Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maldives urges rich countries to rapidly ratify Paris climate agreement

Rich countries must ratify the climate change agreement reached in Paris last December, one of the world’s most at-risk nations has warned.
Thoriq Ibrahim, environment and energy minister of the Maldives, told the Guardian that there was “no time to waste”, in ratifying the agreement that was reached more than six months ago, and that it should be a matter of urgency for industrialised countries.
So far, almost the only countries to have passed the accord into law are the small islands most at risk from rising sea levels, and other smaller developing nations.
France became the first large industrialised nation to ratify the Paris agreementonly earlier this month, although a ceremony was held in New York in April at which countries were supposed to affirm their commitment to the international agreement.
At Paris, nearly 200 countries agreed to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.Most of the world’s biggest economies came forward with their own domestically-binding targets for cutting carbon in the next decade or longer.
For the poorest nations, likely to be most affected by climate change, the ratification is an urgent matter, said Ibrahim.
Coral bleaching in the Maldives during May 2016, captured by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.
“France’s ratification is not only another indication of how seriously the international community takes the Paris agreement, but it also brings us another step closer to having it take effect,” he said. “Small island states were the first 14 countries to ratify the agreement and deposit their instruments of approval with the UN. We encourage all countries, large and small, to do the same.”
He added: “The faster we bring the climate agreement into force, the faster we can take the action required. And we have no time to waste.”
One of the key issues for the Maldives is the damage being done to coral reefs, an issue recently highlighted by a major Guardian investigation into the plight of the world’s most famous corals, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Maldives have also experienced a high degree of coral bleaching, a sign of the death of reefs that comes from warming waters, pollutants and other environmental problems.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Maldives prosecutor general to appeal against ex-president's conviction

Decision based on Mohamed Nasheed’s complaint of procedural irregularities in his trial on terrorism charges.

Former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed speaks to the press, November 2013

The Maldives’ prosecutor general has said he will appeal against the conviction of former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, who was jailed for 13 years in March after a trial the UN described as “vastly unfair”.

A statement released by the prosecutor general’s office said the decision was based on Nasheed’s complaint of procedural irregularities in his trial, including “the violation of some fundamental rights and inadequate time to prepare his defence”.

“The prosecutor general of the Maldives has decided to appeal the case of former president Mohamed Nasheed,” it said.

The president, Abdulla Yameen, has faced a chorus of international criticism over the jailing of Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the archipelago, on charges of terrorism.

Nasheed’s lawyers resigned before the end of his brief trial, saying it was biased and aimed at destroying his political career.

It came at a time of growing opposition to Yameen’s government and was expected to prevent Nasheed from running for president in elections in 2018.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned in May that democracy in the Maldives was under threat, saying Nasheed had been “imprisoned without due process”, and urging a rethink.

An international team of lawyers, including London-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, has petitioned the United Nations over Nasheed’s controversial jailing.

Nasheed, a climate change activist who was imprisoned during the three-decade rule of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008. He was toppled in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops that followed weeks of protests over the arrest of a top judge who had been appointed by Gayoom.

Nasheed had ordered the arrest, and it formed the centrepiece of his prosecution.

Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom, controversially beat Nasheed in an election runoff in late 2013 despite trailing in the first round.

The Nasheed controversy has dealt a further blow to the image of the Maldives as an upmarket tourist destination, already marred by political unrest on the streets of the capital since he lost power in 2012.

In May Nasheed’s lawyer filed a petition with the UN arguing his detention was illegal and a violation of international law. His wife Laila Ali also visited Washington to lobby the White House, State Department and Congress over his detention.

The Maldives government had always insisted he had received a fair trial. But last month, Nasheed was moved out of his prison cell and confined to house arrest while he received medical treatment, in what some saw as a possible sign of softening towards him.

The Perseus of Maldives

The legend of Al-Barbari and the slaying of the sea-monster
The Perseus of Maldives
Until the first half of the 12th century, Buddhism was the principal religion in the Maldivian islands. It changed, according to legend, with the arrival in Malé of one Abu al-Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari from North Africa. The nature or purpose of his visit is unknown, but it can be assumed that al-Barbari was one of the merchants who visited the Maldives for trade. He is remembered in Maldivian folklore as a medieval Perseus, who saved a young woman marked for sacrifice from a sea-demon or sea-jinn called Rannamaari.

According to some unholy pact between the people of Maldives and Rannamaari, a virgin girl was sacrificed to the demon at regular intervals to appease its bloodlust, else its wrath would turn upon the people. The king of Maldives had the task of choosing the virgin girl.

On the appointed night, dressed like a bride, she was shut alone inside a temple near the sea and, the next morning, people visited the temple to collect her mortal remains. The demon appeased, the people of Maldives could carry on with their lives undisturbed, until it was again time for the sacrifice. Some traditions suggest Rannamaari’s visits were fortnightly; according to some, the sacrifice was made on the first day of every month; yet other accounts suggest the demon only emerged from the waters on the night of the full moon.

It so happened that the family whose hospitality al-Barbari had enjoyed during his stay in Malé had a young girl, and she was chosen by the king for sacrifice.

Al-Barbari decided to pay back his hosts for their kindness by taking the place of the girl on the night of the sacrifice. Nobody else knew about this arrangement. When it was night, al-Barbari, dressed as a bride, was led to the temple. Shut inside the temple by the priests, he waited for the demon, reciting Quranic verses.

The legend breaks here into two different traditions.

According to the first tradition, when Rannamaari emerged from the sea, it cried out in pain upon hearing the Quran being recited, and returned to the sea. The next morning, when people came to collect the remains of the girl, they found, to their surprise, the visitor from North Africa there instead, alive and unharmed.

Al-Barbari was taken to the king, where he made the proposal that if he could exorcise the monster forever, the king and his subjects would convert to Islam. The king agreed to the terms, and on the next appointed day for the sacrifice, al-Barbari returned to the temple and resumed recitation from the Quran. Before long, Rannamaari emerged from the waters but, this time, upon finding al-Barbari there, it attacked him. Al-Barbari gave fight, finally capturing and killing the monster, and drowning it in the sea.

From that day, the people of Maldives were released from its depredations, and as promised, the king converted to Islam along with his people.

But Maldivian history from the Dhanbidhu Lomafanu copperplates dating from 1193 AD tell a different story. They tell of the king’s edict, whose cause remains unclear, ordering all Maldivians to convert to Islam. The order was resisted by the people, and in an attempt to quell the rebellion, Buddhist monks were beheaded, idols broken, and temples and monasteries razed to build mosques. It was many years before the strife ended, and the Maldivians converted to Islam.

This brings us to the variant version of the Rannamaari legend. According to this tradition, as al-Barbari waited inside the temple on the first night dressed as a bride, the monster came into view. As it drew near, al-Barbari attacked it and, taking it by surprise, overpowered it. He then learnt to his amazement that the monster was none other than the king of Maldives who, with the collusion of temple priests and courtiers, used this method to satisfy his violent lust and keep his subjects in fear.
In the medieval period, the Maldives’ exports of coconut fibre and cowrie shells gave it an important status, and it is conjectured that upon learning this secret, al-Barbari manipulated the situation to his advantage by exacting a promise from the king that he and his people would convert to Islam.

The account given in the Dhanbidhu Lomafanu lends credence to this version of the legend, relating how a tyrant met his match in a cunning trader and how their complicity unleashed violence on a population.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @microMAF.

This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Maldives foreign land ownership reform bill is approved

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has approved a law passed by parliament on Wednesday which allows foreigners to own land for the first time.

Up until now the constitution prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory.

But now foreigners will be allowed to buy land provided they invest more than $1bn and provided that 70% of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.

Critics fear the move could enable China to set up bases in the Maldives.

The government has denied this, saying it wants foreign investment on a commercial basis.

It says that foreign investors will be able to buy 10% of the 298 square km (115 square miles) of naturally occurring land that make up the the Maldives.

It hopes that the move will attract offshore investors into special economic zones set up by President Yameen to make the economy less reliant on tourism.

But opposition MPs fear that the measure could enable China to establish bases in the strategically important Islamic republic, which lies within important international east-west shipping routes.

Correspondents say that any Chinese move into the Maldives is certain to be viewed suspiciously by India, which considers the Maldives archipelago to be within its sphere of influence.

"We can't ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China," Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Eva Abdulla told the AFP news agency.

But Vice President Ahmed Adeeb rejected concern over the move, pointing out that it had been done to generate foreign investment.

"We are not going to sell land to other countries, whether it's China or Saudi Arabia," he was quoted as saying by Minivan News on Thursday.

The Maldives comprises thousands of tiny coral islands located across the equator.

It has endured considerable political unrest since its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was overthrown in a coup in February 2012.

There have been frequent street protests in the capital Male since Mr Nasheed was convicted earlier this year on terrorism charges.

Maldives law 'selling' foreigners islands stokes Delhi's fears of rising Chinese role

With anyone investing $1bn now able to own land in perpetuity, concerns are growing that the Maldives will become the focus of an Indian Ocean cold war

A new law allowing foreigners to own land on the Maldives, the island nation known for luxury tourism, has sharpened regional competition for influence over one of the busiest oceans in the world.
On Thursday Abdulla Yameen, the controversial president of the Maldives, approved a law allowing foreign ownership of land in the country for the first time, triggering concern in Delhi over a possible opportunity for China to extend its reach in the Indian Ocean region.
Dozens of foreign companies already run luxury resorts on islands that they lease from the government of the honeymoon islands for a maximum of 99 years.
The law would allow foreigners who invest more than $1bn (£650m) to own land in perpetuity, provided 70% of it is reclaimed from the sea.
India has watched warily as the Maldives, which held its first free elections in 2008 after more than three decades of autocratic rule, has tilted towards China in recent years.
The two emerging Asian powers are battling for influence in the region, with Delhi concerned at what it sees as aggressive moves by Beijing in what it considers its backyard.
India won the most recent round of manoeuvring when President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka was ousted in a surprise defeat in January. Rajapaksa had increasingly looked to China for investment and diplomatic support. The new Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, has shifted Sri Lanka’s policy back towards Delhi.
The Maldives have also seen competition. An Indian company had a major contract to extend the existing airport cancelled, while the Chinese are helping to build a crucial $300m road link between the airport and the capital, Malé. India was also closer to the former president and current opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed, who was ousted in 2012 and is currently under house arrest.
Yameen went out of his way to reassure India in an address to the nation. “The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” the president was quoted as saying by the local Minivan News website.
Yameen said the foreign policy of the Maldives would not change and the new move would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries”.
Officials in Delhi said they were examining Yameen’s statements closely.
Lawmakers in the Maldives voted on Wednesday for the bill, which easily passed after a brief debate, with 70 members in favour and 14 against, the assembly said in a statement.
But opposition MPs expressed fears that their small nation, made up of about 1,200 tiny islands, would be caught in the “a cold war brewing between India and China”.
Since Nasheed was jailed for 13 years in March there have been regular protests on Malé’s streets.
Loyalists have argued that the detention of the human rights activist turned politician is an attempt to shut down opposition to the government of Yameen.
David Cameron called last month for “political dialogue [and the] release of Nasheed and all political prisoners” in the Maldives.
The Maldivian prosecutor general said on Friday that he would appeal against Nasheed’s conviction.