collect evidence.

MP Jeehan refused to accept the statement, reasoning that HRCM could have collected evidence since the children suffered psychological damages as opposed to physical injuries.

The gender committee's chair pointed out that memories of psychological trauma were long-lasting and that its effects could potentially harm the children for their entire lives.

HRCM's President Aminath Enas asserted that the children were questioned and that the investigation was ongoing in response to MP Jeehan's question whether the children had undergone a psychological assessment.

The parliamentary committee described HRCM's actions concerning the 22 minors as willful negligence.

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