UN concerned over condition of Maldivian correctional facilities

UN representative, Nils Melzer has expressed concern over the condition of Maldivian correctional facilities and stated that it violated human rights.

Nils Melzer is the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. On November 1, 2016 he took up the function of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The representative arrived in Maldives on November 17, and visited correctional facilities around the country to assess the condition of facilities. During his visit, Melzer met with senior government officials and evaluated anti-torture laws, policies and frameworks.

Speaking to the press on Sunday, Melzer revealed that he visited ten facilities inclusive of the central jails in Maldives and met with officials and inmates at the facilities. One of the major issues identified was overcrowding, said Melzer.

"The biggest issue we identified is that there are 150 - 190% more inmates, along with those awaiting trial, jailed at the facilities than it can hold," Melzer noted.

He used Maafushi Jail as an example, where 969 people are being held in the space meant for 655 male inmates.

Describing the poor condition of the facilities, Melzer said that inmates were not given access to sufficient clean air, or sunlight. He highlighted that while they were allowed out of their jail cells for an hour per week, they were not given the opportunity to exercise.

"While family visits are scheduled once a month, each inmate is allowed two phone calls of seven minutes each. They are not given the option of calling for a longer duration, even on their personal expense."

Melzer said it was beyond his comprehension why inmates were being held without access to fresh air and sunlight while the number of inmates are small compared to the population of the country. The poor treatment of inmates can be regarded as inhuman treatment, he added.

Juvenile Detention Centers needed

Melzer expressed his concern over lack of any established facilities in Maldives specific to juvenile delinquents. While there are jail cells specialized for children, rehabilitation, and educational programs are not conducted to assist them to re-enter society.

"Such places do not punish children through means appropriate to their age. I recognized that there have been no efforts to rehabilitate, educate, and prepare children to re-enter society."

He also highlighted that inmates under the age of 18 are frequently victims of violence as well.

'Zero Tolerance' for inhuman acts

Melzer noted that several complaints were filed at the National Integrity Commission (NIC) and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) after the Anti-Torture Law came into effect six years ago. However, no criminal investigations have been pursued against the government officials alleged to be involved in the cases.

He noted the authorities' continuous hesitation to evaluate the cases presented ultimately encourages the perpetrators. Thus, Melzer called on the government to adopt a 'Zero Tolerance' policy on inhuman treatment, wherein officials liable to such acts are strictly punished.

Melzer's report regarding his visit will be presented to an assembly held by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021.