Diplomacy Politics

Maldives absence from UN vote on mass atrocities draws fierce criticism

The Maldives’ absence from a UN vote on the prevention of mass atrocities amid global concern over the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar has drawn fierce criticism with the opposition speculating that the move was dictated by China.

On Friday, 113 countries voted in favour of including a debate on ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ on the formal agenda of the UN’s 72nd general assembly.

In response to concern and outrage sparked by media reports of the Maldives’ non-participation, the foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday morning that the vote was a procedural matter over a supplementary item “and not about Rohingya Muslims.”

The plight of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar prompted an outpouring of sympathy in the Maldives with protest marches and fundraising activities throughout the country.

The Maldives, which severed trade relations with Myanmar in early September, condemns the persecution of the ethnic minority in the harshest terms, the foreign ministry stressed.

“As powerful nations are allowed to intervene in domestic affairs of nations in the name of the Responsibility to Protect or R2P principle, the Maldives decided a very long time ago not to participate in votes at the UN general assembly aimed at taking action under R2P,” it added.

But the opposition coalition accused the government of misleading the public. Former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed – erstwhile rivals who joined forces to form a united opposition front earlier this year – took to social media to lambast the government.

The R2P was especially relevant for millions of Muslims suffering in Myanmar, Yemen, Palestine and Syria, the opposition said in a joint statement Sunday, suggesting that the government’s failure to condemn inhumane actions was tantamount to encouragement.

Maldivian foreign policy was traditionally based on non-alignment and support for human rights, democracy and the cause of climate change, it continued, but the present government has been “complying with instructions from a particular party on regional and international disputes”.

The stance reveals the extent of influence of the nations that opposed the R2P debate, the opposition suggested.

“What we have seen again is that the Maldives’ foreign policy is not in our hands, that foreign policy has been sold to do the bidding of foreign countries,” MP Abdulla Shahid, a former speaker of parliament and foreign minister, told the press Saturday evening.

“Looking at the countries that voted against, the country that is trying to exercise imperial power over us in the name of assisting with our development projects,” he said.

“The Maldivian government acted in a way that could we could interpret as following orders from the Chinese government.”

China was among 21 countries that opposed debating the R2P doctrine along with Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Zimbabwe. Some 17 countries also abstained in the vote.

The opposition says China has ensnared the Maldives in a “debt trap” with more than 70 percent of external debt amassed from Chinese loans for infrastructure projects. The Chinese EXIM Bank loaned US$373 million to finance the expansion of the Velana International Airport and US$66 million for the construction of the bridge to connect the capital with a new urban centre under development in Hulhumalé.

Shahid noted that the R2P was endorsed by all UN member states at the 2005 World Summit.

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