by Ahmed Saeed
Maldives ratified the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) and its optional protocol on 19th September 2006, under the leadership of His Excellency President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. History will record and credit him for signing this fundamental treaty on behalf of all Maldivians, almost a decade ago.
Make no mistake. It is no small feat. Maldivians rejoice!; the signing of the treaty and its optional protocol means that not only is the state responsible for ensuring all the rights prescribed in the treaty are provided for the people on an “immediate” basis, but any individual who is deprived of a right (such as the right to a fair trial, equality or suffered discrimination) has the right to access the United Nations Special Procedures system to seek justice.
Specifically, Article 26 of ICCPR reads as follows: “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground…”
It actually confers on the state, what is called a “positive duty” obligation in international law terms. It obligates states to prohibit by law, forms of discrimination or acts that incite hatred towards specific groups. Further, Article 25 provides for the equal participation in public life of all citizens, without any differentiation. The positive duty on states means that it is required to take positive actions in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which cause or help perpetuate discrimination prohibited by ICCPR.
The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations (UN) is the overseeing body, checking through the Universal Periodic Reporting system of states whether these rights are indeed provided to citizens. But the Committee cannot be everywhere and it can only address matters that are brought to its attention. The fact that the Maldives parliament has passed legislation imposing age limits on public office bearers is not legally acceptable and in clear breach of the ICCPR, violating Maldives’ international treaty obligations. It is alarming that a further amendment is in the offing extending the limit to leaders of political parties. This is clearly in violation of ICCPR and indeed the ethos of the UN Charter.
The Committee in its thirty-seventh session has expressed the view that in a number of [state] constitutions and laws not all the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited are enumerated and urges states to provide it with information. Maldives government would no doubt argue that all laws are passed, albeit those against the spirit of the country’s constitution, by the state’s parliament. Therefore it is unlikely that the Maldives government itself would bring to the Committee’s attention its intention to enforce age discrimination where public office is concerned. Perhaps it is time that NGO representation in Geneva, ideally an independent body, make alternative submissions to the Committee, in the face of the fact that neither the Maldives Attorney General nor the Prosecutor General has the capacity to act independently.
Again, in the same session the Committee has urged all state parties to inform it of the nature of the measures taken to conform with the principle of non-discrimination and equality. It follows therefore that the committee must be apprised of the opposite as well – those that are in breach of the very same principle.
We can leave the Commonwealth and UN, as one very vocal Member of Parliament has boldly suggested, and choose ourselves not to ally with either India or China and remain in the non-aligned group of states, or walk out of international fora in protest to recognizing rights of various groups. But can we ever leave the UN? The fact that the very words United Nations is translated as “ekuveri dhaulaiythah” undermines the importance of the organization in the eyes of such parliamentarians and the many obligations being a member of the international community imposes upon states. “Ekuveri” means friendly and only connotes “United” in an ancillary way. It is no wonder, that some feel that in a friendly place, one friend can look the other way when something is not right. But such is not the case with our membership with the UN. There are some fundamental principles that all members are required to adhere to.
The UN Charter itself is a treaty to which we have agreed to be bound by. And respect the rights of all citizens, some of which are so fundamental that they cannot be derogated from, such as non-discrimination.
A treaty is akin to a legal contract and the state is authorized to sign it on behalf of all citizens, young and old, men and women. The signing of ICCPR brings with it legal obligations the state of Maldives has accepted them when it ratified. And they apply to all citizens, young or old.