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The Maldives: UN expert praises legislative reforms but urges progress on prison conditions and impunity

GENEVA / MALÉ (26 November 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, has commended the Government of the Maldives for its extensive legislative reforms, but called for urgent progress in ending impunity, deplorable prison conditions, as well as inhuman and degrading treatment of undocumented migrants.

"I welcome the Government's recent adoption of legislation abolishing the death penalty for crimes committed below the age of 18 years," said Melzer, presenting a preliminary statement at the end of an eight-day visit to the country.

"I also commend the ongoing reform of the judiciary and the recent establishment of the independent Bar Council, as well as legislative and regulatory initiatives regarding judicial evidence and national minimum standards for the accommodation of migrant workers and for the detention of persons deprived of their liberty."

During his visit, Melzer met high-level representatives of the relevant authorities, as well as human rights institutions, civil society organisations, the diplomatic community and individual victims of torture.

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

Melzer visited nine places of detention and one childcare facility on the islands of Malé, Himmafushi, Maafushi, Hulhumalé, Villimalé, Guraidhoo, Dhoonidhoo, and Rasdhoo.  In most of the facilities, occupancy rates ranged from 150 to 190% of the capacity. The resulting overcrowding was exacerbated by extremely restricted or totally absent access to fresh air, and physical, educational, vocational or recreational activity.

"Inmates, including children, are often locked up in badly ventilated, hot and humid cells, with little natural light, inadequate bedding and hygiene, and precarious access to legal counsel, medical care and psychological support," Melzer said.

"In many of the places I visited, I observed conditions of detention that clearly amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and, where intentionally and purposefully inflicted, may even constitute torture."

Melzer expressed concern that, under the current Maldivian Penal Code, the general statutory justifications and statutes of limitation also applied to torture and other ill-treatment. This could be used to legitimise torture, in contravention with international law.

"I urge the Maldivian Government to remove from its legislation any potential justification or statute of limitation for torture or ill-treatment," stated the Special Rapporteur.

No official has ever been held accountable for torture or ill-treatment, nor has any victim ever received redress, despite reports that several hundred complaints have been submitted since the Anti-Torture Act (2013) came into force.

"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 still does not appear to ensure an effective system of oversight and accountability," said Melzer.

The Special Rapporteur highlighted a shortage of qualified staff including forensic medical professionals. He said deaths in prison were often not properly investigated, and no post-mortem examinations could be conducted in the Maldives.

"I strongly recommend that medical, judicial, prosecutorial and law enforcement personnel are systematically trained in the forensic investigation and documentation of torture and ill-treatment in line with the 'Istanbul Protocol', and that routine medical examinations by carried out both upon arrival of new inmates and throughout their detention," said Melzer.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed his "gravest concern" at the continued existence of a purpose-built execution chamber, which he said was irreconcilable with the Maldives' longstanding moratorium on the death penalty.

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report with his observations and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2021.

ENDS

Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights country page – Maldives

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