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World : Asia : Maldives
 
Maldives

Maldives is an isolated nation and is among the smallest and poorest countries in the world. In olden times, the islands provided the main source of cowrie shells, then used as currency throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast. Moreover, historically Maldives has had a strategic importance because of its location on the major marine routes of the Indian Ocean. Maldives' nearest neighbors are Sri Lanka and India, both of which have had cultural and economic ties with Maldives for centuries. Although under nominal Portuguese, Dutch, and British influences after the sixteenth century, Maldivians were left to govern themselves under a long line of sultans and occasionally sultanas.

Maldives gained independence in 1965. The British, who had been Maldives' last colonial power, continued to maintain an air base on the island of Gan in the southernmost atoll until 1976. The British departure in 1976 almost immediately triggered foreign speculation about the future of the air base; the Soviet Union requested use of the base, but Maldives refused.

The greatest challenge facing the republic in the early 1990s was the need for rapid economic development and modernization, given the country's limited resource base in fishing and tourism. Concern was also evident over a projected long-term rise in sea level, which would prove disastrous to the low-lying coral islands.

Maldivians consider the introduction of Islam in A.D. 1153 as the cornerstone of their country's history. Islam remains the state religion in the 1990s. Except for a brief period of Portuguese occupation from 1558-73, Maldives also has remained independent. Because the Muslim religion prohibits images portraying gods, local interest in ancient statues of the pre- Islamic period is not only slight but at times even hostile; villagers have been known to destroy such statues recently unearthed.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and he returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. Historians have established that by the fourth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism originating from Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) became the dominant religion of the people of Maldives. Some scholars believe that the name "Maldives" derives from the Sanskrit maladvipa, meaning "garland of islands." In the mid-1980s, the Maldivian government allowed the noted explorer and expert on early marine navigation, Thor Heyerdahl, to excavate ancient sites. Heyerdahl studied the ancient mounds, called hawitta by the Maldivians, found on many of the atolls. Some of his archaeological discoveries of stone figures and carvings from pre-Islamic civilizations are today exhibited in a side room of the small National Museum on Male.

Heyerdahl's research indicates that as early as 2,000 B.C. Maldives lay on the maritime trading routes of early Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus Valley civilizations. Heyerdahl believes that early sun-worshipping seafarers, called the Redin, first settled on the islands. Even today, many mosques in Maldives face the sun and not Mecca, lending credence to this theory. Because building space and materials were scarce, successive cultures constructed their places of worship on the foundations of previous buildings. Heyerdahl thus surmises that these sun-facing mosques were built on the ancient foundations of the Redin culture temples.

The interest of Middle Eastern peoples in Maldives resulted from its strategic location and its abundant supply of cowrie shells, a form of currency that was widely used throughout Asia and parts of the East African coast since ancient times. Middle Eastern seafarers had just begun to take over the Indian Ocean trade routes in the tenth century A.D. and found Maldives to be an important link in those routes. The importance of the Arabs as traders in the Indian Ocean by the twelfth century A.D. may partly explain why the last Buddhist king of Maldives converted to Islam in the year 1153. The king thereupon adopted the Muslim title and name of Sultan Muhammad al Adil, initiating a series of six dynasties consisting of eighty-four sultans and sultanas that lasted until 1932 when the sultanate became elective. The person responsible for this conversion was a Sunni Muslim visitor named Abu al Barakat. His venerated tomb now stands on the grounds of Hukuru Mosque, or miski, in the capital of Male. Built in 1656, this is the oldest mosque in Maldives. Arab interest in Maldives also was reflected in the residence there in the 1340s of the well-known North African traveler Ibn Battutah.

In 1558 the Portuguese established themselves on Maldives, which they administered from Goa on India's west coast. Fifteen years later, a local guerrilla leader named Muhammad Thakurufaan organized a popular revolt and drove the Portuguese out of Maldives. This event is now commemorated as National Day, and a small museum and memorial center honor the hero on his home island of Utim on South Tiladummati Atoll.

In the mid-seventeenth century, the Dutch, who had replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon, established hegemony over Maldivian affairs without involving themselves directly in local matters, which were governed according to centuries-old Islamic customs. However, the British expelled the Dutch from Ceylon in 1796 and included Maldives as a British protected area. The status of Maldives as a British protectorate was officially recorded in an 1887 agreement in which the sultan accepted British influence over Maldivian external relations and defense. The British had no presence, however, on the leading island community of Male. They left the islanders alone, as had the Dutch, with regard to internal administration to continue to be regulated by Muslim traditional institutions.

During the British era from 1887 to 1965, Maldives continued to be ruled under a succession of sultans. The sultans were hereditary until 1932 when an attempt was made to make the sultanate elective, thereby limiting the absolute powers of sultans. At that time, a constitution was introduced for the first time, although the sultanate was retained for an additional twenty-one years. Maldives remained a British crown protectorate until 1953 when the sultanate was suspended and the First Republic was declared under the short-lived presidency of Muhammad Amin Didi. This first elected president of the country introduced several reforms. While serving as prime minister during the 1940s, Didi nationalized the fish export industry. As president he is remembered as a reformer of the education system and a promoter of women's rights. Muslim conservatives in Male eventually ousted his government, and during a riot over food shortages, Didi was beaten by a mob and died on a nearby island.

Beginning in the 1950s, political history in Maldives was largely influenced by the British military presence in the islands. In 1954 the restoration of the sultanate perpetuated the rule of the past. Two years later, Britain obtained permission to reestablish its wartime airfield on Gan in the southernmost Addu Atoll. Maldives granted the British a 100-year lease on Gan that required them to pay £2,000 a year, as well as some forty-four hectares on Hitaddu for radio installations. In 1957, however, the new Prime Minister, Ibrahim Nasir, called for a review of the agreement in the interest of shortening the lease and increasing the annual payment. But Nasir, who was theoretically responsible to then sultan Muhammad Farid Didi, was challenged in 1959 by a local secessionist movement in the southern atolls that benefited economically from the British presence on Gan. This group cut ties with the Maldives government and formed an independent state with Abdulla Afif Didi as president. The short-lived state (1959-62), called the United Suvadivan Republic, had a combined population of 20,000 inhabitants scattered in the atolls then named Suvadiva--since renamed North Huvadu and South Huvadu--and Addu and Fua Mulaku. In 1962 Nasir sent gunboats from Male with government police on board to eliminate elements opposed to his rule. Abdulla Afif Didi fled to the then British colony of Seychelles, where he was granted political asylum.

Meanwhile, in 1960 Maldives allowed Britain to continue to use both the Gan and the Hitaddu facilities for a thirty-year period, with the payment of £750,000 over the period of 1960 to 1965 for the purpose of Maldives' economic development.

On July 26, 1965, Maldives gained independence under an agreement signed with Britain. The British government retained the use of the Gan and Hitaddu facilities. In a national referendum in March 1968, Maldivians abolished the sultanate and established a republic. The Second Republic was proclaimed in November 1968 under the presidency of Ibrahim Nasir, who had increasingly dominated the political scene. Under the new constitution, Nasir was elected indirectly to a four-year presidential term by the Majlis (legislature). He appointed Ahmed Zaki as the new prime minister. In 1973 Nasir was elected to a second term under the constitution as amended in 1972, which extended the presidential term to five years and which also provided for the election of the prime minister by the Majlis. In March 1975, newly elected Prime Minister Zaki was arrested in a bloodless coup and was banished to a remote atoll. Observers suggested that Zaki was becoming too popular and hence posed a threat to the Nasir faction.

During the 1970s, the economic situation in Maldives suffered a setback when the Sri Lankan market for Maldives' main export of dried fish collapsed. Adding to the problems was the British decision in 1975 to close its airfield on Gan in line with its new policy of abandoning defense commitments east of the Suez Canal. A steep commercial decline followed the evacuation of Gan in March 1976. As a result, the popularity of Nasir's government suffered. Maldives's twenty-year period of authoritarian rule under Nasir abruptly ended in 1978 when he fled to Singapore. A subsequent investigation revealed that he had absconded with millions of dollars from the state treasury.

Elected to replace Nasir for a five-year presidential term in 1978 was Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a former university lecturer and Maldivian ambassador to the United Nations (UN). The peaceful election was seen as ushering in a period of political stability and economic development in view of Gayoom's priority to develop the poorer islands. In 1978 Maldives joined the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Tourism also gained in importance to the local economy, reaching more than 120,000 visitors in 1985. The local populace appeared to benefit from increased tourism and the corresponding increase in foreign contacts involving various development projects. Despite coup attempts in 1980, 1983, and 1988, Gayoom's popularity remained strong, allowing him to win three more presidential terms. In the 1983, 1988, and 1993 elections, Gayoom received more than 95 percent of the vote. Although the government did not allow any legal opposition, Gayoom was opposed in the early 1990s by Islamists (also seen as fundamentalists) who wanted to impose a more traditional way of life and by some powerful local business leaders.

Whereas the 1980 and 1983 coup attempts against Gayoom's presidency were not considered serious, the third coup attempt in November 1988 alarmed the international community. About eighty armed Tamil mercenaries landed on Male before dawn aboard speedboats from a freighter. Disguised as visitors, a similar number had already infiltrated Male earlier. Although the mercenaries quickly gained the nearby airport on Hulele, they failed to capture President Gayoom, who fled from house to house and asked for military intervention from India, the United States, and Britain. Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi immediately dispatched 1,600 troops by air to restore order in Male. Less than twelve hours later, Indian paratroopers arrived on Hulele, causing some of the mercenaries to flee toward Sri Lanka in their freighter. Those unable to reach the ship in time were quickly rounded up. Nineteen people reportedly died in the fighting, and several taken hostage also died. Three days later an Indian frigate captured the mercenaries on their freighter near the Sri Lankan coast. In July 1989, a number of the mercenaries were returned to Maldives to stand trial. Gayoom commuted the death sentences passed against them to life imprisonment.

The 1988 coup had been headed by a once prominent Maldivian businessperson named Abdullah Luthufi, who was operating a farm on Sri Lanka. Ex-president Nasir denied any involvement in the coup. In fact, in July 1990, President Gayoom officially pardoned Nasir in absentia in recognition of his role in obtaining Maldives' independence.

ECONOMY

The Maldivian economy is based on tourism and fishing. Of the Maldives' 1,191 islands, only 200 are inhabited. The population is scattered throughout the country, with the greatest concentration on the capital island, Male'. Limitations on potable water and arable land constrain expansion.

Development has been centered upon the tourism industry and its complementary service sectors, transport, distribution, real estate, construction, and government. Taxes on the tourist industry have been plowed into infrastructure and used to improve technology in the agricultural sector.

GDP in 2002 totaled $640 million or about $2,200 per capita. The Maldives has experienced relatively low inflation in recent years. Real GDP growth averaged about 10% in the 1980s. It expanded by an exceptional 16.2% in 1990, declined to 4% in 1993, grew to 10% in 1998 and has since leveled to the 5% to 7% range.

The Maldives has been running a merchandise trade deficit in the range of $200 to $260 million since 1997. The trade deficit declined to $208 million in 2002 from $233 million in 2001.

International shipping to and from the Maldives is mainly operated by the private sector with only a small fraction of the tonnage carried on vessels operated by the national carrier, Maldives Shipping Management Ltd. Over the years, the Maldives has received economic assistance from multilateral development organizations, including the UN Development Program, Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank. Individual donors--including Japan, India, Australia, and European and Arab countries (including Islamic Development Bank and the Kuwaiti Fund)--also have contributed.

A 1956 bilateral agreement gave the United Kingdom the use of Gan--in Addu Atoll in the far south--for 20 years as an air facility in return for British aid. The agreement ended in 1976, shortly after the British closed the Gan air station.

In recent years, Maldives has successfully marketed its natural assets for tourism--beautiful, unpolluted beaches on small coral islands, diving in blue waters abundant with tropical fish, and glorious sunsets. Tourism now brings in about $198 million a year. Tourism and related services contributed 31% of GDP in 2002.

Since the first resort was established in 1972, more than 87 islands have been developed, with a total capacity of some 19,000 beds. The number of tourists (mainly from Europe) visiting the Maldives increased from 1,100 in 1972 to 280,000 in 1994. In 2000, tourist arrivals exceeded 466,000 and are expected to top 500,000 in 2003. The average occupancy rate is 69%, with the average tourist staying 8 days and spending about $396.

Fishing employs about 11% of the labor force and contributes 7% of GDP or 10%, including fish preparation. The use of nets is illegal, so all fishing is done by line. Production was about 164,003 metric tons in 2002, most of which was skipjack tuna. About 50% is exported, largely to Sri Lanka, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the European Union. Fresh, chilled, frozen, dried, salted, and canned tuna exports accounted for 84% of all marine product exports, split fairly evenly between the products. Total export proceeds from fish were about $56 million in 2002. The fishing fleet consists of some 1,647 small, flat-bottomed boats (dhonis). Since the dhonis have shifted from sails to outboard motors, the annual tuna catch per fisherman has risen from 1.4 metric tons in 1983 to 15.9 metric tons in 2002.

Poor soil and scarce arable land have historically limited agriculture to a few subsistence crops, such as coconut, banana, breadfruit, papayas, mangoes, taro, betel, chilies, sweet potatoes, and onions. Almost all food, including staples, has to be imported. Agriculture provides about 3% of GDP.

The industrial and manufacturing sector provides only about 9% of GDP. Traditional industry consists of boat building and handicrafts, while modern industry is limited to a few tuna canneries, five garment factories, a bottling plant, and a few enterprises in the capital producing PVC pipe, soap, furniture, and food products. The vast majority of Maldivian exports to the United States are garment products.

BELIEFS

With the exception of Shia members of the Indian trading community, Maldivians are Sunni Muslims; adherence to Islam, the state religion since the twelfth century, is required for citizenship. The importance of Islam in Maldives is further evident in the lack of a secular legal system. Instead, the traditional Islamic law code of sharia, known in Dhivehi as sariatu, forms the basic law code of Maldives as interpreted to conform to local Maldivian conditions by the president, the attorney general, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Majlis. On the inhabited islands, the miski, or mosque, forms the central place where Islam is practiced. Because Friday is the most important day for Muslims to attend mosque, shops and offices in towns and villages close around 11 a.m., and the sermon begins by 12:30 p.m. Most inhabited islands have several mosques; Male has more than thirty. Most mosques are whitewashed buildings constructed of coral stone with corrugated iron or thatched roofs. In Male, the Islamic Center and the Grand Friday Mosque, built in 1984 with funding from the Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Brunei, and Malaysia, are imposing elegant structures. The gold-colored dome of this mosque is the first structure sighted when approaching Male. In mid-1991 Maldives had a total of 724 mosques and 266 women's mosques.

Prayer sessions are held five times daily. Mudimu, the mosque caretakers, make the call, but tape recordings rather than the human voice are often used. Most shops and offices close for fifteen minutes after each call. During the ninth Muslim month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during the daylight hours. Therefore, cafés and restaurants are closed during the day, and working hours are limited. The exact occurrence of Ramadan varies each year because it depends on the lunar cycle. Ramadan begins with the new moon and ends with the sighting of the next new moon.

The isolation of Maldives from the historical centers of Islam in the Middle East and Asia has allowed some pre-Islamic beliefs and attitudes to survive. Western anthropologist Maloney during his 1970s fieldwork in Maldives reports being told by a Muslim cleric that for most Maldivians Islam is "largely a matter of observing ablutions, fasting, and reciting incomprehensible Arabic prayer formulas." There is a widespread belief in jinns, or evil spirits. For protection against such evils, people often resort to various charms and spells. The extent of these beliefs has led some observers to identify a magico-religious system parallel to Islam known as fandita, which provides a more personal way for the islanders to deal with either actual or perceived problems in their lives.

CRIMINAL CODES

Maldivians follow the sharia or Islamic law. Occasionally, the courts order convicted criminals to be flogged. Usually, however, punishment is limited to fines, compensatory payment, house arrest, imprisonment, or banishment to a remote island. The country's judicial system includes a High Court and eight lesser courts in Malé. The High Court handles politically sensitive cases and acts as a court of appeal. Each of the lesser courts deals with cases that involve debt, theft, or property claims. On other islands there are all-purpose courts. Maldives has no jury trials; Islamic law judges conduct trials, which are open to the public. The president appoints all judges and has the final word in all legal cases.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

The crime rate in Maldives is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Maldives. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Maldives will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1997 was 1.2 per 100,000 population for Maldives, 1.02 for Japan, and 6.8 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1997 was 3.2 for Maldives, compared with 1.31 for Japan and 35.92 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1997 was 20.4 for Maldives, 2.23 for Japan, and 186.05 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1997 was 7.2 for Maldives, 15.29 for Japan, and 382.04 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1997 was 37.2 for Maldives, 175.70 for Japan, and 919.57 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1997 was 659.2 for Maldives, 1117.08 for Japan, and 2886.55 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1997 was 0 for Maldives, compared with 27.34 for Japan and 505.8 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 728.4 for Maldives, compared with 1339.97 for Japan and 4922.73 for USA.

TRENDS IN CRIME

Between 1996 and 1997, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder increased from 1.18 to 1.2 per 100,000 populations, an increase of 1.69%. The rate for rape increased from 2.76 to 3.2, an increase of 15.94%. The rate of robbery increased from 9.08 to 20.4, an increase of 124.7%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 16.9 to 7.2, a decrease of 55.53%. The rate for burglary decreased from 57.64 to 37.2, a decrease of 35.46%. The rate of larceny increased from 530.21 to 659.2, an increase of 24.33%. The rate of motor vehicle theft remained the same at 0, with no increase. The rate of total index offenses increased from 617.06 to 728.4, an increase of 18.04%.

LEGAL SYSTEM

The Republic of Maldives has a parliamentary style of government with a strong executive. The President appoints the Cabinet, members of the judiciary, and one-sixth of the Parliament. The President derives additional influence from his constitutional role as the "Supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam." The unicameral legislature or the People's Majlis selects a single presidential nominee who is approved or rejected in a national referendum. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was approved for a sixth 5-year term in October. The Majlis must approve all legislation and is empowered to enact legislation without presidential approval. Civil law is subordinate to Shari'a (Islamic law), but civil law generally is applied in criminal and civil cases. The judiciary is subject to executive influence.

POLICE

The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. The National Security Service (NSS) includes the armed forces and police. The Director of the NSS reports to the Minister of Defense, a cabinet portfolio which is one of several held by the President. The police division investigates crimes, collects intelligence, makes arrests, and enforces house arrest. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

There were no political killings. However, in January, according to Amnesty International (AI), security forces allegedly beat Ali Shaahir, a prisoner at Maafushi prison, and he later died at a Male’ hospital. President Gayoom ordered an investigation, which concluded that childhood health problems had caused Shaahir’s death. Security forces killed two inmates, Hassan Eemaan Naseem and Abdulla Amin, during the September 19-20 Maafushi prison uprising. Ali Aslaam, another inmate, later died in the hospital.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The law prohibits such practices as torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, according to human rights organizations, there were reports of beatings or other mistreatment of persons in police custody during the year. According to human rights organizations, Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee, sentenced in 2002 to life imprisonment (see Section 2.a.), escaped from police custody in late May after being brought to Sri Lanka for medical treatment as a result of alleged mistreatment and harsh conditions while in Maafushi Prison.

Police initiate investigations based on response to written complaints from citizens, police officers, or government officials, or on suspicion of criminal activity. They were not required to obtain arrest warrants. The Attorney General referred cases to the appropriate court based on the results of police investigations. The authorities generally kept the details of a case secret until they were confident that the charges were likely to be upheld.

The 287-officer police force, which functioned as a subset of the NSS, investigated crimes, collected intelligence, made arrests, and enforced house arrest. Neither police corruption nor impunity posed problems during the year. The Government inquiries into the events of September 19-20 had not been concluded at year’s end.

DETENTION

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlike in the past when persons were held for long periods without charge, the Government generally respected this prohibition during the year.

A suspect may be detained in prison, remain free, or be placed under house arrest for 15 days during investigations, depending upon the charges. In most cases the suspect is released if not brought to trial within 15 days, but the President may extend pretrial detention for an additional 30 days. Those who are released pending trial may not leave a specific atoll. Within 24 hours of an arrest, an individual must be told of the grounds for the arrest. An individual then can be held for 7 days. If no legal proceedings have been initiated within 7 days, the case is referred to an anonymous 3-member civilian commission, appointed by the President, that can authorize an additional 15 days of detention. After that time, if legal proceedings still have not been initiated, a judge must sanction the continued detention on a monthly basis. There was no provision for bail.

A law effective from December 2002 provides for limited legal assistance to people accused of a criminal offense, but AI alleged that conversations between counsel and accused were conducted in the presence of police. Lawyers can be appointed in civil cases when the complainant and defendant are private individuals. Courts did not provide legal representation for the indigent. Although there is no right to legal counsel during police interrogation, detainees are granted access to family members. The Government may prohibit access to a telephone and non-family visits to those under house arrest. While there have been no reported cases of incommunicado detention in the past few years, the law does not provide safeguards against this abuse.

There were no reports of religious prisoners during the year. The law limits a citizen's right to freedom of expression in order to protect the "basic tenets of Islam." In 2002, according to AI and other sources, four individuals were arrested for distributing Islamist and anti-government literature. By year’s end, three of the men were convicted to lengthy prison sentences for extremism and subversion, and the fourth man was released.

There were no further developments in the case of Member of Parliament (M.P.) Abdullah Shakir, arrested in July 2001 and released the following month. International human rights groups claimed that he was arrested for his support of a petition to form political parties in the country, but the Government stated he was arrested on a civil matter, since resolved. There were no reports of the internal exile of citizens during the year.

COURTS

The Constitution does not provide for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary is subject to executive influence. In addition to his authority to review High Court decisions, the President influences the judiciary through his power to appoint and dismiss judges, all of whom serve at his pleasure and are not subject to confirmation by the Majlis. The President also may grant pardons and amnesties.

There are three courts: One for civil matters; one for criminal cases; and one for family and juvenile cases. There is also a High Court in Male’, which is independent of the Justice Ministry and which handles a wide range of cases, including politically sensitive ones. The High Court also acts as court of appeals. The President can appoint a five-member advisory council to review High Court rulings. The President also has authority to affirm judgments of the High Court, to order a second hearing, or to overturn the Court's decision.

Most trials are public and conducted by judges and magistrates trained in Islamic, civil, and criminal law. There are no jury trials.

The Constitution provides that an accused person be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that an accused person has the right to defend himself "in accordance with Shari'a." The judiciary generally enforced these rights. During a trial, the accused also may call witnesses, and be assisted by a lawyer. Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case.

Civil law is subordinate to Shari'a, which is applied in situations not covered by civil law as well as in certain matters such as divorce and adultery. Courts adjudicating matrimonial and criminal cases generally do not allow legal counsel in court because, according to a local interpretation of Shari'a, all answers and submissions should come directly from the parties involved. However, the High Court allowed legal counsel in all cases, including those in which the right to counsel was denied in lower court. Under the country's Islamic practice, the testimony of two women equals that of one man in matters involving Shari'a, such as adultery, finance, and inheritance. In other cases, the testimony of men and women are equivalent.

There were no confirmed reports of political prisoners. Human rights organizations continued to allege the existence of political prisoners; however, the Government maintained that these prisoners were convicted of crimes not related to politics.

CORRECTIONS

Following the September 19-20 Maafushi Prison uprising and later rioting in the streets of the capital, sparked by two prison deaths followed by another death from injuries and enhanced by popular discontent with lack of government responsiveness to public demands, President Gayoom launched two separate inquiries into the incidents. One inquiry was to investigate the civil unrest in Male’, and the other with the status of a Presidential Commission was to probe the prison disturbances. While the prison investigation continued, one NSS captain at the prison was held responsible and cashiered from police service, and 12 NSS personnel were fired for their roles in the prison disturbance. At a press conference October 16, the head of the prison investigation indicated that unspecified mistreatment of an inmate who later died sparked the prison riot. (The Deputy Chief of Staff of the NSS also was transferred to another ministry after the civilian riots.)

There were reports of public floggings (which are allowed under Shari'a as interpreted in the country). In July, 5 women imprisoned on drug charges were sentenced to 10 lashes each. In October 2002, 2 women were convicted of engaging in homosexual activity, and were sentenced to 15 lashes each. Punishments generally were limited to fines, compensatory payment, house arrest, imprisonment, or banishment to a remote atoll. The Government generally permitted those who were banished to receive visits by family members.

There were 3 major prisons in the country, with fluctuating populations of approximately 300 inmates at the country’s main facility. Prison conditions at the existing facilities generally did not meet international standards, and human rights organizations noted that some prisoners were kept in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions. The Government surveyed prison facilities in other countries to incorporate international standards and improvements in the reconstruction of the prison. Prisoners were allowed to work and were given the opportunity for regular exercise and recreation. Spouses were allowed privacy during visits with incarcerated partners. Women were held separately from men. Children were held separately from adults. Persons arrested for drug use were sent to a "drug rehabilitation center" on a space available basis.

The Government permitted prison visits by foreign diplomats. It was not known whether visits by human rights observers were permitted during the year.

WOMEN

Women's rights advocates agreed that domestic violence and other forms of violence against women were not widespread. There were no firm data on the extent of violence against women because of the value attached to privacy. Police officials reported that they received few complaints of assaults against women. Rape and other violent crimes against women were extremely rare. Under Shari'a the penalty for rape is flogging, imprisonment for up to 5 years, or banishment.

Although women traditionally have played a subordinate role in society, they participate in public life in growing numbers and gradually are participating at higher levels. Women constitute 38 percent of government employees, and approximately 10 percent of uniformed NSS personnel. Women enjoyed a higher literacy rate (98 percent) than men (96 percent). Well-educated women maintained that cultural norms, not the law, inhibited women's education and career choices. A Gender Equality Council advised the Government on policies to help strengthen the role of women. During the year, the Government continued law literacy programs and workshops on gender and political awareness in the outer atolls to make women aware of their legal rights. The Government has built 15 women's centers where family health workers can provide medical services. The centers also provide libraries and space for activities focusing on the development of women. The minimum age of marriage for women is 18 years.

Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than vice versa, absent any mutual agreement to divorce. Shari'a also governs intestate inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. A woman's testimony is equal only to one-half of that of a man in matters involving adultery, finance, and inheritance. Women who worked for wages received pay equal to that of men in the same positions.

CHILDREN

Education is not compulsory, but there is universal access to free primary education. The percentage of school-age children in school in 2002 was: (grades 1 to 5) 99 percent; (grades 6 to 7) 95 percent; and (grades 8 to 10) 51 percent. Of the students enrolled, 49 percent were female and 51 percent were male. In many instances, education for girls was curtailed after the seventh grade, largely because parents do not allow girls to leave their home island for an island having a secondary school.

Children's rights are incorporated into law, which specifically protects them from both physical and psychological abuse, including abuse at the hands of teachers or parents. The Ministry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare has the authority to enforce this law and received strong popular support for its efforts. Although unable to provide an exact number, the Ministry noted that there continued to be reports of child abuse during the year, including sexual abuse. Penalties for the sexual abuse of children range from up to 3 years' imprisonment to banishment. It was not known if there were any prosecutions for child abuse or child sexual abuse during the year.

Government policy provided for equal access to educational and health programs for both male and female children.

TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS

The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

DRUG TRAFFICKING AND MONEY LAUNDERING

The Maldives is not a major producer of narcotics or precursor chemicals. No concrete evidence exists that the Maldives is a transit point for narcotics. Some Maldivian officials believe their country may become a transshipment point, however.

Consisting of approximately 1,100 islands set in the Indian Ocean, and with a population of approximately 270,000, the Republic of the Maldives has a comparatively small drug problem, but one that appears to be growing. The government is aware of the problem and is fully cooperative with the U.S. on counter-narcotics issues. The fact that children under 16 constitute about 50 percent of the population makes police and UN International Drug Control Program officials wary of the high growth potential for drug use in the country. Nonetheless, the police believe they can control the sale of drugs on the streets of the capital and most populated city, Male. Police officials believe that some of the country’s approximately 25,000 foreign workers, mainly Indians and Sri Lankans who work in the country’s resorts, conduct most of the trafficking, which is believed to be limited.

Although there is no evidence to indicate that the Maldives is a transshipment point at this time, international observers and some government officials fear that the Maldives has the potential to become a transshipment point for smugglers. Most drugs are believed to come into the country by sea, but the Customs Service and police find it impossible to search all ships adequately. In late 2002, the government participated in training with Sri Lanka on using drug-sniffing dogs to help search vessels.

The U.S. has assisted the Maldives in counter-narcotics activities, including via direct training or through the Colombo Plan. With U.S. government funding, the Maldivian government began to computerize its immigration record-keeping system in 1993 in an attempt, among other purposes, to track the movements of suspected drug traffickers. Starting in 1996 the U.S. has contributed $33,000 to implement and then expand this computer system.

In November 1997, the Maldivian government established a Narcotics Control Board (NCB) under the Executive Office of the President. The Board’s Commissioner, a military officer, has concurrent duties in the Maldivian National Security Service. The NCB principally oversees rehabilitation of addicts and co-ordinates the efforts of NGOs and other individuals engaged in counter-narcotics activities. He also co-ordinates drug interdiction activities.

In 1997, the government established the country’s first drug rehabilitation center, with space for several dozen clients. With the expansion of the rehabilitation program, and a move to the land previously occupied by the national prison, the center now houses up to 300 clients at any one time. The center cannot keep pace with the number of people ordered to undergo rehabilitation, however. At times there are as many people under house arrest and awaiting a position in the Center as there are individuals undergoing treatment. In addition to the Center, the NCB has established a continuing prevention program designed to prevent relapse. The government also launched an ongoing drug awareness campaign in 1998. In conjunction with the national effort, the government sent teams to 11 of the 19 atolls to conduct awareness campaigns and to assist in drug detection.

The Republic of the Maldives has no extradition treaty with the United States. The Maldives is a party to the 1988 UN Convention. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Narcotic Drugs entered into force in the Maldives in 1993.

The Maldives is not considered an important regional financial center. The financial sector of the Maldives is very narrowly based with five commercial banks (one international bank, three branches of public banks from neighboring countries and the state owned bank), two insurance companies, and a government provident fund. There are no offshore banks.

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) is the regulatory agency for the financial sector. MMA has authority to supervise the banking system through the Maldives Monetary Authority Act. These laws and regulations provide the MMA access to records of financial institutions and allow it to take actions against suspected criminal activities. Banks are required to report any unusual movement of funds through the banking system on a daily basis. Separate laws address the narcotics trade, terrorism, and corruption: Law No. 17/77 on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances prohibits consumption and trafficking of narcotics. The law also prohibits laundering of proceeds from narcotics trade. Law No 2/2000 on Prevention and Prohibition of Corruption prohibits corrupt activities by both public and private sector officials. It also provides for the forfeiture of proceeds and also empowers judicial authorities to freeze accounts pending a court decision.

As of 2002, the Government of Maldives (GOM) was considering draft money laundering legislation and the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit. However, there is no recent reporting on the progress of the Maldives’ anti-money laundering program.

Law No. 10/90 on Prevention of Terrorism in the Maldives deals with some aspects of money laundering and terrorist financing. Provision of funds or any form of assistance towards the commissioning or planning any such terrorist activity is unlawful. The MMA has issued "know your customer" directives and other instructions to banks enforcing freeze order requests, which are binding on banks and other financial institutions. The MMA monitors unusual financial transactions through banks, financial institutions, and money transfer companies through its bank supervision activities. The four foreign banks operating in the country also follow instructions issued with regard to terrorist financing by their parent organizations. To date, there have been no known cases of terrorist financing activities through banks in the Maldives.

The Maldives should enact comprehensive anti-money laundering and antiterrorist financing legislation that adheres to world standards. The GOM should also become a party to the UN International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Karine Rashid Mozerka

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Dr. Robert Winslow
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San Diego State University