UN rights chief: ‘all-out assault on democracy’ in Maldives

Maldivian Police officers stand guard near the MDP (Maldives Democratic Party) opposition party headquarters after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency for 15 days, in Male, Maldives February 6, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 February 2018
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UN rights chief: ‘all-out assault on democracy’ in Maldives

MALE: The UN human rights chief on Wednesday called the declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees an “all-out assault on democracy.”
Political turmoil has swept the Maldives since a surprise court ruling last week that ordered the release of jailed opposition leaders, including many of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s main political rivals. He imposed a state of emergency on Monday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the restrictions “create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the president.”
Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago but lost much of those gains after Yameen was elected in 2013.
Zeid said in a statement issued by his office in Geneva that Yameen “has, to put it bluntly, usurped the authority of the state’s rule-of-law institutions and its ability to work independently from the executive.” What is happening now, he said, “is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy.”
Zeid’s criticism came a day after three Maldives Supreme Court justices annulled their earlier order to free the imprisoned opposition politicians after two of the court’s justices were arrested.
The annulment came after Yameen declared the state of emergency, which gives officials sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restrict freedom of assembly.
The UN and many foreign governments including the United States, Britain and India have expressed concern over the state of emergency and have urged Yameen to respect the earlier court order.
Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear stormed the Supreme Court building, arresting the two judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. It was not immediately clear what charges they face, if any.
Security forces also arrested former dictator and opposition politician Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said Gayoom faced charges including bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.
Gayoom was president from 1978 to 2008, when the Maldives became a multiparty democracy.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.
But it remains, in many ways, a small community. Gayoom, the former dictator, is the half brother of President Yameen. The two men are now political enemies. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, now the opposition leader, unseated Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008. He and Gayoom are now political allies in an opposition alliance.


Floods force millions to flee homes in South Asia

A man looks out of the window of his partially submerged home in flood-hit Kahchin, Myanmar. (Reuters)
Updated 5 min 56 sec ago
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Floods force millions to flee homes in South Asia

  • Death toll in Nepal and Bangladesh rises to 76 after days of heavy rains

KATMANDU: Floods have forced more than 3 million people from their homes across north and northeastern India, officials said on Monday, as the death toll in neighboring Nepal and low-lying Bangladesh rose to 76 after days of heavy monsoon rains.

Worst affected is the northern Indian state of Bihar, where some 1.9 million people have fled their homes due to rising waters, a state government release said.
Television channels showed roads and railway lines in Bihar submerged, with people wading through chest-high, brown, churning waters, carrying their belongings on their heads.
An impoverished agrarian province with rickety infrastructure and poor health care services, Bihar has a history of flooding in its northern areas that border Nepal.
Flood waters in the northeastern Indian state of Assam rose overnight with the Brahmaputra River, which flows down from the Himalayas into Bangladesh, and its tributaries still in spate. More than 1.7 million people in Assam have been displaced by the floods, authorities said, and most of the Kaziranga National Park, home to the rare one-horned rhino, was also under water.
“The flood situation has turned very critical with 31 of the 32 districts affected,” said Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said.
“We are working on a war footing to deal with the flood situation.”
Known for its tea industry, Assam is often inundated by seasonal flooding, and state and federal governments have spent millions of rupees on flood control.
India’s weather office on Monday forecast widespread rains across Assam and Bihar for the next two days.
In neighboring Nepal, 64 people were killed and 31 were missing, with around a third of all districts hit by heavy rains, authorities said. Many of the deaths were caused by landslides that swept away houses.

We are working on a war footing to deal with the flood situation.

                Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief minister of Assam

In southeast Nepal, water levels on the Kosi River, which flows into Bihar, had receded, an district official said. In 2008, the Kosi broke its banks and changed course, inundating huge tracts of land and killing 500 people.
“Our analysis is that the danger is over now that the water level has come down,” Chiranjibi Giri, assistant district administrator of Sunsari district, told Reuters.
The annual monsoon season, which brings the most rain across south Asia, also hit Bangladesh hard, forcing an estimated 190,000 people out of their homes, government officials said.
In Cox’s Bazar district, shelter to some 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence in neighboring Myanmar, more than 100,000 people have been displaced.
Since early July, flooding and landslides have damaged thousands of shelters at the refugee camps, killing two people, including a child, Human Rights Watch said in a release last week.