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UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression concludes visit to the Maldives

5 March 2009

At the end of his official visit to the Maldives (1 to 5 March 2009), the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue (Guatemala) pointed out the importance of the ongoing democratic transition in the Maldives and made preliminary recommendations on how to strengthen this process.

“I welcome the efforts made by the Government of the Maldives to implement a series of reforms in the context of democratic change. I congratulate the Government for the positive steps it has taken with regards to freedom of expression in this historic moment of transition toward democratic rule,” he stated, adding that “the overall feeling from different sectors of society is very positive with regards to the democratic transition to a multi-party democracy after the enactment of the new Constitution and the peaceful conclusion of the first multi-party elections.”

While recognising the positive steps taken by the Government to develop a democratic society, particularly its proposal to decentralise state institutions and public services throughout the islands, the Special Rapporteur made some preliminary recommendations to the Government of the Maldives with a view to strengthening the transition effort.

“It is essential that the public are kept informed and consulted on the decisions being made by the Government, in order to allow active participation of citizens in the reform process,” he stated, encouraging the Government to further develop mechanisms of communication during the transition period.

La Rue further welcomed the decision to enact legislation on access to information as a guarantee to transparency, noting that “the Government should establish the appropriate mechanisms and bodies in order to guarantee that this right is implemented swiftly.”

With regard to public broadcasting, the Special Rapporteur stated that “while public enterprises like TV Maldives and Voice of the Maldives reach out to over 90 percent of the population and satisfy a needed public service, given their importance and in order to ensure objectivity, it is essential that the public broadcasting corporation be established by law as an independent state body.” He further stated that “in the process of privatization of media enterprises a special effort should be made to ensure that the diversity and plurality of views and opinions are maintained.” In this regard, he encouraged Parliament to introduce anti-monopoly legislation, particularly in the area of communications.

The Special Rapporteur made a number of additional recommendations, including the adoption of additional legislation on freedom of expression, the need to ensure that cases of defamation are treated as civil and not criminal cases; the improvement of internet services to ensure access for all members of society; and the follow-up and implementation of recommendations formulated through previous visits of UN Special Rapporteurs.

“I recognize the challenges faced by the new Government and welcome the forward looking plans that have been presented by different authorities,” La Rue stated.

“I would encourage the Government to maintain its social agenda for change, but simultaneously strengthen the democratic agenda of participation, dialogue and freedom of expression by all sectors of the population,” he concluded.

ENDS

Frank La Rue was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions related to freedom of opinion and expression in 1994. His mandate involves reporting annually to the Human Rights Council on the status of the realisation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression throughout the world, and identifying practical solutions and good practices to this end. A human rights lawyer from Guatemala, radio journalist and columnist, La Rue has extensive experience in the area of freedom of expression.

For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/opinion/index.htm