Maldives opposition seeks UN-mediated talks to end crisis

The opposition alliance said they had enlisted British lawyer Ben Emmerson to advise them on securing UN mediation in the crisis.
The opposition alliance said they had enlisted British lawyer Ben Emmerson to advise them on securing UN mediation in the crisis.PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - The Maldivian opposition said on Tuesday (Feb 27) it had hired a former United Nations rights rapporteur to push the global body to intervene in a political deadlock that has roiled the troubled honeymoon islands.

The opposition alliance, which includes the parties of former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said they had enlisted British lawyer Ben Emmerson to advise them on securing UN mediation in the crisis.

Mr Emmerson, a UN special rapporteur until last year, is also a member of Nasheed's pro-bono international legal team, which includes high-profile rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

His appointment follows reports that President Abdulla Yameen, who declared a state of emergency in a crackdown on dissent earlier this month, had declined an offer from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for multi-party talks.

Mr Emmerson will "advise the joint opposition in discussions with UN officials" on possible talks with Mr Yameen's administration, the Colombo-based opposition alliance said in a statement.

Mr Yameen has stepped up a crackdown on opposition activists, including his estranged half brother and ex-president Gayoom, since imposing a draconian state of emergency on Feb 5.

He has also arrested the chief justice after the Supreme Court ordered political prisoners be released, and stripped parliament of its power using emergency laws to head off impeachment.

Mr Yameen's education minister Aishath Shiham on Tuesday told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that the Supreme Court's "judicial overreach" had threatened democracy in the Maldives.

"In order to uphold the integrity of the constitution, drastic action was necessary. The president declared a state of emergency. This decision was not taken lightly," she said.

The Council of the European Union on Monday (Feb 26) urged Mr Yameen to end the state of emergency, release all political prisoners and restore rule of law. It warned of sanctions if Mr Yameen failed to comply.

"The current situation is not in accordance with the principles of democratic rule and separation of powers," the Council said.

"If the situation does not improve, the Council may therefore consider targeted measures."

It said the European Union was ready to support any UN facilitation of talks between Maldivian parties to end the standoff, which it said threatened the safety of residents and tourists visiting the popular holiday islands.

Last week Mr Yameen's regime warned India against interfering in the crisis after New Delhi, once seen as Male's closest ally, expressed dismay over the president extending the state of emergency.

Mr Yameen has jailed almost all his political opponents since coming to power in late 2013 and the resulting fall-out has dented the nation's image as a popular holiday destination.

Amnesty International on Tuesday called on authorities to "unconditionally release" all those detained under the emergency provisions.