The Maldives is a place that very few of us know about, other than that it is vacation paradise to millions of Western countries. However, the Maldives has recently been put in a rather shocking light when international human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney decided to represent former President Mohamed Nasheed on appeal in the Maldivian highest court, pro bono. Nasheed has served one year of a thirteen-year sentence for terrorism charges after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge.
For thirty years, the Maldives was under the rule of Maumoon Gayoom, who repeatedly imprisoned Nasheed during this time for his political beliefs against the regime. In 2005, Nasheed returned from self-exile and in 2008 ran against Gayoom and won in the country’s first multiparty election. Nasheed did not finish his first term before resigning. The Maldivian government alleges that Nasheed was crushed by the opposition, but Nasheed contends that there was actually a coup d’état. Under the threat of force, security forces loyal to Gayoom held him at gunpoint and forced his resignation. Since, his resignation Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdullah Yameen has been the President.
After the coup, Nasheed was subjected to an unfair trial, which the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized for its unlawfulness and injustice. However, Nasheed is not the only one in prison! President Yameen has, at the moment, imprisoned two former defense ministers, one former vice-president, one former deputy parliamentary speaker, and leaders of every opposition party in the Maldives.
Since Amal Clooney has been advocating on the behalf of Nasheed, the question is why should the Western world care? If you don’t care about the political situation or human rights violations happening there, then you should care that the Maldives has the highest percentage of ISIS recruits per capita in the world. Mr. Ben Emmerson, Nasheed’s other lawyer, noted that the “two hundred Maldivians [that] have gone so far to Iraq and Syria…[is] the equivalent of 36,000 Brits.” He also believes that another Tunisia-style tragedy is inevitable for tourists that go to The Maldives (in June 2015, 38 people were killed at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia by an ISIS gunman).
This week, Nasheed was released for 30 days to go to London for spinal surgery. Since arriving, he met with Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss sanctions on the Maldives. Cameron stated to Parliament that “Britain was prepared to consider targeted action individuals if further progress isn’t made.” Cameron and Nasheed also agreed on a Commonwealth meeting in the Maldives next month to give the Maldivian government an opportunity to have “an open dialogue and free all remaining political prisoners swiftly.” On January 13, Amal Clooney visited with Obama administration officials and members of Congress to discuss sanctions to be placed on the Maldives. Congress seemed to openly support the cause. Further, the Australian government asked travelers going to the Maldives to “exercise a high degree of caution.”
What is happening to Nasheed is a true travesty. Frankly, I am surprised that the Western world or even powerful, more developed Asian countries have not gotten involved. Although, no country should interfere with another country’s sovereignty, it is truly alarming that the Maldives has the highest per capita of ISIS recruits in the world and no one seems to want to take action. The United States has had this information, yet we have not made this a national security priority; although the U.S. and Britain are considering sanctions. Neither country, however, has taken affirmative action or has even stated a more solid plan if sanctions are ineffective. While sanctions may be effective to correct the wrong against Nasheed, sanctions will not stop ISIS recruitment on the island. Preventing such recruitment should be a huge priority for the entire international community. Sanctions are not enough and the U.S. should not let the beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters cloud its judgment. Stopping terrorism should always trump tourism.