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Preliminary observations and recommendations of
the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,
Mr. Nils Melzer, on his official visit to Maldives


17 – 24 November 2019

I.Introduction

From 17 to 24 November, my team and I visited the Maldives in order to assess the prevailing situation and challenges in the country concerning the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Government of the Maldives for renewing the standing invitation extended to Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. I also thank the Maldivian Government for the excellent cooperation my team and I enjoyed during the visit, and for the efforts made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in facilitating and organising official meetings with representatives from the highest authorities. I further thank the Government for the many meaningful and constructive exchanges with various relevant authorities. I would also like to thank the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Development Programme for supporting my team before and throughout the visit. I also met with representatives of the diplomatic community in Malè.

In terms of interlocutors, I had the opportunity to exchange views with officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Gender, Economic Development, Defence, Tourism, Home Affairs, the Prosecutor General, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police, the Commissioner for Prisons, the Deputy Controller of Immigration, the Speaker and the Human Rights Committee of the People's Majlis, and Supreme Court Justices. I also met with the National Integrity Commission, the Commission of Murders and Enforced Disappearances, the Human Rights Commission and the Bar Council. Furthermore, I had valuable exchanges with members of civil society organisations and victims of torture and ill-treatment.

My delegation visited the islands of Malé, Himmafushi, Maafushi, Hulhumalé, Villimalè, Guraidhoo, Dhoonidhoo, and Rasdhoo and enjoyed unrestricted access to all places where people are deprived of their liberty or institutionalized. In particular, my delegation visited the following 10 facilities:

  1. Malé Custodial Centre
  2. Malé Prison
  3. Maafushi Prison
  4. Asseyri Prison, Himmafushi
  5. Prison and Immigration Detention Centre in Hulhumalé
  6. Pre-trial detention centre, Dhoonidhoo
  7. Child care facility of Kuda Kudhinge Hiya, Villimalé
  8. Home for Persons with Special Needs, Guraidhoo
  9. Drug Rehabilitation Facility, Himmafushi
  10. Police station, Rasdhoo

In all these facilities, I was able to meet with representatives of the management, security and medical staff, and to interview inmates and residents of our choosing confidentially and in private.

II.    Preliminary observations

The observations I am presenting today are preliminary and non-exhaustive. Based on the information collected during my mission, I will draft a more comprehensive and updated report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2021. Should the Government wish to invite my mandate to carry out a follow-up visit before the submission of the final report, I will welcome the opportunity to include in my final report my observations on the follow-up given to my preliminary recommendations.

1.    Legal, institutional and policy framework

a)    Ratification of relevant international instruments

The Maldives has ratified most of the international human rights treaties relevant to my mandate, including the Convention against Torture (CAT, 20 April 2004), the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT, 15 February 2006), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 19 September 2006). I note with concern, however, that the Maldives have yet to accept the individual complaints procedure under the CAT and have neither ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, nor acceded to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

During our meetings with the authorities, all officials emphasized their commitment to the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Recommendations: In the light of their particular relevance for the context of the Maldives, I respectfully recommend that the Government accept the inquiry and individual complaints procedures under the CAT and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, as well as the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

b)   National legal framework

In terms of national legislation, the Constitution of the Maldives (2008), the Anti-Torture Act (2013), the Penal Code (2014), and the Prisons and Parole Act (2018) provide the most important legal standards for the prevention, investigation and punishment of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and for the exclusion of evidence extracted under torture.

In order to fill the current normative gap between the country's international commitments and the applicable national legislation, the Government's national strategic action plan on reforms has adopted an ambitious program for the introduction and amendment of 201 bills within 5 years. Most notably, I commend the recent adoption of the Juvenile Justice Bill and the Child Protection Act, which abolish the death penalty for crimes committed below the age of 18 years. I also commend the current elaboration of legislation regarding judicial evidence and of national minimum standards for all places where persons are deprived of their liberty, as well as for the accommodation of both migrant workers and national employees. I strongly recommend that any such legislation, regulation or standard, as a minimum, strictly adhere to international human rights law and relevant international standards, such as, most notably, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) [1]and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, [2]the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners,[3]the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules)[4]and the basic principles on the use of restorative justice programmes in criminal matters.[5]With regard to the specific situation of children, juveniles and women in the administration of justice, in particular while they are deprived of their liberty: the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules),[6]the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines),[7]the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty[8]and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules).[9]Additional guidance is provided in the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials,[10]the Principles of Medical Ethics relevant to the role of health personnel, particularly physicians, in the protection of prisoners and detainees against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,[11]the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials,[12]the Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[13]and the United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems.[14]

Formally, judicial safeguards provided by oversight bodies are in place, including through the independent National Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the National Preventive Mechanism, and the ad hoc Commission on Murder and Enforced Disappearances, which allow individuals to directly file petitions for allegations of human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment. However, I note with serious concern:

    1. that the defences foreseen in Chapter 40 of the Penal Code (2014) also apply to acts of torture and other ill-treatment and, thus, could be used to legitimize torture in contravention of Article 2(2) of the CAT which provides that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as a justification of torture;

       
    2. that the Statute of limitation under the Criminal Procedure Code 2017 also applies to cases of torture and other ill-treatment and, thus, could be used to prevent the prosecution of such abuse;

       
    3. that amendments made in 2015 to the Prisons and Parole Act make daily access to fresh air for high security prisoners subject to the discretion of the prison authorities, and remove the indispensable clarification of Article 47 (a) and (b), according to which detainees cannot be deprived of any fundamental rights other than their right to liberty, such as the prohibition of ill-treatment;

       
    4. that, for certain offences, national criminal law still permits corporal punishment and the death penalty, both of which, in my view, are irreconcilable with the universal prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

My concerns with regard to such cruel and irreversible punishment are further reinforced by significant shortcomings in the investigative processes in the country, which often lack the capacity to objectively establish the facts, identify causal chains and determine legal responsibilities with sufficient reliability as required by fundamental principles of justice and the rule of law. I therefore welcome the Government's commitment to the moratorium on the death penalty, which has been observed in the Maldives since 1953. However, I express my gravest concern at the fact that, at Maafushi prison, I personally inspected a facility which had recently been purpose-built for the execution of the death penalty by hanging. The building reportedly has been constructed under the previous government, and is currently fully equipped for the execution of convicts, including three waiting cells and the gallows on the upper floor and, on the ground floor, an adjacent room with three mobile stretchers, facilities for the washing of the dead bodies, and a dedicated funeral transportation vehicle. In my view, the existence of this newly built execution chamber cannot be reconciled with a credible and sustained commitment to the Maldives' longstanding moratorium on the death penalty. The facility should therefore be permanently removed and, if possible, replaced with urgently needed educational, vocational or recreational facilities.

Recommendations: In light of the absolute and non-derogable character of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, I urge the Maldivian Government to: (a) remove from its legislation any potential legal justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) remove from its legislation any statute of limitation for such acts; (c) reverse the amendments made to the Prisons and Paroles Acts which further limit the rights of a person deprived of their liberty in contravention to international law; (d) completely abolish all forms of corporal punishment as well as the death penalty; and (e) permanently remove or repurpose any facilities constructed with a view to executing the death penalty.

c)    Fundamental safeguards

Formally, the fundamental safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment are provided for, including the right to notify relatives of an arrest, and the rights of access to a lawyer and to a medical doctor. According to information received from the authorities, all interviews with suspects are systematically recorded on video. A random sample of police records examined by my delegation showed that, at least formally, arrestees are informed about the reasons for their arrest, their rights including the right to contact a lawyer before the first questioning, as well as, in cases of serious crimes, their right to state-appointed legal counsel free of charge.

As far as the practical implementation of the right to legal counsel is concerned, however, I have received numerous consistent reports suggesting serious deficiencies. In particular, numerous defendants prosecuted for serious crimes and lacking the means to pay for a private attorney reported to have been tried and sentenced without receiving the assistance of a state appointed defence counsel. Also, numerous inmates held under investigation, particularly at the pre-trial detention centre in Dhoonidhoo, complained that, except for an initial phone call after their arrest, they were not given any possibility to make contact with their lawyers. I further received numerous complaints by persons held in migration-related detention that they had no access to legal counsel or any other due process procedure prior and during detention.

I also note with serious concern that all persons deprived of their liberty in the Maldives, regardless of their status or personal situation, should be  allowed a telephone call to inform their family of their arrest. Last but not least, persons newly arriving in prisons and detention centres reportedly are not systematically subject to an entry examination by a medical doctor.

Recommendations: I strongly recommend that steps be taken with a view to: (a) ensuring the right to access to a lawyer for the entire duration of any form of deprivation of liberty, including for reasons related to migration; and (b) ensuring access to medical care, including routine medical examinations on all persons deprived of their liberty.

d)   Role of the judiciary

I commend the on-going reform of the judiciary, the establishment of two district courts, the review of the prosecution guidelines, as well as the recent establishment of the Bar Council, which is to regulate the activities of lawyers including matters of conduct and discipline.

Despite the provisions in the Criminal Procedure Act (2016) aiming to avoid or minimize the delay of court proceedings, officials, lawyers and civil society representatives alike complained about routine over-incarceration of non-violent pre-trial detainees, and about excessive duration of investigative processes and judicial proceedings, often resulting in pre-trial detention ranging from several months up to several years, without any significant investigative or judicial action being taken. In several cases, suspects have been held in pre-trial detention for periods exceeding the maximum prison sentence which could be imposed for the alleged offence.

One of the challenges seem to be the insufficient qualifications of judicial magistrates responsible for the first instance adjudication of cases, and a perceived lack of awareness and understanding of international due process and human right standards among the judiciary.

There is also a general lack of forensic capacity independent from the law enforcement authorities.

Recommendations: I strongly recommend that urgent steps be taken with a view to: (a) reducing over-incarceration, in particular by prioritizing measures alternative to deprivation of liberty; (b) strengthening the capacity of prosecutors and the judiciary in the application of international human rights instruments; (c) separating the forensic services from the law enforcement services so as to ensure that their independence; (d) training officials of the judicial,  prosecutorial and law enforcement services in the investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment according to the standards set in the "Istanbul Protocol".

e)    Impunity

While I commend the establishment of institutions such as the National Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and the Commission on Disappearances and Murders, I am gravely concerned that their work does not appear to have ensured an effective system of oversight and accountability. Despite reports that, since the entry into force of the Anti-Torture Act (2013), several hundred complaints regarding torture and other ill-treatment have been submitted to the Maldivian Human Rights Commission and/or the National Integrity Commission, no Maldivian official has ever been held accountable, nor has any victim received redress, if only through official acknowledgement on the part of the government. According to the information I have received, it appears that cases submitted to the Prosecutor General are routinely dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence, thus suggesting either grave systemic shortcomings in the investigative mechanisms put in place or a complete lack of political will to hold officials accountable. On the occasion of my visit, we received information that a recent case of police violence perpetrated by a group of plain clothes police officers, despite a video recording which had been widely circulated, still had not entailed a criminal investigation into the matter. Whatever may be the cause for the apparently systematic failure of the Maldivian authorities to prosecute and punish torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, it results in near complete impunity for serious official misconduct and a profound erosion of public confidence in the integrity and reliability of the police and the judiciary.

Recommendations: In order to put an end to impunity for torture and ill-treatment, I strongly urge the Maldivian Government: (a) to publicly and unequivocally reaffirm a zero-tolerance policy for torture or ill-treatment; (b) to clearly communicate this policy throughout the services of all branches of government and to announce severe disciplinary sanctions for violations, including any participation, complicity, or complacency for torture or ill-treatment; (c) to instruct, train, and exercise all officials of the military, police, correctional and similar services in the performance of their duties in line with international human rights standards; (d) to undertake prompt and impartial investigations wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture or ill-treatment has been committed and to prosecute and punish violations; (e) to strengthen the resources, training, capacity and independence of investigative bodies, such as the Maldivian Human Rights Commission, the National  Preventive Mechanism, the National Integrity Commission, and the National Commission on Disappearances and Murders and to provide them with the required authority to conduct their work irrespective of the willingness of the investigated services to cooperate.

f)     Migrant workers

In the course of my visit, I have received numerous reports of migrant workers being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by private actors, often with the complacency or even complicity of state officials. According to the most common pattern reported to me, migrant workers would be lured into paying or indebting themselves for large sums of money for a purportedly lucrative employment in the Maldives, only to be subsequently trafficked for exploitation against their will. Immediately upon arrival in the Maldives, their employers would take their passports and would make them "pay off" exorbitant recruitment fees, not paying them any wages for extended periods of time and exposing them to living and working conditions that are unsafe and can only be described as cruel, inhuman or degrading. Thus, migrant workers would often have to share collective accommodation with up to 200 other workers, sleeping in shifts in deplorable hygienic conditions. In light of this alarming humanitarian situation, I welcome the ongoing initiative by the Ministry of Economic Development to regularise undocumented migrant workers and I strongly encourage their strongest possible cooperation with various other relevant Ministries and services in this regard, including, as appropriate, police, immigration and social services, as well as the judiciary and diplomatic services. I also welcome the impending regulation of standards of workers' accommodation by the Ministry of Economic Development, which will be binding upon employers.

Recommendations: The absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment also applies to the working and living conditions of migrant workers and their families. In this regard, I strongly recommend that the authorities: (a) ensure effective regulation and oversight of private recruitment agencies; (b) establish and enforce adequate working and accommodation standards; (c) systematically impose penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions for violations, exploitation and abuse on the part of involved employers, recruiters, officials, and any other accomplices.

g) Civil society

A vibrant and proactive civil society fully benefiting from all relevant rights and liberties is one of the best guarantors for the effective implementation of human rights in any context. Intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, civil society organizations (CSOs), dissidents and defence lawyers, on the other hand, have proven to be conducive to serious human rights violations, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is therefore with alarm that I take note of the recent suspension of the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), which I understand is one of the most established and influential CSO's working for the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the Maldives. According to information received, the leadership of this organizations have also received serious threats of violence, including on social media, which could have a chilling effect on the indispensable advocacy work accomplished by human rights defenders throughout the country.

Recommendations: In order to ensure that human rights defenders and CSOs can operate in enabling environment without fear and intimidation, I urge the Maldivian authorities: (a) to clearly communicate a zero-tolerance policy with regard to threats and violence of any kind and to reaffirm its unequivocal support for freedom of expression; (b) to ensure and protect the safety, rights and liberty of human rights defenders and CSOs; and (c) to allow MDN to resume its activities as expeditiously as possible.

h) Domestic violence

According to information collected during my visit, domestic violence and sexual abuse of children constitutes major problem throughout the Maldives. It is my considered view that, from substantive perspective, abuse occurring in the home or among family members always amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and may even amount to torture, thus triggering the State's international legal obligation to prevent, investigate and redress such abuse. Given the often complex and delicate environment within which domestic violence occurs, I strongly welcome the recent establishment of Community Social Groups (CSG) on 181 islands, whose task it is to respond to and intervene in situations involving domestic violence.  However, most people we asked during our visit were not aware of the existence, competence and work of the CSG in the Maldives.

Recommendation: I therefore strongly recommend that the role and work of the CSG's be proactively strengthened, promoted, disseminated and implemented throughout the Maldives.

2.    Material conditions of detention

    1. Overcrowding and access to fresh air

As a result of a general practice of over incarceration, mainly for minor drug offences, in conjunction with often excessive delay in investigative processes and judicial proceedings, as well as significant infrastructural limitations, places of deprivation of liberty throughout the country are significantly overcrowded, often with occupancy rates ranging from 150 to 190% of the actual capacity.

The prevalent overcrowding is exacerbated by extremely restricted or even completely lacking access to fresh air and physical activity, with inmates locked up in badly ventilated, hot and humid cells, often with little natural light and no access whatsoever to educational, recreational, vocational, physical or intellectual activity. In many facilities, inmates do not have their own bed or mattress, and sleep either on thin mats or even directly on the hard floor (cement or tiles).

It must be emphasized that overcrowding puts enormous stress on inmates and staff alike, significantly increases the risk of violence between inmates and on the part of prison staff. In the case of the Maldives, international minimum standards regarding the minimum living space per inmate and their access to fresh air and physical exercise, which must be at least 1 hour per day, are severely and systematically violated in practically all institutions with very few exceptions.

Recommendation:In my view, the observed conditions of detention amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and, where intentionally and purposefully inflicted, may even amount to torture. In line with international law and standards, I therefore strongly recommend that urgent measures be taken with a view to ensuring that each inmate, irrespective of status or situation, be granted access to fresh air and physical exercise for at least one hour per day, and reducing over-incarceration, in particular by prioritizing measures alternative to deprivation of liberty.

b) Contacts with the outside world

Throughout the Maldives, persons deprived of their liberty generally are entitled, each month, to one family visit of 1 to 2 hours and two phone calls of 7 minutes each. Even convicts prepared to bear the costs themselves are not allowed additional phone calls. Given the relatively small overall size of the prison population in the Maldives it is difficult to see any justification for such an unusually restrictive regime.

Numerous inmates held under investigation, particularly at the pre-trial detention centre in Dhoonidhoo, complained that, except for an initial phone call after their arrest, they were not given any possibility to make contact with their lawyers. I further received numerous complaints by persons held in migration-related detention that they had no access to legal counsel or any other due process procedure prior and during detention and were also unable to call their families.

Recommendation:I strongly recommend facilitating and providing access tomore frequent and longer phone calls and other contacts with family members and lawyers.

c)    Access to medical care

Although every prison under the authority of the Correctional Service Commission reportedly employs at least one medical doctor and two nurses, most prisoners requiring specialized medical attention have to be transferred to Malè. I have received frequent allegations that access to medical care is unnecessarily delayed both due to a lack of adequate facilities, such as dental care, and due to the alleged negligence of prison and medical staff.

There appears to be a shortage of qualified general health professionals to provide the adequate assessment, documentation and interpretation of trauma and injuries. There is also a general lack of basic health care, dental and psychiatric support given to the detained. The lack of forensic medical training in Maldives, infrastructure or support, renders the investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment difficult and in many cases impossible. Deaths in prison often are not properly investigated, and no autopsies are conducted in the Maldives. Therefore, where an autopsy is necessary, the examination has to take place outside the country.

There are no health prevention programs or medical awareness programs for specific prevailing situations such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or drug addiction (with the exception of the specialized drug rehabilitation center).

From a medical perspective, sleeping conditions and ventilation are inadequate in many places of detention, and access to fresh air, physical work and recreational activities is clearly insufficient and in some cases the cause of medical illness.

Recommendations: I strongly recommend that urgent steps be taken to (a) better equip the prisons with qualified medical personnel, including medical doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, (b) ensure adequate training of medical staff in the forensic investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment in line with the "Istanbul Protocol", (c) institute routine medical examinations for newly arriving inmates and regular medical check-ups for all inmates, (d) establish an effective and accessible mechanism of medical complaints, emergency calls or other requests for medical consultations, and (e) raise awareness on contagious diseases, psychosocial and mental health awareness.

d)   Complaints mechanisms and accountability

I note with serious concern that, throughout places of detention in the Maldives, there is no truly independent, effective and accessible complaints mechanism for persons deprived of their liberty. While in some institutions complaints forms are made available, most inmates are not aware of these possibilities. Where inmates submit written complaints to the Prison Director or to the Commissioner of Prisons, the Human Rights Commission, the People's Majlis or other external authorities, their correspondence is systematically censored by Correctional Officers and transmitted or held back at their discretion. There is no system of confidential complaints directly to an independent oversight body, for example through sealed and registered envelopes or a complaints mailbox accessible to inmates within the detention centre, which can only be opened by a representative of an external oversight body.

Recommendations: I strongly recommend that steps be taken with a view to institute a truly accessible, independent and confidential complaints procedure that allows individuals deprived of their liberty to directly file complaints regarding alleged human rights violations, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment to the administrative oversight bodies, the Human Rights Commission or the judicial authorities.

e)    Juveniles

Throughout the Maldives, there is no correctional facility specifically designed for the incarceration of children, as provided for in Article 3(e) of the Prisons and Parole Act. Although in the various detention centres there are separate cells for children, juveniles remain exposed to conditions of detention, discipline and treatment which are designed for adult inmates and not adapted to their age. None of the institutions where juveniles are held offers any educational, recreational or vocational activity which would be adequate for them. On the contrary, even in the minimum security facility of Asseyri Prison, where adults enjoy an open regime and a maximum of liberty and vocational activity, juveniles are locked up, together with one cellmate, in dark and harsh cells for at least 23 hours every day, although there is a closed courtyard in which they could spend most of the day in fresh air. We have also received several consistent allegations of severe violence being used by guards on juveniles, including beatings and kicking with boots either in retribution for provocative behaviour, or during cell-searches for drugs, mobile phones and other contraband.

Recommendations: I strongly recommend that steps be taken with a view to ensuring adequate material conditions for holding juveniles in conflict with the law, introducing disciplinary measures adapted to their age and support their rehabilitation by instituting education and recreational activities in line with the best interest of the child.

3.    Specific places of detention

Beyond the generic issues and recommendations outlined above, which are generally applicable to all visited places of detention, the following summarizes my additional observations and recommendations with regard to specific facilities.

    1. Malé Custodial Centre

Reported Capacity: 105

Reported Occupancy: In total 15: 9 Males, 3 females and 3 juveniles

Specific Observations: I observed with serious concern that there were no sleeping or seating facilities in any cell. The prisoners slept on the bare floor (tiles) and police officers informed that mattresses were only provided upon prescription by a medical doctor. There is a lack of yard space in the centre, as a result prisoners are not allowed out of their cells at all. While there is one holding cell for newly arrived male arrestees awaiting processing, there is no separate cell for holding newly arrived female arrestees. Therefore, during my visit, I witnessed one female arrestee left to sleep on the floor outside of the interrogation room. The police station did not have a permanently stationed doctor or nurse; therefore, medical concerns of inmates cannot be attended to immediately should the need arise.

Allegations Received: According to both inmates and staff, on any given night, the holding cells would fill with an average of 20 arrestees who were held overnight and, after initial questioning, transferred further or released the following morning.

Recommendation: Provide necessary bedding and seating facilities to all prisoners. Station resident doctor given the frequency of newly admitted detainees.

b)   Malé Prison

Reported Capacity: 118 in main prison and 50 in annex

Reported Occupancy: In total 232: 108 convicted and 124 in remand

Specific Observations: The prison is extremely affected by overcrowding with a cell holding up to 10 inmates in very tight quarters with no access to sunlight and fresh air during their entire detention. In most cells, in mates slept on the floor on thin mats. However, in the bigger cells some inmates had beds or mattresses instead. All cells shared only one open concept sanitary area which inmates covered with a mat to prevent splashing water on the floor where they slept, most often the mats would have growing mould. The third floor (housing inmates with good conduct, benefiting from opportunity to work within the facility) had been transformed into an open section providing all inmates free access to a common corridor during the day. Markedly less tension and stress among the inmates. Management assured that the same transformation was foreseen for the first and second floors in the near future.

The pre-trial detainees and convicts were found to be held together in the same cells and blocks. In advertently they get the same treatment although in principle they should receive periodic family and conjugal visits, access to yard and telephone calls.

The sanitary and hygienic conditions were very unsatisfactory. During my visit, I observed that during the cleaning of the cell, the detainees had to clear excess water using their own plates. The area outside of their cells was littered and had stagnant water, cleaning was done once a day.

Allegations Received: I received no allegations of torture, however inmates complained about the lack of access to fresh air and they also reported the lack of structural maintenance for example the electrical sockets would sometimes electrocute them.

Recommendation: Immediate alleviation of overcrowding by reducing the number of remand detainees. Urgent refurbishment and introduction of daily access to corridor space throughout all the floors of the facility.

c)    Maafushi Prison

Reported Capacity: Convicts: 655 male and 55 female

Remand: 58 males and 15 females

Reported Occupancy:  Convicts: 969 male and 66 female

Remand: 112 males and 10 females

Specific Observations: In the high security wings, 5 to 6 prisoners were held in small cells with only two beds, many without mattresses. In the other wings, 16 prisoners were held in dormitories equipped with 10 beds. Lack of natural light, sleeping and sanitary facilities, as well as access to fresh air. Prisoners reportedly were only allowed yard time for one hour once or twice a month.

The overall conditions of detention in the female units were generally acceptable, although still affected by overcrowding with up to five inmates in a cell of only three beds, forcing the other inmates to sleep on the floor on mattresses. Sanitary and hygienic conditions observed in the facility for female inmates were generally satisfactory. Female detainees had access to the corridor in front of their cells throughout the day and were able to access the yard for one hour every day. The ventilation in the cells was very limited, with two small low-hanging windows, despite the availability of two small fans. Many detainees complained about inhaling smoke from the burning of waste on the island.

 Allegations Received: The major concerns expressed by inmates were insufficient and bad quality food and water, very poor ventilation, lack of hygiene and sanitary conditions in the cell and attached toilets, and poor lights. The death row inmates complained of the constantly lit light in their cells which disturbs their sleep. Many interviewed inmates complained about insufficient medical services, poor library and lack of physical and recreational exercise in general.

I received several complaints from foreign detainees that have not been allowed to make international telephone calls, since their time of arrest up to 2 years earlier.

Recommendation: Institute routine rounds by medical doctors to check on inmates' health and to also receive medical complaints. Make available to all prisoners access to fresh air and exercise of at least one hour per day.

d)   Asseyri Prison

Reported Capacity: 320

Reported Occupancy: In total 330: 324 males and 6 juveniles

Specific Observations: The prison benefited from the wide open spaces which were utilised by the inmates for recreational and vocational activities such as carpentry, tailoring, electrical and agricultural programs. The inmates were housed in 5 wings with 4 bases each and sharing 16 toilets. A significant number of shower and toilet facilities were reportedly not functioning and not in use.

However, I noted with grave concern the regime imposed on juvenile inmates held in a separate wing from the adults. Contrary to adult inmates, these adolescents only received one hour of yard time each day, except on Friday, and did not enjoy any access to educational, vocational or recreational activities.

Allegations Received: Adults: I received an allegation from the detainees of a recent incident where an inmate tried to escape the boundary walls and was severely beaten with his head covered in a sheet by the officers on duty at that time. There were also several allegations of the frequent abuse by one particular correctional officer, involving brutality as well as threats of transfer to Maafushi.

Juveniles: The juvenile inmates complained of two recent incidents, in March and April 2019, when guards carried out unannounced violent cell-searches for drugs, mobile phones and other contraband. Although the inmates reported not to have shown any resistance, they alleged to have been severely beaten and kicked by the guards.

I noted with serious concern that the prison does not have a psychologist or psychiatric specialist on duty, especially since I received a complaint from a juvenile detainee who was suffering from severe nightmares and sleeping difficulties. Testimonies from the inmates also confirmed that there have been a few cases of mental issues, including the inmate who recently tried to escape, but that these were not adequately attended to.

Recommendation: Allow with immediate effect access to yard for juvenile detainees. Provide access to psychiatric and psychological support.

e)    Hulhumalé Prison and Immigration Detention Centre

Reported Capacity: 40 in prison and 60 in immigration detention

Reported Occupancy: 64 imprisoned and 43 in immigration detention

Specific Observations: The overall conditions of detention we observed were generally acceptable and efforts to renovate and build with a one temporary facility in Hulhumalé Prison was noted. However, I noted with serious concern the imprisonment of elderly including one inmate who was 90 years old and other elderly inmates who were very sickly inmates and immobile. During my visit, a staff nurse conducted rounds but only to hand out medicine. The facility did not have a resident doctor but one who would make regular visits to the facility.

The immigration detention wing was significantly overcrowded with 21 detainees in a cell. Most of the detainees do not receive any due process but are awaiting deportation order by the Controller of Immigration. There were instances of prolonged detention for up to two years for one detainee and on average 3 to 6 months.

Allegations Received: Some detainees noted that the sleeping conditions on the floor caused back pains and exposed them to insects such as mosquitos, ants and cockroaches.

During my visit, one detainee was held in quarantine, and was not allowed to touch anyone because of an allegedly contagious skin condition. He complained of the stigmatisation due to his illness which isolated him from social contacts within the prison. The detainee's skin condition was examined by the forensic medical expert accompanying my mission and was found not to be contagious.

The detainees in the immigration section complained of lack of telephone calls and access to lawyers.

Recommendation: Commute sentences of frail and elderly convicts that do not pose a threat to the community. Ensure due process to immigrants facing deportations by allowing access to legal representation.

f)     Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre

Reported Capacity: 150

Reported Occupancy: 81 males and 6 females and juveniles 4 males and 1 female

Specific Observations: The prisoners slept on the floor on mats and only a pillow was provided with no bedsheet or blanket provided.

I also note with concern that there is lack of drug withdrawal treatments provided to drug addicts in pre-trial detention. Such inmates are therefore forced to detoxify without assistance, exposing them to severe suffering due to serious withdrawal symptoms, as illustrated by two female inmates we encountered during my visit.

The yard time for male prisoners was provided in semi-open areas caged with metal wired fencing with an open entry way and situated immediately adjacent to the beach, with no boundary wall in between the sea and the prison. In order to prevent escapes during yard time, all inmates remained handcuffed behind their back during their walks. The female detainees had a small courtyard area in front of their cell and access to the yard was given on a weekly basis for one hour.

Allegations Received: The inmates reported that they do not have prior knowledge of their hearing date, they only know at the time of transfer that they are being transported to the court house, which is sometime insufficient time to notify lawyers or family to appear in court.

Recommendation: Replace the current caged yard areas by larger, more solid and secure structures that allow inmates to exercise without physical restraints. Authorities should also provide proper mattresses, blankets and sheets to all inmates. As well as medical assisted detoxification for drug addicts.

g)   Child Care Facility of Kuda Kudhinge Hiya, Villimalé

Reported Capacity: 50

Reported Occupancy: 25 boys and 24 girls

Specific Observations: While general access to mandatory education in the local public school, almost complete lack of proper supervision, discipline and structured daily routine. Most of the time, adolescents are simply left to entertain themselves with video games and online entertainment. They do not have any chores or tasks to help with maintaining order and cleanliness of the facility.

Allegations Received: Many of the older children complained of the inadequate availability of appropriate level reading books. I also received a complaint that there were particular staff that would discipline through beating.

Recommendation: There is an urgent need for the employment of staff trained and qualified in the care for adolescents. The library should be equipped with educational and age appropriate reading materials, and the children should be given a clear daily routine, involving domestic chores, and guided social and recreational activities.

h)   Home for People with Special Needs, Guraidhoo

Reported Capacity: 194

Reported Occupancy: 198 in total: 94 male and 65 female adults, 27 male and 12 female elderly and 2 boys and 1 girl

Specific Observations: The overall conditions of the patients we observed were generally acceptable under the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services. I noted with concern that, the juvenile patients are accommodated in mixed quarters together with adults.

The legal decision to institutionalize individuals solely rests on the Social Work Unit of the Ministry. While there are no clear and transparent guidelines of the decision making, the centre's staff confirmed that the concerned patient was not in any way involved or consulted in the process. Even where patients would be fit to return to their homes, their families reportedly often refuse to welcome them back. In light of the reported waiting list of 40 people, a solution should be found to transfer 19 individuals who have been medically discharged but cannot return home to alternative institutions, shelters or community care.          

During my visit, one female patient was tied to her bed by the sleeves of her shirt, allegedly to restrain her aggressive tendencies towards other inmates. Upon request, staff was unable to explain for how long the patient already had been attached or would remain in that position. According to the administration, there is only one psychiatrist, one general practitioner and two physiotherapists.

Allegations Received: I did not receive any allegations of torture or other ill-treatment.

Recommendations: clear separation of all juveniles from adults should be institutionalised and provide conditions corresponding to their specific vulnerability and needs, and to the best interests of the child. Adequately equip the facility with the necessary resources especially of specialized practitioners to provide psychiatric and psychological support.

i)     Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre

Reported Capacity: 105

Reported Occupancy: 140

Specific Observations: The overall conditions of the centre were satisfactory and acceptable, the clients of the centre are not under security and are aware that the rehabilitation program is voluntary and that they can leave at any time. The staff of the facility reported that there is a very low termination rate of 1%, with those most affected being the recently admitted clients undergoing detoxification in the first 21 to 28 days. The seven-step program of the facility which has been in implementation for over 20 years seem to be structured but is threatened by the high rate of relapsing due to the insufficient after care when clients are released to the community after 4 to 6 months.

There is no daily presence of psychiatric/psychologic support however the two general practitioners, resident in the facility have no adequate training and experience. The medical therapy instituted in restricted to anxiolytics and analgesics, with no medical substitution programs and/or psychotherapy programs. 

Allegations Received: I did not receive any allegations of torture or other ill-treatment.

Recommendation: Review the rehabilitation program to make the necessary improvements to ensure adaptability to the evolving forms of addictions in Maldives and strengthened after-care programs to support sustained recovery. I also strongly recommend a significant expansion of the capacity of the current rehabilitation programme, so as to address the reported backlog of approximately 900 persons waiting for a place in the programme, and to alleviate the current over-incarceration of persons with drug dependency

j)     Rasdhoo Police Station

Reported Capacity: 2

Reported Occupancy: 1

Specific Observations: The facilities of the police holding cells were sufficient for holding one person per cell. My main concern is the lack of adequate natural light and proper ventilation to the cells. I am also extremely concerned that the police are not aware nor do they follow the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) in particular rule 23 providing for at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily.

Allegations Received: I did not receive any allegations of torture or other ill-treatment.

Recommendation: Provide access to year in accordance Mandela Rules. There is also need to adequately train law enforcement personnel, specifically on international human rights standards.

k)    Villingili Police Station (allegation)

Although time constraints prevented any more additional visits, we received alarming allegations regarding the Villingili Police Station which were sufficiently precise and credible to warrant their inclusion in my report.

The material conditions of the cells were reported to be very inhuman with a cell for purposed build for one person usually occupied by up to five. The inmates had to sleep with their heads practically touching the toilet and in shifts as some stood. There was allegations of police brutality with the aim of extracting confessions by using the cross cuffing of hands and feet and beating of the prisoners.

Recommendation: Investigate these allegations that could amount to torture and ill-treatment and, in case of violations, prosecute and adequately punish the perpetrators.

III.  Concluding remarks

In principle, the Maldives is equipped with the necessary legal, structural and procedural framework and a suitable political environment to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In my view, the biggest challenges faced by the Maldives are over-incarceration, conditions of detention and impunity.

I therefore strongly appeal to the Government of Maldives to reduce the over-incarceration by employing other alternative measures to deprivation of liberty which will alleviate overcrowding in prisons and places of detention. In turn with the reduction of detainees, the current places of detention will become fit for purpose. The conditions of detention can also be easily rectified with structural improvements and availing necessities such as bedding, access to telephone and frequent family visit and institutionalizing complaints procedure, introducing educational and vocational programs already in place in other institutions. There is also need to reinforce a "zero tolerance" policy and to unequivocally make clear to state officials at all levels that they are expected and, indeed, obliged to report and investigate all allegations of torture and to bring perpetrators to justice.

[1] GA Resolution 70/175.

[2] Resolution 43/173, annex.

[3] Resolution 45/111, annex.

[4] Resolution 45/110, annex.

[5] Economic and Social Council resolution 2002/12, annex.

[6] Resolution 40/33, annex.

[7] Resolution 45/112, annex.

[8] Resolution 45/113, annex.

[9] Resolution 65/229, annex.

[10] Resolution 34/169, annex.

[11] Resolution 37/194, annex.

[12] Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, 27 August–7 September 1990: report prepared by the Secretariat (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.91.IV.2), chap. I, sect. B.2, annex.

[13] Resolution 55/89, annex.

[14] Resolution 67/187, annex.