Press Conference in Male

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Male, Maldives
September 12, 2012

Assistant Secretary Blake: Thank you, Chris. It’s great to be back here in the Maldives and to see a lot of familiar faces.

As Chris said, I’ve just come here for a very short visit but I had the opportunity to meet with His Excellency President Waheed, but also with former President Nasheed and his team. Then I also had the opportunity to meet with civil society, which is always very very important for us.

Before going further I just want to extend a very warm welcome to our new Ambassador, Michele Sison, whom you’ve already seen. Michele is one of our most experienced career diplomats. She’s served twice as Ambassador before and also has a great deal of experience here in South Asia. So we are delighted that she will be at the helm of our embassy in Colombo and I know that she will be spending a great deal of her time in Maldives as well. So a warm welcome to you, Michele.

In all of my meetings today with the leaders I stressed the importance of all the parties working together to develop and act on the needed legislation to both reform and increase the capacity of the judiciary, of the security services, and of independent institutions like the Police Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission.

In my meeting with the President, I stressed the importance of the security services’ acting in accordance with international standards and doing everything they can to respect human rights.

In our view the key now is for all parties to do everything possible to promote dialogue and cooperation, so that the parties can together strengthen Maldivian democracy and prepare the way for next year’s elections.

All of you know that I have been following Maldives now since 2006. Your country has come a very, very long way in that period of time. You had your first successful free and fair elections in 2008, and the journey has continued since then. But I think that the conclusions of the Commission of National Inquiry report underlined that there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I was pleased that everybody I talked to today understands the need to implement those recommendations, and we welcome that. And the United States will be doing what it can to help through our assistance program in many of these endeavors. So we will remain very closely engaged and working with the parties and with partners such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth to help strengthen Maldivian democracy.

Again, I’ll be glad to take a few questions now. Thank you.

Question: Rajjee TV We’ve been stressing this point, actually. Rajjee TV has been excluded from the press conferences of the President’s office and throughout Maldives as well. Do you believe that’s free and fair media over here? If so, why is our channel kept from attending these press conferences?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I can’t address the specific circumstances of which press conferences you’re allowed in, but in general I think there is quite a vibrant media here. I think that freedom of the media is important, not only for what I talked about earlier, of strengthening Maldivian democracy, but we also talked about this in the context of next year’s elections. It is very important that all parties, be they opposition or the President’s party, have equal access to the media, which is a very important part of ensuring free and fair elections.

Question: Dhi TV You said that you met [inaudible] here, and last night, yesterday, they were talking about the dialogue yesterday. Today we heard that [Moderator of Leaders’ Dialogue Ahmed] Mujtaba has quit. And what [inaudible] if you had meetings with the parties [inaudible].

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear. What is America’s help? Is that what you said?

Question: What America’s stand?

Assistant Secretary Blake: We will continue to encourage dialogue by all of the parties. We think at this point the most important priority is to have that dialogue take place within the parliament because after all that is where a lot of the needed legislation needs to be passed. So we very much hope that all of the parties will work together to secure passage of that legislation and again, continue to work together on all of the important national priorities.

Question: Minivan News You just said that all the leaders you spoke to today understood the importance of implementing the recommendations of the CONI report?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes.

Question: Did they mention, because there’s been some sort of disagreement about what it says the police have done, as in police have done illegal certain acts. So was the government clear about the actions and the allegations? Because the Home Minister has previously said that they are not going to take action against the police.

Assistant Secretary Blake: I’ll let the government speak for itself about what they want to say about their own policy, but let me just say what I said, which is that we take all allegations of human rights violations very seriously. And we urge that the government investigate those in a credible manner. We think that there needs to be clear and visible disciplinary action taken if there’s evidence of wrongdoing found.

Question: Miadhu News Sir, I just want to clarify for example in a democracy we have all the rights to do demonstration or call for anything. So in America if they come for a peaceful demonstration and they start putting fire and things on the buildings and things they do this criminal activity, do they count it as just a peaceful demonstration and leave it? Or they take legal action against what they do for the criminal’s activities they do?

Assistant Secretary Blake: I don’t want to generalize. But in our country we first of all fully support the right of everybody to demonstrate, freedom of assembly. That’s one of the most important parts of our constitution. But the very important word there is peaceful assembly. We don’t want to see any demonstrations that result in violence or that can lead to damage of property or loss of life or injuries to people, so that’s where we draw the line. Certainly other governments should do the same.

Question: Sri Lankan team has done a legal review on the CoNI Report and they brought up several legal issues regarding the CoNI Report. Is the U.S. concerned about this?

I have a second question which is the U.S. yesterday our new Ambassador has stressed the U.S. is going to help them strengthen security forces by giving equipments and training and all.

Assistant Secretary Blake: Yes –

Question: PIC has agreed, the Police Integrity Commission, they agreed to investigate these cases but nothing has been done so far. So how important do you think? Is it very important to strengthen the Police Integrity, the Maldivian Police Service and the Security Forces? Do you think the U.S. should wait until justice has been served, till the

PIC has done the investigations?

Assistant Secretary Blake: No. Let me take the second question first. We will be working with the military and with the police to strengthen them, to build up their capacity. But a very important part of all the training that we provide is on human rights, to make sure that they are going to be acting in accordance with international standards and that they are observing the Maldivian constitution in this case. So that is a very important part of all the training that we provide to the security services here and in other countries as well.

With respect to your question about the CoNI Report, I’m not aware of the Sri Lankan comment, so I can’t comment on that. But certainly the United States welcomes the CoNI Report, and we have urged all parties to respect those conclusions and to now follow through to act on them. Again, I think there appears to be good willingness to do so.

Question: The issues about these leadership dialogue, positions and all these and the free media. Actually we have a free media, but some opposition, they just do not want other media to engage in covering their activities or their meetings. Also, when we are talking about lots of stress is being on this latest dialogue. Do you think that the opposition will agree all this? Because they have been speculating still that everything, they want. But with the CoNI Report everything is clear there. Also it has stressed things that need to be emphasized, a development of this.

So do you think that U.S. can bring the politicians, party leaders and bring them together?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Again, I’m not sure that that’s necessarily our role. We would like to see the Maldivians themselves come together. Certainly we’ll do everything we can to encourage that. Even though Mr. Mujtaba has resigned, I think there’s still ample opportunity for dialogue to take place in the parliamentary context and so I hope that again, all the parties will come together and work together, put aside whatever partisan differences they have for the sake of the country, and to really act now on all these important priorities that I listed earlier in my statement.

This is a very sensitive and important time in your history and it really is time for people to come together and I think the Maldivian people want to see their leaders come together as well.

So we will be doing everything we can through Ambassador Sison and her team and myself from time to time to encourage that outcome.

Again, thank you all very much for coming. It’s nice to see you all again. I hope to see you again soon. Thanks.