Maldives President (and Former Prisoner of Conscience) Resigns


President Mohamed Nasheeds (photo: Mauroof Khaleel)

Mohammad Nasheed, a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, resigned today as President of Maldives. He was the first democratically elected President of the country, following decades of dictatorship in the country. He was instrumental in highlighting the case for action against climate change, going so far as to hold a cabinet meeting underwater.

His supporters and media reports are stating that it was basically a coup by the military and opposition supporters.


Maldives Political Crisis and Human Rights Implications

Maldives cabinet holding an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight climate change's risk to the country.

Maldives is the only country I know where the leader is a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience.  I was planning on using that fact to write how Maldives was a model of how a country could transition from one that was strewn with human rights abuses to one that upholds human rights and the rule of law.  Well…the situation in the country is not as rosy as I was hoping.  In fact, its political leaders will need to use a lot of deftness to avoid bloodshed.


A Country That Will Drown If Sea Levels Rise

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting

Maldives Underwater Cabinet Meeting, / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Copenhagen Climate Change conference opened this week with an urgent call to action on the rapidly warming temperatures and the associated human costs that come from it.  And, no country in the world will be more affected than the small nation of Maldives.  The country is a series of tiny atolls that rise no more than a few feet above sea level.  The fear is that as sea levels rise, the entire country of Maldives will simply be swamped and disappear.  All 309,000 residents of the country will have to move—everyone from the President to the poorest resident.  The newly elected President of the Maldives and his cabinet held a cabinet meeting underwater in full scuba gear to highlight their country’s fate.

The Divehi people of Maldives have lived for 3,000 years on these islands, but they are now being threatened with extinction.  The atoll of Maduvari, home to 2,000 people, is an example of this.  The atoll has noticeably shrunk and will have to be abandoned in 20 years.  Those residents will be resettled in other atolls in the Maldives.  But, what will happen when all of Maldives’ atolls are gone and where will they go?

The country is taking radical steps to deal with the onslaught caused by other country’s use of fossil fuels.  Maldives will be first country in the world to be entirely carbon neutral.  They are trying to use some of the dead coral reefs that surround the atolls to literally raise the height of some of the islands.  And, they are working to reclaim land similar to the way in which Holland has done.  But, these are short term solutions.  Long term, Maldives must convince countries much larger than them that it is imperative that action be taking to end the global rise in temperatures. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

A Success Story on a Small Island

Jennifer with her Amnesty action

Jennifer with her Amnesty action

In the middle of all the interest in the American election, there was an election halfway around the world last week that got me thinking about a brave young woman from the Maldives named Jennifer Latheef.

I met her at an Amnesty meeting two years ago where she spoke at a panel of former prisoners of conscience.  I didn’t know where the Maldives were or anything about the islands, other than they are a popular resort for celeb weddings.  (I’m sure I’m not alone — here’s the google map link.)

It was one of those meetings that Amnesty International makes possible that can change a volunteer’s outlook on life.  Jennifer’s story was that behind the facade of a resort island, the Maldives is run by a dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who stands by passively as many on the island become addicted to drugs.  Political opposition is treated as a crime.  Her father was jailed, and so was she.  (She was convicted on terrorism charges in 2005 after she participated in a peaceful street demonstration and sentenced to 10 years in jail.) Amnesty International USA adopted her as a special focus case, and she was released in 2007.  She particularly credited Amnesty’s work in her release. (Read about her case in Amnesty magazine here.)

Once released, she continued her work to bring human rights to the Maldives.  Anyone who met her at the Amnesty conference understood that given her bravery and determination, the threat of jail wouldn’t deter her.  And now, the news brings a surprise that indicates that her work has borne fruit.

In late October, a coalition of opposition groups defeated the ruling party and threw Gayoom out of power for the first time in three decades. The Maldives being so small, the news received the scantiest of mentions in even the largest of the newspapers.  However, we are so used to dictators using any methods to remain in power that we may forget to celebrate when human rights and democracy activists such as Jennifer actually achieve that result peacefully.  But celebrate we should.

And we should remember one value of Amnesty International is that it reminds us that human rights are important even halfway around the world and on the smallest of islands with the smallest of populations — even if many of us can’t find it on the map.