Amnesty International has urged the Maldives government to reconsider ending the 60-year moratorium on the death penalty. There is growing political unrest in the Maldives and this move is seen as an attempt by the President, Abdulla Yameen, to silence dissenters and distract from the leadership’s troubles. President Yameen stated in 2014 that the moratorium on executions would be lifted and legislation has since been amended. These amendments include a breach of international human rights law through the removal of the power to grant pardons by the executive for intentional murder. Of those on death row, Amnesty International reported that at least five were under the age of 18 when the crimes were committed, which again breaches international law as no minors can be executed for their crimes. The Telegraph reported that Richard Branson, of Virgin Airlines, has asked that tour operators remove their services from the nation if they go ahead with the executions.
Amnesty International’s South Asia Director, Biraj Patnaik said, “The executions are a transparent ploy by the government to distract attention from its own woes. It is alarming that they would think of depriving people of their right to life just to ensure their own political survival.” Patnaik also warned of the backwards step this action would cause saying, “For more than sixty years, the Maldives led the way in the region by shunning this cruel and irreversible punishment. Now, when most of the world has rid itself of the death penalty, the country risks being on the wrong side of history and earning global notoriety for reviving its use.” This sentiment was echoed by Branson who said the decision to return to executions was “an awful political move that will send the country back to the Dark Ages of human rights.”
It is important that the international community condemn the actions of the government in the Maldives. It is a significant step in the wrong direction to allow it after many years. It is also questionable as to why it is necessary if the country has been without the death penalty for 60 years, what could the current justification be to bring it back? As alluded to by Patnaik, it is likely the government is trying to move attention away from its troubles. This should heighten the interest from other countries, as human rights abuses are likely to occur. Patnaik summed up this sentiment saying, “When lives are at stake, it is all the more critical that safeguards of due process are strictly observed. People’s lives are too precious to be ended with cruel haste. The Maldives still has time to turn back, consolidate its positive record on the death penalty, and impose a full moratorium on its implementation as first step.”
Richard Branson’s request for tour operators to cease business, or at least condemn the actions of the President, provides the opportunity for organizations, rather than states, to get involved and help create social change. The Maldives relies heavily on tourism and operators could have significant influence if they restrict tourism in the country. It is often hard for states to enforce obligations on other states through words alone, whereas the actions and condemnation from tour operators could be enough to halt the executions, or at least force more conversation and deliberation on the issue. Using means other than international negotiations and sanctions provides a mechanism for effecting change without causing too much strife for the citizens of the country who have little to do with the actions of an unpopular leader.
The Maldives are on the verge of making a terrible and terrifying move, that will set back the human rights of their citizens and all global citizens. The death penalty is not acceptable and breaches international human rights. There is still an opportunity for the government to step back and reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty. Regardless, it is important that figures such as Richard Branson step up and encourage action from other interested parties to try to create positive change for all people. People and organizations that benefit from and enjoy the land should ensure the safety and well-being of its people are protected. The international community must also express its concern and condemnation, and work with organizations who can influence change for the area. Together, enough pressure can be exerted on the government, rather than the people, in order to achieve the positive change desired.