The Human Rights Heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
10 December 2022
OpEd by H.E. Ms. Catherine Haswell - UN Resident Coordinator for the Republic of Maldives and H.E. Mr. Denis Chaibi - EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
“We the peoples of the United Nations [are] determined… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...”
From the preamble of the United Nations Charter, UN founding document signed in 1945
From the time of its inception, the United Nations has recognized Human Rights as being fundamental to its mission. The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on 10 December 1948. It was drafted as a ‘a common standard of achievement for all people and nations’, spelling out for the first time in human history basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings should enjoy. It has become widely accepted as the fundamental human rights that everyone should respect and protect.
Every year on the 10th of December, the international community marks the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by celebrating International Human Rights Day. As we approach the 75th year of the adoption of the UDHR in 2023, a year-long campaign will showcase, celebrate, and focus on its legacy, and continued relevance, with the theme “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All” and the call to action “Stand Up for Human Rights.”
Drafted by representatives with different legal, cultural, and religious backgrounds from all regions of the world, the UDHR is a set of universal, indivisible and inalienable rights, recognizing the equal dignity and worth of every person. It was the first time that the international community agreed on a set of common values and acknowledged that rights are inherent to every single human being, and not granted by the state. It continues to inspire movements for change for a more equal and inclusive world that benefits everyone.
Human rights are guaranteed by treaties, customary international law, and other sources of law; for all of which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as both foundation and inspiration. All of this has then been voluntarily signed, ratified, and acceded to by UN Member States in their determination to respect and protect the rights of those within their respective jurisdictions.
The Republic of Maldives is a State party to seven core human rights treaties encompassing broadly; civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as well as more specifically on addressing torture, racial discrimination, discrimination against women, and upholding rights of the child and persons with disabilities.
With regards to those legal commitments, many of the human rights treaties’ provisions are reflected in the Maldives legal framework. Most significantly, Chapter Two of the Maldives Constitution enshrines over 50 fundamental rights and freedoms, premised on the principles of non-discrimination and equality, ranging from the right to life and protection of the environment, to economic and social rights, freedom of expression, association and assembly, and the right to work and acquire property as well as prompt investigation and prosecution, and humane treatment of arrested or detained persons.
In an address to the People’s Majlis in early 2022, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih spoke on the many strides the Maldives has made to promote and protect human rights in the country, while highlighting the ongoing challenges, particularly in the aftermath of the global Covid-19 pandemic. We applaud all efforts to improve human rights for all in the Maldives, while recognising that there is still much work to be done.
One important step taken by the Maldives was the standing invitation issued to the UN Human Rights Council independent human rights experts - individuals and working groups known as Special Procedures.
This year, the Maldives Government received two Special Procedures mandate holders. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism came last May and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls visited the Maldives last September.
These two experts recognized the same two fundamental issues as among the biggest hurdles to achieving full human rights for all in the Maldives.
As already expressed by the President in his February speech at the Majlis earlier this year, the first issue is about extremism, which has taken root within Maldivian society. In this context, the exploitation of religion lays “bare the magnitude and complexity of the work required to combat violent extremism.” Recommendations by the visiting human rights experts may provide part of the normative framework necessary to amplify ongoing efforts to uproot extremism in society.
“In order to address the challenges of violent extremism and terrorism in a human rights compliant manner, prison conditions must be improved, judicial independence must be assured, lawyers must be able to function effectively to defend persons charged of such offences, and the police must be accountable for any violations committed during investigations.” (Special Rapporteur, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin)
The second issue highlighted by both the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group is about the importance of the civic space for society. It is essential to ensure that non-governmental actors, such as civil society organizations and the media, can enjoy conditions in which they can uphold good governance and accountability of the authorities. The Government has a duty to create conditions that actively support the ability and capacity of persons, individuals or in association with others, to engage in civic activities. In looking at measures to improve civic space therefore, it requires cooperation between the State and civil society actors.
Besides the two hurdles, the experts from the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls noted and welcomed “new laws and recent institutional measures focusing on gender equality”. At the same time, certain long-standing provisions are still discriminatory and punitive, denying women and girls full human rights and freedoms. In this regard, Gender-Based Violence is prevalent and even tolerated. “Survivors face many barriers in access to justice and remedies, and perpetrators enjoy impunity.” (Press Release – UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls)
Earlier this year, the UN in the Maldives began implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF), the blueprint for all UN efforts in the Maldives through 2026. Central to the Cooperation Framework is the investment in people, based on principles of human rights, and gender equality, women’s empowerment, sustainable development and resilience. It is a joint commitment of the UN and the Government to support national development priorities and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while leaving no one behind.
Bearing the above in mind, the European Union’s priorities for cooperation with the Maldives until 2027 focuses on the promotion of human rights, good governance, gender equality, inclusivity, and resilience as core themes.
This EU support will be at the heart of the EU-Maldives’ partnership, which will rely, inter alia, on the Maldives Government’s determination to promote and protect human rights, including through its seat at the Human Rights Council for the term 2023 - 2025.
As we enter the 75th year of the adoption of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, the UN and EU look forward to assisting and supporting the Government in implementing effectively and meaningfully the recommendations from the various human rights mechanisms that Maldives is engaged with, whether the Human Rights Council, Special Procedures or Treaty Bodies, with the ultimate goal of ensuring dignity, freedom, and justice for all.