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Maldives: UN expert cautiously welcomes government commitment to bringing nationals home from Syria but urges more action on repatriation and reintegration

24 May 2022

GENEVA (24 May 2022) – A UN human rights expert* today cautiously welcomed the commitment of the Maldives Government to bring women and children from Syria home, while urging comprehensive action from the authorities to address the horrific and life-threatening situation faced by their nationals — primarily children – in conflict zones.

At the end of a 10-day visit to the Maldives, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, called on the authorities to urgently repatriate their women and children from Al Hol and Roj camps in North-East Syria and other conflict zones.

More than 50 Maldivian nationals are believed to be living in the camps, without proper access to food, clean water, healthcare and education. Ní Aoláin said children were living in horrific and unacceptable conditions of detention. “These children are victims of terrorism and must be treated with dignity and respect and returned to the Maldives without stigma to live normal and productive lives,” she said.

Ní Aoláin said the full and available support of the United Nations including the expertise of her mandate are in place to support the Maldives Government in this effort. “The government must plan concretely for reintegration and treat families and communities of individuals returning as partners in the repatriation process,” the expert said.

Acknowledging the establishment of a National Reintegration Centre, Ní Aoláin advised caution. “Practices of long-term administrative detention, including of children, would be in breach of the country’s international human rights obligations,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the Maldives had strengthened its counter-terrorism law and policy in recent years to address the complex challenges of terrorism and violent extremism in the country. Recognising the government’s positive efforts on legislative reform, including amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act, Ní Aoláin urged Maldivian authorities to bring the legislation into full compliance with international human rights standards. She urgently highlights the need to prevent impunity for acts of terrorism and violent extremism.

“In order to address the challenges of violent extremism and terrorism in a human rights compliant manner, prison conditions must be improved, judicial independence must be assured, lawyers must be able to function effectively to defend persons charged of such offences, and the police must be accountable for any violations committed during investigations,” the Special Rapporteur said.

At the end of her visit, Ní Aoláin also expressed deep concern regarding the constriction of civic space and challenges faced by human rights defenders and civil society actors in the country, particularly the digital harassment of women.

During her visit the Special Rapporteur met government officials, the police, military, and corrections services. She engaged with a wide and diverse range of civil society actors including religious leaders. Ní Aoláin visited three places of detention and welcomed her full access to detainees.

The Special Rapporteur’s report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2023.

Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism by the United Nations Human Rights Council. She took up her functions on 1 August 2017. Ms. Ní Aoláin is concurrently Regents Professor and Robina Professor of Law, Public Policy and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School and Professor of Law at the Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her mandate covers all countries and has most recently been renewed by Human Rights Council resolution 49/10.

The Special Rapporteurs are 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 from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights country page: Maldives

For more information and media requests please contact: Ms. Michelle ERAZO (+41 79 444 4702/ +960 785 7308) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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