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Statements Special Procedures
09 December 2021
At the invitation of the Government, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducted an official visit to Maldives from 29 November to 9 December 2021. The Working Group was represented by Ms. Elina Steinerte (Latvia, Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Leigh Toomey (Australia) and Ms. Priya Gopalan (Malaysia) and accompanied by staff from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
This is the first official visit of the Working Group to the country and the Working Group extends its gratitude and appreciation to the Government of Maldives for the invitation to undertake this country visit and for its cooperation. In particular, it met with the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, the Supreme Court, Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Prosecutor General, Police Service, Maldives Correctional Services Commission of Prisons, Judicial Service Commission, Maldives Immigration, National Drug Agency, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, National Integrity Commission, Commission on Disappearances and Deaths, and Human Rights and Gender Committee of the Majlis.
The Working Group would like to thank the United Nations Country Team, the Resident Coordinator and their staff for supporting the visit. The Working Group also recognizes the numerous stakeholders within the country who shared their perspectives on the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, including representatives from civil society and lawyers. The Working Group thanks all of them for the information and assistance they provided.
The observations presented today constitute the preliminary findings of the Working Group. They will serve as a basis for future deliberations between the members of the Working Group at its forthcoming sessions in Geneva. The Working Group will then submit its report to the UNHRC in September 2022.
The Working Group visited 14 places of deprivation of liberty, including police custodial facilities, immigration detention centres, prisons, drug treatment and rehabilitation centres, facilities for children, elderly and those with disabilities. It was able to confidentially interview over 85 persons deprived of their liberty.
Ratification of international human rights instruments
The Working Group welcomes the approval by the Majlis to proceed in ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, noting that enforced disappearances constitute an aggravated form of arbitrary detention. The Attorney-General is drafting the legislation required to incorporate the Convention into Maldivian law.
In September 2019, the Maldives ratified the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The Maldives was among the first countries to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in February 2006.
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)
The establishment of the HRCM on 10 December 2003 was an important step. Under section 20 of the Human Rights Commission Act (No. 6/2006), it is to make inquiries in relation to human rights complaints and violations. However, the HRCM is constrained due to insufficient financial and human resources, including those needed to discharge its mandate effectively and to establish a presence in the north of the country. The independence of the HRCM must be strictly respected, consistent with its status under article 189 of the Constitution.
In 2021, the Maldives Police Service Act (No. 34/2020) came into force, which seeks to professionalise the Police Service and to address misconduct. It establishes a Police Board composed of civilians which has power to recommend the removal of officers who do not meet professional standards.
The Bar Council of the Maldives
In 2019, the Bar Council of the Maldives was established, recognizing the importance of an independent body empowered to represent practitioners throughout the country. Its ability to oversee self-regulation of the legal profession and its continuous improvement is essential in ensuring effective legal assistance to persons deprived of their liberty.
Oversight over places of deprivation of liberty
Section 21 of the Human Rights Commission Act vests the HRCM with authority to inspect any premises where persons are detained. The HRCM has also been designated as the National Preventive Mechanism under the OPCAT. In addition, the National Integrity Commission, the Inspector of the Correctional Service, Prosecutor-General, Child Ombudsperson, and several Parliamentary Committees have authority to conduct visits to places of deprivation of liberty.
Regular oversight over detention facilities prevents and reduces arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The range of State and non-governmental entities with mandates to conduct monitoring is positive. However, it is important that monitoring is well coordinated. Some detainees were not been able to meet with representatives of monitoring bodies, and if they have held meetings, have received no further follow-up. It is also essential that complaints can be made confidentially. The efforts made by the Inspector of the Correctional Service to initiate confidential Skype calls with the families of detained persons is a good practice.
Accountability for past human rights violations
In December 2020, the Government ratified the Transitional Justice Act (No. 28/2020) and established the Office of the Ombudsperson for Transitional Justice, seeking to redress state-led violations from 1 January 1953 to 17 November 2018.
In November 2018, the Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances was established to investigates the large number of unresolved deaths and enforced disappearances that occurred between 2012 and 2018. Although it has reportedly been challenging to obtain evidence, the Commission is an example of a program working to deliver justice and offer closure to victims and their families.
Engagement with international human rights mechanisms
The Working Group commends the spirit of openness and cooperation of the Government of Maldives towards the United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms. The present visit of the Working Group and the recent visits of other UN Special Procedures is a clear expression of such constructive engagement.
The Maldives has established a National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow Up, which has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of recommendations made by international human rights bodies. Since 2015, the Working Group has adopted four opinions in relation to the Maldives, and was informed that three of these have been subject to court orders recognising the illegality of the proceedings. Additionally, the Government should implement the views of the Human Rights Committee (Communication No. 2785/2016).
Detention in the context of criminal justice
Presentation before a judicial authority following an arrest or detention
Article 48(d) of the Constitution requires that anyone arrested or detained is presented before a judge within twenty-four hours to determine the validity of detention. This provision is consistently implemented. While this is very encouraging, presentation before a judicial authority as required by articles 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) require that the judicial hearing is meaningful, involving consideration of whether the imposition of pre-trial detention is justified in each case. In many cases, pre-trial detention hearings reportedly lack examination of individual circumstances.
The Working Group was informed that many pre-trial detention requests are sought by the police on the basis of an ‘intelligence report’ which is not disclosed to the detained person and/or their lawyer and is reportedly accorded a very high probative value by the courts. This effectively prevents the person from challenging the legality of his/her detention, as the reasons for requesting pre-trial detention are not disclosed.
Article 49 of the Constitution provides that pre-trial detention shall be an exceptional measure. During its visit, the Working Group observed that pre-trial detainees constitute nearly 30% of those currently held in detention facilities across the country. Overall, across the pre-trial detention population, there is an excessive period of pre-trial detention. While the average time spent in pre-trial detention according to the authorities is about 1.5 years, it is very common for people to be in pre-trial detention for 3-4 years and even longer. This is incompatible with the obligations under article 9 of the ICCPR.
Given the large number and excessive length of pre-trial detention, pre-trial facilities operate over capacity and many pre-trial detainees are in police custody for months and even years. Police custody is not designed to hold people for such prolonged periods of time, the regime applicable is not addressing the needs of those held for long periods of time and the staff lack the requisite training.
Contrary to the requirements of article 10 of the ICCPR as well as the Prison and Parole Act, some prisons in the Maldives hold together pre-trial and sentenced detainees. The Working Group recalls that all non-convicted detainees have the right to be presumed innocent and to be held in decent conditions, which respect their presumption of innocence and status as non-convicted persons. Pre-trial detention should be an exceptional measure and the authorities are encouraged to urgently revise the current practice to make greater use of alternatives to detention, including conditional release, bail and reporting.
Right to legal assistance
The Working Group is seriously concerned about the practical implementation of the right to legal assistance. It learned that many detainees do not have unfettered access to their legal counsel during their pre-trial detention and during trial proceedings. In order to access their lawyers, the detainees must complete a form, which is to be submitted to the officers who then act upon the request. In practice, this means that a request to meet a lawyer takes at least two days to receive a response. Moreover, a detainee can only speak with a lawyer who has registered with the Correctional Services as the lawyer of the specific detainee. This means further delays in practice if there are any errors with such registration and moreover prevents the detainee from contacting a lawyer of his/her choosing, a right embodied in article 14(3)(b) of the ICCPR. Thus the Working Group spoke with numerous detainees who were facing significant delays in contacting their lawyers while some were unable to do so at all.
Criminal proceedings are regularly subject to extensive delays, in some cases lasting for several years before the trial is concluded and a sentence pronounced. One reason why delays occur is reportedly because the courts do not hold continuous hearings. There is a practice of scheduling a trial hearing for a short period and for the next hearing to be scheduled in the following month. This does not lead to efficient handling of trial matters, many of which could be completed within two weeks if hearings were held every day. According to articles 9(3) and 14(3)(c) of the ICCPR, defendants must be tried within a reasonable time and without undue delay. Section 142(b) of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that once the trial begins it shall be continued until the end without intervals. The Working Group recommends that government agencies, including the Police Service and Prosecutor-General, work with the Department of Judicial Administration to establish case management procedures and published court schedules that allow continuous hearings to take place.
The use of anonymous witnesses is reportedly practiced in criminal proceedings, particularly in cases involving gang violence or murder, when witnesses have reason to fear retaliation for their testimony. This practice violates fair trial guarantees, particularly under article 14(3)(e) of the ICCPR. The Attorney-General has proposed an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act as a temporary measure until more comprehensive legislation on witness protection can be enacted. While it may be difficult to effectively protect witnesses in small communities across the Maldives, including Malé, it is an initiative that should be pursued in ensuring fair trial guarantees to the defence.
The Working Group was informed of some 400 individuals whose sentences have been deferred. Such cases would include individuals who were sentenced to a term of imprisonment and released temporarily on medical leave but have not been recalled due to an administrative error or the facility lacking space. The Working Group received testimony of individuals who have been in this situation for over ten years. In practice, such individuals can be recalled to prison at any time. The outstanding sentence also appears on their record, which prevents them from securing employment or claiming state benefits. Recalling someone to complete their prison service after such excessive delays, which are entirely due to the authorities, is unjustified.
Imprisonment for debt
Despite the prohibition of imprisonment for non-fulfilment of a contractual obligation under Article 55 of the Constitution, the Working Group came across several cases where individuals were de facto imprisoned for inability to repay a debt. In most cases, the individual would be imprisoned for contempt of court. However, the grounds for contempt of court would be the failure of the individual to comply with the order of the court to repay a debt or another contractual obligation. This situation arises due to the absence of other options to repay the debt, including effective legal regulation of bankruptcy.
While prison terms imposed in such cases are measured in months, the prohibition of imprisonment for debt under article 11 of the ICCPR is absolute and forms part of customary international law. The Government should address the issue immediately.
From the outset, the Working Group commends that Section 29 of the Child Rights Protection Act 19/2019 sets the age of criminal responsibility at 15. It invites the Government to further advance by raising the age of criminal responsibility, recalling that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as a child anyone under the age of 18.
The recent adoption of the Juvenile Justice Act 18/2019, coupled with the Child Rights Protection Act 19/2019, is an important step in bringing the Maldives in line with its obligations under the CRC in the area of child justice. These Acts adopt a progressive stance towards child justice, placing an emphasis upon diversion of children from the formal criminal justice process and emphasizing that deprivation of liberty of a child should be a measure of last resort. The Working Group observed that in practice, the detention of children is not widespread and commends the Government for this major achievement.
The delivery of child justice locally is essential for its effectiveness and the approach of utilising the relatively newly conferred powers upon local councils through the 2019 amendments to the Decentralisation Act 2010 to achieve this. However, the diversion routes required by the Juvenile Justice Act 18/2019 are still to be implemented. In this regard, the Working Group commends the IBAMA initiative, designed in cooperation with UNICEF and now part of the Government’s Strategic Action Plan and urges swift implementation.
Equally, the Juvenile Justice Act 18/2019 requires that children in conflict with the law, if sentenced, should be placed in a child-friendly facility specifically designed to hold children. During the visit, however, there were no such facilities in the whole country and the Working Group was informed only of the plans to establish such facilities in the near future. This means that the few children who are currently detained in the Maldives, are held in facilities for adults albeit separated.
Conditions of detention
Severe overcrowding remains an issue in most detention facilities, which are over capacity. The Working Group observed that remand prisoners were held in the same prisons and conditions as convicted detainees, in some prisons in cells that had no lights, no ventilation or fans in conditions of tropical heat, and water leakages. Yard time was limited, with some detainees held in their cells for the entire day and only allowed out once a month. For example, in Male Prison, detainees would be allowed out of their cell in a large cage, measuring approx. 8m by 4m, situated in the courtyard. The vast majority of the detainees did not have beds or even sleeping mattresses and in some cells, the number of detainees were such that sleeping had to take place in very close quarters with some detainees being unable to stretch their legs.
The Working Group is concerned that medical services located in some prisons are inadequate. While the Working Group welcome recent efforts by the Correctional Services to implement the Mandela Rules, it concludes that conditions of detention do not generally meet international standards. Holding detainees in such conditions may adversely affect their ability to effectively participate in proceedings.
Detention in the context of drug control
The Maldives is experiencing a very high rate of substance use. A recent mapping exercise by the National Drug Agency (NDA) revealed that there is currently a much wider range in the age of substance users from 17 to 68 years’ old. While the Drugs Act (No. 17/2011) envisages a progressive approach to the treatment of addiction as a health issue, the actual approach to drug offences remains punitive, resulting in the incarceration of a large number of persons who could receive more effective treatment in voluntary community-based programs.
Rehabilitation ordered by the Drug Court
The Working Group visited the Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre (DTRC), which is operated under the NDA. There are two ways of receiving treatment for addiction at there: by voluntary admission and by order of the Drug Court in Malé, with approximately 90 per cent of all current admissions taking place pursuant to a court order. A person who is undergoing voluntary treatment is reportedly free to leave the DTRC at any time, while a person who has been admitted under a court order is in effect detained, as he or she may not leave before the treatment program is completed without risking the suspended sentence for the drug offence, usually three years of imprisonment, being reimposed. In some cases, individuals had been detained for the possession or consumption of alcohol despite the provision in section 121(b) of the Drugs Act exempting alcohol from the general offence of using a substance for the purpose of being intoxicated.
According to the information received, a person brought before the Drug Court is required to submit to an assessment by a panel of NDA experts of his or her drug dependency, as well as their willingness and suitability to complete a rehabilitation program. If the person is considered eligible, the Drug Court will suspend the three-year sentence that would otherwise have been imposed and he or she will be transferred to the DTRC for treatment for between four to six months. However, there are usually long waiting list for males but not females admission to the DTRC, resulting in relapsing and the suspended sentence being reactivated.
Individuals who complete the rehabilitation program are released but must complete a further community treatment. During this period, the individuals must regularly report to the police, provide a urine sample, and attend NDA counselling.
Some individuals were considered to have failed these requirements. In some cases this occurred due to lockdown restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, because they could not afford transportation to regularly register with the NDA, or could not afford living expenses in Malé. These individuals were then sent to prison to serve the original sentence for three years. In some cases, this occurred after the individuals were no longer drug dependent and had settled into family life with new employment or educational opportunities. The progressive ethos of the Drugs Act is limited by the absence of flexibility given to those tasked with enforcing drug control measures, including the NDA, to apply discretion to prevent injustice in individual cases. However, the Working Group welcomes information received that the practice of giving three chances to meet the requirements of the program is positive.
Giving drug dependent persons a choice between being incarcerated and rehabilitation does not serve as an incentive to improve their health, only to avoid prison. The rate of relapse is high. Positive, evidence-based messaging through the media and other publicly accessible resources may assist in reducing stigmatisation in the community and promote better understanding of the health issues surrounding substance use. The levels of stigma faced by female substance users is reportedly very high, and further data on substance use by women is needed to inform policy development. The fact that drug policy now falls under the Ministry of Health is a step in the right direction toward drug dependency being treated as a health issue.
Sentences imposed under the previous drug regime
Some detainees had received very heavy sentences under the previous drug legislation, in some cases multiple sentences of up to 25 years’ imprisonment, but did not receive the benefit of a lighter sentence under the current Drugs Act. Several detainees could not afford a lawyer and, given that the offence was not considered serious under the previous legislation, a public defender was not provided. While the sentences of some detainees in this situation had been reviewed and reduced by the courts, in many cases this had not occurred and does not appear to be a consistent practice.
Article 59 of the Maldives Constitution states that if the punishment for an offence has been reduced between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the lesser punishment. While this provision does not cover the situation of persons already sentenced under the previous drug legislation, the Working Group urges the authorities to apply the spirit of this article in extending leniency to persons detained under the previous legislation, consistent with the obligations of the Maldives under article 15(1) of the ICCPR. The authorities should grant clemency applications to all detainees in this situation.
Absence of medical treatment for withdrawal symptoms
Many detainees who are arrested and detained in a police custodial, remand or prison facility, experience withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, while the authorities noted the availability of medical care within the facility, detainees who had a substance addiction, at most received painkillers for withdrawal symptoms. This raises concern that detainees, particularly in the early stages of the criminal justice process, may be interrogated while they are under the influence of substances, potentially resulting in involuntary statements or confessions. The Working Group urges the authorities to ensure that the NDA is sufficiently funded to provide in-house detoxification treatment to custodial, remand and convicted detainees.
Detention in the context of counter-terrorism measures
While there is a need to address violent extremism, a balance must be struck between national security and compliance with the international human rights obligations. The Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council have unequivocally affirmed that any counter-terrorism measures must be consistent with international law, including human rights norms.
Prevention of Terrorism Act
Recent amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (No. 32/2015) have been approved by the Majlis which continue to permit law enforcement officers to arrest and search persons suspected of terrorism without a court order, contrary to articles 46 and 47 of the 2008 Constitution. The amendments to the Act also reportedly permit the arrest and detention of suspects for 48 hours prior to being brought before a judge, contrary to article 48(d) of the Constitution.
Law enforcement may interrogate suspects within six hours of their apprehension, limiting their ability to obtain legal assistance within this short timeframe. The authorities have a period of 90 days to bring charges against suspects, contrary to the right under article 51(a) of the Constitution of everyone charged with an offence to be informed “without delay” of the specific offence and under article 9(2) of the ICCPR to be “promptly” informed of the charges.
The Working Group considers that the challenges of securing evidence in terrorism cases and practices elsewhere should not take precedence over constitutional rights and international standards.
Rehabilitation at the National Reintegration Centre
The National Reintegration Centre (NRC) has been built on Himmafushi Island and will serve as a facility where Maldivians repatriated from conflict zones will be rehabilitated. The NRC, which will operate under the Ministry of Home Affairs, is not yet operational. While there were no detainees present during the Working Group’s visit, the facilities at the NRC suggest that it is being prepared to hold a large number of individuals.
According to the information received, a risk assessment committee composed of government agencies will determine within 30 days whether repatriated individuals, including children, were the victims or perpetrators of terrorism. Individuals undergoing such an assessment will be detained until the risk assessment committee presents its recommendations to a court. If repatriated individuals are determined to be victims (for example, of trafficking or grooming online), they will be required to undergo a rehabilitation process. Those individuals who are determined to be perpetrators will be brought to trial for terrorism offences and may be required to undergo rehabilitation. The Working Group is concerned that individuals will be detained at the NRC, potentially indefinitely, until a court orders that rehabilitation is complete. Any assessment process must itself be human rights compliant and the criteria for making a determination must be transparent. The assessment must also consider the gender and age of repatriated individuals with special attention and care in assessing risks involving children.
Monitoring and control (or ‘monicon’) orders may also be made against individuals for up to one year. These orders are reportedly supervised by the Maldives Police Service, and allow the placement of suspects under electronic monitoring by ankle bracelet and other restrictions of movement. It is unclear whether such an order can be challenged in court. The detention at the NRC of one individual who was arrested in October 2020 on suspicion of terrorist activities in Syria. He was subsequently released but is currently under a ‘monicon’ order.
The Working Group is concerned that the detention of the repatriated individuals at the NRC will be prolonged and indefinite. While those held at the NRC will undergo psychological treatment and an educational program, it is unknown exactly what rehabilitation will entail. It is of concern that the exact purpose of the NRC has not been clarified. Moreover, it is also not clear how repatriated children will safely be housed alongside men and women who have returned from a conflict zone, nor how a risk assessment will be carried out in relation to children, appropriately distinguishing between the responsibilities of adults and juveniles. In accordance with the CRC, children should be treated as victims of terrorism, and in the rare cases where prosecution is sought, it should take place through the juvenile justice system.
Special Management Unit
A Special Management Unit (or SMU) with 50 cells and capacity to hold 100 detainees has been built at Maafushi Prison. The SMU will segregate and seek to rehabilitate inmates who have been identified through a risk assessment process as holding extreme views. At present, 45 inmates at Maafushi Prison have been assessed as posing such a risk. The assessment is an administrative process, which will be repeated every six months or during random assessments. The assessment can be challenged before the Commissioner of the Correctional Service, who has the authority to order re-assessment. However, the Working Group is concerned that the SMU will be used to detain persons who have peacefully exercised their rights.
Detention in the context of migration
The Maldives is highly reliant on a migrant labour force, mostly from Bangladesh, a large majority of which is undocumented. The Working Group observed that migrant workers in detention have limited rights, including in accessing justice.
The Immigration Act 2007 does not expressly permit the detention in the context of migration. However, the Immigration Controller detains individuals, potentially indefinitely, under article 21(d) of the Act. Migrants are typically arrested by the police, referred to Maldives Immigration, and held in a detention facility operated by the Maldives Correctional Service.
They are not presented before a judge to review the legality of their detention and no legal assistance is provided. As proceedings and communications are conducted in Dhivehi, many migrants face a language barrier, even in requesting contact with their embassies. According to testimony received, very limited consular assistance is available and migrants are also hampered by a lack of knowledge on accessing and navigating the legal system.
The Working Group is concerned over the informality of some immigration detention facilities. For example, it was informed of an informal unregistered facility of a State-owned company where large numbers of foreign workers were de facto detained following an incident on an island resort. The decision to release a migrant in detention can be based on negotiations between employer and the Maldives Immigration approves the release. The ability of employers to negotiate release places migrants in a position of vulnerability. In addition, while witness testimony can be taken prior to trial under the Criminal Procedure Act, migrants who are witnesses in criminal proceedings remain detained in immigration detention for years. Furthermore, female migrants are currently subjected to a system of citations and monitoring, owing to a lack of dedicated facility.
In principle, detention in the migration context should be exceptional, based on an individualized assessment of the need to detain, subject to judicial review, and for the shortest period of time. The Working Group urges the Government to bring its immigration regime in compliance with international standards.
The Maldives is not a Party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. There is no asylum adjudication, nor any national refugee protection mechanisms, contrary to the right to seek asylum under article 14(1) of the UDHR. The Working Group encourages building Government and local civil society capacity to identify those in need of international protection.
Detention in the context of social care
People with psychosocial disabilities
The Working Group was informed of the draft Mental Health Act will set out the legal framework for both voluntary and involuntary admissions to the facility for persons with psychosocial disabilities. According to the draft Act, the Mental Health Tribunal will determine whether to confine persons to mental health facilities. Aside from a separate, six-bed ward in the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male, the Guraidhoo Home for Persons with Special Needs (HPSN) is the only facility in the Maldives for persons with psychosocial disabilities. Some of the hospitals on the islands, like the Addu Equatorial Hospital, have set aside one room for those in acute mental health situations. Such rooms are rarely used, mainly owing to the lack of professional staff to provide medical care. In fact, the Working Group was informed that in the whole of the Maldives there are only a few psychiatrists and psychologists, with exceptionally limited number of other mental health experts.
The current legal framework applicable to the involuntary admission to a mental health facility is found in a regulation described to the Working Group as ‘opaque’ and ‘lacking in precision’. In principle, involuntary admissions require a referral from a psychiatrist. It is unclear whether and how such can be challenged. There is immense stigma towards those with psychosocial disability with their communities rejecting such individuals thus preventing their return after discharge. This is a very serious problem and the Working Group implores the Government to undertake public awareness campaigns to combat this prejudice.
When visiting the Guraidhoo HPSN, the Working Group encountered 23 individuals who while discharged from the facility, are still residing there as their families are refusing to accept them back. If their families are unwilling to accept them, here is no place for them to go to currently in the Maldives and there is no community based care, especially aftercare, available. These individuals therefore have no choice but to remain in HPSN, potentially indefinitely. Remaining in the HPSN prevents them from engaging in employment or any education or vocational training. The Working Group was informed of the plans to open a half-way house for those who have been discharged at Villigili island in the first quarter of 2022. However this will provide some 20 places and noting that the HPSN already has 23 discharged patients, clearly will not address the current needs.
The Working Group observed the impossible working conditions imposed upon the staff of the HPSN. Operating over capacity (and with a long waiting list), the facility is served by one medical officer, three nurses and one physiotherapist, with the remaining staff being caretakers and administrative staff. There is no in-house psychiatrist or psychologist or counsellors or other medical professionals urgently required to serve the diverse health needs of the individuals held in the facility. Noting that the facility has been relatively recently passed under the remit to the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, it has become harder to engage with the scarce medical professionals that work in Male hospital or on the Guraidhoo island itself, as they fall under the Ministry of Health. This is coupled by chronic underfunding, whereby the facility is struggling to provide the most basic care. Although some additional funding has been recently provided, it is plainly insufficient.
The dedication and good will of the staff who are going above and beyond what can be expected was obvious but this is unsustainable. The situation in which the staff is left to provide care is truly deplorable and calls for immediate attention. The individuals held in HPSN and their care staff appear to be forgotten. The Government must address this situation with utmost urgency.
Care for the elderly
The Working Group learned that there is no coherent legal regulation to protect the elderly. While the regulation applicable to disability and domestic violence address some of the concerns in this area, this is very fragmented and incomplete. The draft Elderly Protection Law is expected to be considered by the legislature in February 2022.
There are no facilities for elderly in the whole of the Maldives and no community-based service. The only official, currently operating facility in the country which holds the elderly is the HPSN which is in fact is a facility for persons with psychosocial disabilities. At the time of the Working Group’s visit the facility held 25 elderly persons, sometimes in wards mixed with psychiatric patients. This is incompatible with international law and is acknowledged by the authorities. The Working Group was informed of the plans to open such facility in Addu. However it is already clear that the planned places in that facility will not be able to address the current needs.
The HPSN lacks the requisite in-house expertise in the geriatric care and suffers from staggering underfunding. The Working Group urges the Government to prioritise the care for those most vulnerable, including the elderly and emphasizes the provision of appropriate care in the community, confining the elderly to facilities only when no other possibility exists.
Children under State care
The Working Group commends the adoption of the Child Rights Protection Act 19/2019 setting out the legal framework for the protection of the children’s rights. Section 10 of this Act requires the state to provide special care and protection for children removed temporarily or more permanently from their families, based on the best interests of the child. In practice, the Working Group was informed that authorities make every effort to resettle a child requiring care with wider family members or make alternative arrangements. There are also facilities available for children who cannot be thus resettled and the Working Group was informed of such facilities being available in atolls as well as nearby Male. During its visit, the Working Group observed staff working with children in need of care and commends the flexible approach adopted in some cases, allowing unique solutions to the individual situations. However, as many other areas, also provision of care for such children is severely underfunded and lacks the diverse professional staff.
As noted above, the HPSN is the only facility for people with psychosocial disabilities in the Maldives. As such, it also holds those under the age of 18 and owing the facility operating over capacity, the two children are held together with adults. The staff were left with no option as there is no other place in the whole country for these children. The Working Group urges the Government to ensure immediate compliance with its obligations under the CRC as well as Section 18 of the Child Rights Protection Act 19/2019 recognising the right of every disabled child to a dignified life.
These are the preliminary findings of the Working Group. We look forward to continue to engage in the constructive dialogue with the Government of the Maldives over the following months while we determine our final conclusions in relation to this country visit. We acknowledge with gratitude the willingness of the Government to invite the Working Group and note that this is an opportunity for introducing reforms to address situations, which may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.