According to Human Rights Commission of Maldives insiders, the president Ahmed Saleem is in the habit of arriving leisurely for work, settling himself down comfortably in his office, and watching tennis on cable TV for most of the day. Vice-president Mohamed Zahid, meanwhile, never misses an opportunity to go on a foreign trip, even when it is to attend a specialist workshop or meeting more suitable for a reporting staff. A strict division is maintained between the "members" and "staff" of the HRCM, with the former reaping all the benefits like overseas travel and out-of-the-country expenditure.
Both were appointed to the posts by the previous government, due to their close links to Gayoom. Saleem, of course, was a recipient of one of the notorious presiden't office "loans". To date, the HRCM hasn't found a single human rights violation that would implicate the aging ex-dictator, even though the commission was involved in all the high-profile investigations of alleged prisoner abuse of the recent past. Saleem was aslo part of the commission set up by Gayoom to clear himself from the murder of Evan Naseem and others in Maafushi jail in 2003. If Gayoom's motive for getting these two into the HRCM was protect himself from the barrage of accusations, he clearly chose the right pair.
At the height of the recent Sula Siraz controversy, Saleem was overheard "confirming" to people that president Anni did, indeed, drink. The human rights chief knows only too well which party controls the votes needed to get himself re-appointed and Zahid, a member of the DRP, has always been a faithful defender of Gayoom.
Human rights experts who have worked with the pair have been flabbergasted by their sheer ignorance of international human rights laws and their unwillingness to learn.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the HRCM has not made a statement against the recent flogging of an 18-year-old girl in Male, or Wahhabi preacher Bilal Philips's endorsement of lowering the age of marriage for girls to the onset of puberty. These would violate at least four UN conventions signed by the Maldives: the child rights conventions; the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women; the civil and political rights convention; and the convention against torture. But Saleem and Zahid have been silent and no one has openly challenged their silence.
Under the leadership of the former human rights president Mujthaba, there was some hope that the Maldives would move towards an independent, efficient, and functioning human rights commission. But today, staff are frustrated with their new bosses and morale is at an all-time low. No one can get Saleem to sign anything when tennis is on, and many worthy initiatives by the staff themselves never see the light of the day.
The latest from the HRCM is that the president and vice president have been more active lately; apparently, their terms are about to expire and they are sweating it out in the bid to get re-appointed to continue to enjoy fat salaries, tennis, and foreign trips.
A human rights commission staff has pointed out to me that Saleem has an exemplary record of reporting to work on time. So I apologise for describing his arrival at work as "leisurely" in the first paragraph of the post.