Celebrating human rights in the Maldives

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Last year, human rights activists in the Maldives celebrated International Human Rights Day in public for the first time. Despite police warnings that they had ‘committed unlawful acts’, they were happy that their pilot event went off well. Angeline Loh has the story.

I was delighted to receive an email in December 2006 from a friend in the Maldives. Shahinda  Ismail works for the Maldivian Detainee Network, an NGO advocating detainees’ human rights. She told me how International Human Rights Day was celebrated in her country.

International Human Rights Day is an annual event celebrated every 10 December. Last year, Maldivian NGOs and activists, for the first time, celebrated this day publicly in a festive way by holding a rally and music festival. Three hundred people attended this grand event. The huge successful event took off well and ended peacefully.

Shahindha said, “This being our pilot, … I think we did very well.” She added that despite the peaceful nature of the event, the police warned them that they had ‘committed unlawful acts’. It remains to be seen if the police will file any charges against these NGOs and activists to whom the International Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 applies.

Although I have not yet had an opportunity to follow this up with Shahindha, and I pray that the Maldivian police have not harassed them, I did promise to inform the world of the existence of Maldivian civil society groups. So, this is a promise kept to a friend and I feel really good about it. Thanks, Shahindha!

Getting news from friends living in other countries and who face similar challenges in their work as people working in NGOs here in Malaysia do somehow makes me feel that we are not alone. The world has become a smaller place with the communications technology we have nowadays. It is consoling to know that friends are just a “click away” when you need to talk. Thank God for the Internet!

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