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Preliminary findings and observations, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Karima Bennoune, Male, 18 June 2019

Dhivehi version

Introduction and Legal Framework

The Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, would like to thank the Government of the Maldives for the invitation to visit the country from 9-18 June 2019, and for its cooperation. This included the opportunity to meet six cabinet ministers: those charged with Arts, Culture and Heritage, as well as Education, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, and Youth, Sports and Community Engagement, and to meet with Deputy Ministers from Gender, Family and Social Welfare; Technology, Science and Communication; and Islamic Affairs, and the Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Further, she met the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the People’s Majlis, the National Disaster Management Authority, the Attorney General, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, a member of the Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances and a mayor, city councilors, members of a Women’s Development Committee, as well as former government officials. She regrets that despite her request she was unable to see officials from the National Counterterrorism Center or the Home Ministry. 

Her meetings with civil society, experts and individuals were likewise very rich, including those working in and on arts, children’s rights, culture, cultural heritage, environment, farming, fishing, fundamentalism and extremism, handicrafts, history, the print and online media, the rights of persons with disabilities, sports and recreation, women’s human rights, as well as with women and men, academics, artists and cultural practitioners, journalists, youth, elderly persons, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers as well as religious leaders and scholars. She spent time in Addu City, both in Hithadhoo and Meedhoo, as well as Malé, and Villigili, and visited sites, including the National Museum, the Dhivehi Language Academy, a resort in the North Malé Atoll, the Old Friday Mosque, a civil society run library, what is reported to be one of the oldest cemeteries in the Maldives, the protected Eydhigali Kilhi and Koattey Area Addu Nature Park, a beachfront threatened by erosion, public spaces maintained by the authorities and by civil society, as well as other cultural and historical sites.

Her visit was the first by a UN Special Rapporteur since 2013. She salutes the government’s re-engagement with the UN human rights system, and in particular Special Procedures mandate holders, and notes with appreciation that her mission will be followed by a visit by the Special Rapporteur on torture in the autumn. She notes that as an independent expert her mandate is entirely separate from the local offices of UN agencies which are not responsible for the content of her statement. 

Her mission came at a time of important human rights reform including in the areas of legislation, decentralization, impunity and restructuring of institutions in the country, which the Special Rapporteur warmly welcomes, and the success of which is critical. She hopes that all human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social - will be given full consideration in this process, that participation and consultation will be enhanced and that perceived disparities in resources between different regions and atolls will be fully addressed.

As a part of this reform process, she hopes that the authorities will give serious consideration to full implementation of her recommendations and to institutionalizing the process for following up on the recommendations and reports of UN experts and mechanisms. A review of past reports indicates that some important recommendations remain outstanding. 

The Maldives is a party to many core human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Special Rapporteur strongly encourages the government to consider, without delay, withdrawing reservations to any of these treaties which undermine their object and purpose, including in particular those to the ICCPR, CRC and CEDAW. She was pleased to learn that Article 68 of the 2008 Constitution requires Courts and Tribunals, when interpreting the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by Part 2 of the Constitution, to consider the international human rights obligations of the Maldives, and that in some court cases these standards have been directly referred to, a process she hopes will accelerate. The government should also move quickly to ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Special Rapporteur notes with appreciation that the Maldives is a party to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972, but thinks that the government, in accordance with strengthening the mission and international standing of its new Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, should as a priority become a party to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

It is very positive that some aspects of cultural rights are explicitly guaranteed by Article 39 of the Constitution which states that “Everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the nation, and to benefit from literary and artistic endeavours” and requires that “[t]he State shall promote education, culture, literature and the arts, within the limits of its resources.” This moment of political hope provides a unique opportunity to fulfill these provisions which are important in and of themselves, and vital for cultural rights, but also are critical for ensuring many other human rights, including civil, economic, political, and social rights, and the right to development. Implementation of these rights, in accordance with international standards, remains outstanding and is essential, as is the full implementation of all of the constitutional guarantees of human rights and relevant laws. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned that the many instances in which the Constitution refers to Islam as a limitation on human rights without specifying how this will be interpreted and by whom risks creating an environment in which the ability to enjoy the specificities of Maldivian Muslim culture and cultural heritage, as well as freedom of conscience, and cultural rights are all threatened.  Furthermore, she believes that the Supreme Court guidelines imposed on the Human Rights Commission in 2015 should be reconsidered. Further to the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture, provisions of law calling for the implementation of corporal punishments that violate international law, or “judicial flogging”, and which are often applied in gender discriminatory ways and against victims of sexual violence, should be abrogated, and pending that should be subject to an immediate moratorium.1 

Cultural Rights are less well known in the Maldives than other human rights. Awareness-raising and capacity building in these fields is essential. At the heart of these rights is Article 15 of the ICESCR to which the Maldives is a party, and which includes the right of everyone without discrimination to take part in cultural life, including to access and enjoy cultural heritage, and to enjoy the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity. Cultural rights are part of the framework of universal human rights and they are not the same thing as cultural relativism. They do not justify discrimination, violence or violations of other internationally guaranteed human rights. They are core human rights that go to the root of the human experience, and must be understood in light of the interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights. They are important in and of themselves and also essential for securing other human rights, including the right to education, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to development and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Special Rapporteur’s report to the March 2020 session of the UN Human Rights Council will cover many more issues than can be included here for reasons of space and time. She looks forward to staying in touch with government and civil society interlocutors in the interim, and to their full participation in the Council session.


The Special Rapporteur has a long track record of working on the cultural rights impact of diverse forms of fundamentalism and extremism in many regions, and the grave consequences it has for human rights and cultural life.2 With reference to leading experts, she defines fundamentalisms as political movements of the extreme right which in a context of globalization manipulate religion to achieve their political aims, and has emphasized their related aims to impose one restrictive version of religion on others as a matter of law or public policy so as to consolidate power in a hegemonic or coercive manner.3 This is entirely distinct from piety or ordinary religious observance which are a part of enjoying cultural life.

Fundamentalism is one of the greatest threats to the rich culture of the Maldives, including Maldivian practices of Islam. Many people referred to and rejected the imposition of a version of Islam that they saw as imported from other countries, such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, which was reportedly accelerated by the internet, by streams of foreign funding and by Maldivians studying in madrasas in these countries before returning home. The Moroccan anthropologist Hassan Rachik has referred to this as Islamic globalization, and referenced that populations may feel trapped between this and other forms of globalization. This also seems to be the case here in the Maldives. 

In the Maldives, the Special Rapporteur was greatly concerned by the extent of the reports of the rise of fundamentalism which is reportedly leading to the discarding of Maldivian cultural and religious practices, including particular local Eid celebrations, the discouraging of arts and especially performing arts, the eradication of arts and music education in many schools, and the erosion of the rich cultural heritage of the Maldives, including both Islamic heritage and pre-Islamic heritage which are a part of the fabric of its complex, layered history. It has also led to attacks on people and culture, such as vandalism in one of the Maldives oldest and historically significant cemeteries reported by local people to be caused in part by fundamentalist ideas, and increasingly limiting women’s cultural choices regarding dress while promoting and imposing new forms of dress not reflective of Maldivian tradition or the specificities of climate on women and girls. 

The Special Rapporteur was alarmed by the number of those she met, including both in official capacities, in civil society and among experts who reported that they are experiencing threats which seem to be the product of fundamentalist ideology. While one report suggests that the insecurity experienced by such persons has decreased somewhat since the recent change in government, this remains an entirely unacceptable state of affairs, leading to self-censorship and sharply circumscribing cultural life. The Special Rapporteur hopes that threats to persons made on social media will be carefully addressed in accordance with international standards in the new social media law to be drafted and that those who threaten others will be brought to justice in accordance with international standards. 

The government must speak out clearly, unequivocally and regularly against fundamentalist ideology at the highest levels and across the board, and affirm the importance of cultural heritage, culture, arts and music, and internationally guaranteed human rights, notwithstanding fundamentalist claims against them. The need for a loud and clear counternarrative to the fundamentalist narrative is stark and must come from many voices, including all levels of government, civil society, individuals, experts and religious leaders. While admittedly important short term political concerns may be allowed to outweigh taking such a stance, a failure to do so may condemn the rich culture of the Maldives to the dustbin of history and will put cultural rights, and many other human rights, gravely at risk here, in the medium and long-term.

The Special Rapporteur was concerned to be told by a Deputy Minister that no Maldivians wish to see the religious practices of others who are not Muslim. If this is the case, human rights education emphasizing the diversity of cultural expressions and the values of tolerance and mutual understanding is urgently needed. She was also disturbed to learn that a religious leader who had spoken out against extremism and for tolerance in his sermons was reportedly told by local officials, after reporting that he had received threats, to discontinue his work in this regard. Such voices are essential, and those who work against fundamentalism and extremism must have full support, expressed loudly from all sectors of society, and must be adequately protected. Many suggested that increased dialogue between religious scholars and other people about religion is also important, as is the provision of further education and information about religion that is in keeping with human rights. 

Cultural rights and cultural diversity, recognizing the syncretic nature of religious and cultural practice here as throughout South Asia, using culture to combat boredom and afford space, exploration and expression, especially for youth, and teaching the complexity of Maldivian history, as well as arts and culture, are essential tools for combatting fundamentalism. It is also important to combat fundamentalist ideology through education and counter messaging as well as to find specific mechanisms which respect human rights for doing so on the internet and in social media. Moreover, the causes of the rise of fundamentalism must be recognized and addressed, including support or acquiescence by current and former government officials, and economic and social challenges. Vulnerable spheres, such as prisons, gangs, and the internet need particular attention as do youth. 

Fundamentalist ideology has resulted in violence, including the disappearance of journalist and poet Ahmed Rilwan and the killing of blogger and satirist Yameen Rasheed who campaigned to find him, as well as moderate religious leader Dr. Afrasheem. Many voices stressed that those killings had a harmful impact on the cultural expression of others, and that they feared their recurrence, despite recent political changes. Indeed, it is just such fear and silence that the perpetrators likely hoped to cause. The Special Rapporteur supports the investigation into these killings and others by the Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances. She hopes that its forthcoming recommendations will be implemented, with all relevant facts clarified, including about ideological and organizational underpinnings of the attacks and past failures of security forces to protect these individuals. All alleged perpetrators must be brought to justice. The Special Rapporteur will be watching the ongoing trial of seven accused in Yameen Rasheed’s case with great interest. It is also important to memorialize the victims of fundamentalist violence so as to counter the vilification campaigns against them which in some cases took place after their murders. 

While it is critical in the current international and regional environment to combat terrorism in accordance with international standards, this is not enough. Tackling fundamentalist ideology at a high level, across relevant ministries and using a human rights approach, is essential, with education recognized as a particularly vital sector in this regard. 

Climate Change, the Environment and Cultural Rights

Climate change is today amongst the greatest threats to culture and cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, in the Maldives and around the world. All relevant actors, at the international and national levels, must act with determination to respond to this threat. The Special Rapporteur will never forget the sight of a centuries old cemetery containing mausoleums of historical significance that is in close proximity to the ocean, perhaps less than 100 meters away, and that locals fear will be gone in ten years’ time due to sea level rise and erosion.

As former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai has said, “Climate change is one of the most serious challenges [humanity] has ever faced.”4 That is nowhere more demonstrably true than in the Maldives. In addition to its other damaging effects, the impact of climate change on cultural rights and cultural heritage is an urgent human rights question, and must be understood and responded to as such. 

In a recent report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights supported the call of the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment for international recognition, similar to that in regional instruments, of the human right to a healthy environment, arguing that “the universality of human rights, including cultural rights, has no meaning today without a livable environment in which they can be enjoyed.”

The Special Rapporteur commends the Maldives for its international leadership on climate change. She is determined to support it and other similarly affected countries at the international level by demanding the international community urgently help meet the threat to their survival, including cultural survival. A 15 year-old Maldivian environmental and cultural heritage activist on Meedhoo, speaking about the potential loss of local cultural sites and erosion of his home island, said to the Special Rapporteur: “I fear for the survival of my country.” No young person should have to face such fears. 

The international community must act effectively to respond to the climate emergency, recognizing the right to a healthy environment and taking necessary climate action now. The Special Rapporteur recognizes that climate change is an existential threat to the Maldives. As the Minister of Environment stressed to her, a 2 degree temperature rise or more will result in 60-90% of the coral reefs here being destroyed and “without those reefs to protect islands, they will be washed away.” He further stressed that the culture and language of the Maldives are also all specifically threatened by the possibility of “environmental catastrophe.” The response to this must be international, as well as national.

In 2020, climate change and culture around the world will be a priority area of work for the Special Rapporteur, and she will present a thematic report on this topic to the General Assembly conveying these messages. She thanks experts and advocates in and out of government in the Maldives which is on the frontlines, for sharing information and perspectives with her that will be of great importance to that work. Their voices need to be heard more widely at the international level.

At the national level, she hopes that the laudable human rights-based approach to climate change in the Maldives will be further entrenched and implemented, and that cultural rights, and the negative impact on culture will be given even greater consideration, including in all aspects of related internal migration processes. As the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights explained in a 2009 study, “The application of a human rights approach in preventing and responding to the effects of climate change serves to empower individuals and groups, who should be perceived as active agents of change and not as passive victims.”5 Numerous experts and affected persons stressed to her the need to take an ecosystem wide approach, because mitigation in one place without concern for the impact elsewhere could produce negative effects. Some independent voices also called for greater transparency around the spending of international funding related to climate change.

Moreover, it is important to give further consideration to potential conflicts of interest in decision-making around environment, development projects and tourism to avoid harmful effects, and perception of what one advocate characterized as “land grab, sea grab, tree grab.” The Special Rapporteur intends to continue investigating these issues for her final report and encourages the government to consider inviting the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to visit the country and conduct further research in these areas.

The Special Rapporteur was told that some development projects approved in the recent past without adequate disaster mitigation plans had resulted in increased flooding, loss of natural heritage such as mangroves, increasing sedimentation which contributes to coral bleaching and resultant loss of livelihoods, including by women. Information received suggests that more needs to be done to protect wetlands, including from reclamation, since coastal vegetation around islands plays a critical role as a wind-breaker and in blocking erosion. Moreover, they represent natural heritage. A positive development is that recent disaster risk assessments have included cultural components and consultations with the Department of Heritage. This needs to be institutionalized and further enhanced in coordination with the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage. 

The Special Rapporteur welcomes the fact that 11 additional sites, along with the 50 already protected, have reportedly been afforded protection during her visit, and looks forward to receiving further information about this. There is also a need to build institutional bridges between policy-makers in the fields of culture and the environment, and to increase technical staffing at the National Disaster Management Authority so as to broaden its national reach, ability to respond and relevant expertise on culture. She sincerely appreciated the discussion she had about the consultative and participatory approach this body is trying to take around disaster preparedness, including with women and youth. 

Culture, traditional knowledge, such as about the movement of sand and fishing practices, and cultural heritage in all its forms represent a powerful resource to address the challenges caused by climate change in a human rights respecting manner and build resilience, and need to be further incorporated in mitigation efforts. They are also important to help define the type of development Maldivians want, and what they wish to transmit to the next generation. 

The Special Rapporteur admired the vibrancy, creativity and engagement of Maldivian civil society, including on environmental issues, and encourages greater consultation with them in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policy, and, in particular, the further promotion of youth leaders in this area who are showing such promise. Civil society voices expressed the need for further awareness-raising about climate change, and the problem of denial.

Cultural Diversity, Identity and Language 

Dhivehi language, and all its dialects, are a precious and vital cultural resource for the Maldives. The Special Rapporteur was delighted to visit the Dhivehi Language Institute and its library. She was pleased to learn about its efforts to promote the language, as well as poetry and historical knowledge through creative means such as history quiz competitions. Ms. Bennoune hopes the institute will be provided with further resources to continue and expand its work. Full consideration must be given to the preservation of the Dhivehi language, and its important regional dialects, in relevant educational policies.

It is important for the Government and the society to critically assess the negative consequences of framing the Maldivian identity in the official narrative as “homogenous”. Discussions the Special Rapporteur held throughout her visit indicate that there are multiple diversities between the atolls, including in the way people speak the Dhivehi language and celebrate important events and how they have developed songs, dances and crafts. There are insufficient public policies for the protection and promotion of these rich practices. 

Past failures to adequately teach, preserve and share knowledge about the arts, culture and history of this nation, the limited display of Maldivian creativity in the media, museums and in the tourist industry, and insufficient support for artistic performances, in theaters and galleries, have all contributed to the rapid disappearance of significant practices in many places in the country and the related loss of important elements of Maldivian cultural identity. From a cultural rights perspective, historical narratives are an important part of cultural heritage.6 Knowing about where one comes from is an important tool to build resilience. Alternatives to narrow interpretation of identity, which neglect the country’s cross-cultural history and the cultural practices that make up the richness of Maldivian island culture, need to be strengthened.

On the other hand, it is also important that the Maldives recognize the reality of cultural diversity in society, and reconsider more closely the right for all to take part in cultural life and public spaces, including women, persons with disabilities and those who have come from different countries to work and live in the Maldives. Those persons not only need to have dedicated spaces and times to pursue cultural activities and practices with others from their respective groups, but should also be given the possibility of contributing to the cultural life of the whole society. One step that would have significant positive impact for the integration of expatriates, for example, is making accessible Dhivehi language classes available to them.

Cultural Heritage 

“We have been on these islands for 2000 years: there must be traces of this presence. How come no one knows about them?” These are words said to the Special Rapporteur by a Maldivian expert.

The Special Rapporteur shares the concerns expressed to her by numerous Maldivians about the scarcity of heritage sites, objects and artefacts that have been identified, protected, studied and inventoried and the lack of general awareness about the importance of safeguarding those resources. She was shocked by the evaluation of experts who believe that approximately 80% of Maldivian historical and archaeological sites have already been destroyed for the construction of resorts and development projects. Such losses should be documented.

In this context, the fact that the 2012 attack on the pre-Islamic collection of the National Museum has still not been fully investigated and responsible persons prosecuted according to the law, is even more worrying, as it could be understood as downplaying the gravity of these acts. The Special Rapporteur calls for a thorough investigation of these events, and other reported attacks on cultural heritage, and for alleged perpetrators to be brought to justice.

On the other hand, the Special Rapporteur commends the recent intervention of the government to stop the construction of a resort in the Raa atoll, after experts from the Ministry or Arts, Culture and Heritage identified a historical site that needed protection. It would be important to learn from this case and make sure that cultural impact assessments and a survey of heritage resources be systematically included in the preliminary planning stages of all tourism-related and infrastructure development. 

The Special Rapporteur was also very glad to learn that a social media group dedicated to history and heritage was witnessing increased interest, including from youth, in documenting old sites and traces of history and succeeding in reviving interest for conservation. These civil society efforts are necessary and promising, but will not be sufficient by themselves to compensate the deficits of the past and restore the general sense of the history of the Maldives. Ms. Bennoune appreciates the dedication of those working with the Department of Heritage, and hopes that they will receive all the resources they need to carry out their much-needed work.

Awareness raising campaigns, a nationwide survey of heritage resources, involving local inhabitants, specialised trainings in history, archaeology and conservation, and public policy development in the fields of history and heritage will all be necessary measures to redress the current situation. The expert is aware of the Heritage bill currently undergoing consultation, though she has been unable to obtain a copy, and hopes it will be adopted promptly, so as to provide a strong legal framework for actions in this field. Cultural heritage is not just a technical issue but a question of human rights to which a human rights approach is necessary.7 

Cultural Governance 

The Special Rapporteur warmly welcomes the creation of the new Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage and the dedication of its Minister and small current staff. This recent development provides a unique opportunity to rethink the place of culture as a cross-cutting priority in the country’s governance and in its sustainable development. 

She recommends that the Ministry considers developing a cultural policy incorporating the cultural rights guarantees in Maldivian law and international standards, continuing and amplifying a participatory and consultative approach to policy-making in the field of culture, and establishing strong and institutionalized cooperation schemes with other relevant national and local authorities, including in the areas of education, environment and tourism.

The Special Rapporteur stresses the need for the Ministry to be fully resourced, afforded capacity-building opportunities and adequate expert staff, and provided with support by relevant international bodies, such as UNESCO. She also encourages it to consider involving local people as much as possible in the development of cultural policies and services.

Everywhere she went, she found that Maldivians were eager to participate in building and protecting a vibrant cultural life to enhance social cohesion, address boredom, and afford opportunities for self-expression, especially among youth. Many people expressed the wish to see more local cultural centers, recreational and cultural facilities and public spaces for enjoying cultural life across the country and to receive support to develop and protect those which exist.

In the field of artistic expression, she commends the Ministry’s effort to consult those working in the arts in the Maldives concerning the development of a permanent national arts exhibition at the National Art Gallery, the improvement of the conditions in which art may be displayed and about better use of this space to celebrate artistic creativity. She hopes that this process will continue. Artists are particularly concerned about the rental of the National Art Gallery for private functions due to financial constraints, and about the lack of a permanent exhibition. Responding to these concerns could be an important first step in developing more visibility and support for arts, and could encourage public support for performing arts such as dance, theater and music. 


Education is closely related to the enjoyment of cultural rights by all without discrimination. The Special Rapporteur appreciates the enormous responsibility of this Ministry and hopes the Minister will receive full support to achieve her difficult mission. According to a variety of stakeholders the Special Rapporteur met with, urgent action has to be taken to reinstate teaching of culture, art, music and history in the mandatory school curriculum, to clearly respond to reported rejection of such teaching in practice in numerous schools by some teachers and parents, and to develop adequate higher education programs and professional trainings in these fields. The entire educational system has to approach this priority in a holistic manner, to ensure continuity between teaching in these fields, study and research opportunities, as well as related career development. Books about arts, culture and history need to be made more widely accessible in libraries all across the country. 

At the primary and secondary levels, teachers have to be more extensively trained during their university studies to thoroughly address cultural and historical subjects with children, and should have access to adequate manuals and books related to arts, culture and history. 

The education system is a key sphere in which to promote tolerance and human rights. In keeping with the recommendation from civil society, school curriculum and teachers should be vetted to ensure that fundamentalist content is not being taught in schools.8 


Tourism should bring advantages to all Maldivians and be a window to display their culture to the world. From what the Special Rapporteur could observe and hear about during her short mission, it seems that parts of the tourist industry have been operating in a somewhat separate, parallel universe, where tourists were not given adequate opportunities to see or hear Maldivian performing arts and culture, share Maldivian cuisine or learn about Maldivian ways of life and crafts. 

Whilst being conscious that cultural practices and crafts should maintain their meaning for Maldivians and not simply be commercialized and performed for tourist purposes, cultural knowledge and practices can also be revived, professionalized or find new developments in the interaction with visitors. Maldivian artists are eager to have further opportunities to perform and display their work in resorts.

The September 2018 destruction of the artwork Coralarium at the Fairmont Sirru Fen Fushi Hotel in the Shaviyani Atoll by the outgoing government on the eve of elections has made it even more difficult for artist to find platforms in resorts to display their work. Maldivian artists have indicated that this may have had a chilling effect for artistic expression. This incident must be fully investigated in light of the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity and the right of artists and authors to benefit from the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from their work. 

The Government should consider avenues for supporting the presence of Maldivian arts and crafts in the tourist industry, for example by developing an authenticity trademark for crafts made in the Maldives, including a certain percentage of Maldivian artistic features in the activities of resorts when discussing their contracts, or perhaps by sponsoring a Maldivian shop at  airports where many artists and craftspeople from all regions of the country could sell their work under principles of fair trade. 

The Special Rapporteur encourages people from around the world to visit the Maldives and enjoy its culture, and in particular to find ways of doing so which are in accordance with the protection of the environment and human rights. She hopes they will seek out sustainably made Maldivian products and handicrafts to take home as the best possible souvenir.


Women play active roles in Maldivian society and cultural life. The Special Rapporteur was pleased to meet many women working in the fields of arts and culture, in government and in civil society, including at a high level. However, she was sorry to learn that there are only four women in the current parliament, and much needs to be done by all political parties to address this unacceptably low rate of representation of women. There are also reportedly insufficient women in top positions in the civil service, though the Special Rapporteur was pleased to ascertain that more than half of civil servants are female. Women reported facing particular scrutiny and pressure on social media, and there are said to be growing views in some parts of society against women and girls performing in public. While great progress has been made in enacting legislation mandating women’s rights, cultural attitudes viewing women as primarily wives and mothers persist and must be challenged in keeping with CEDAW. 

The Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services needs greater resources, and women’s human rights need to be mainstreamed across all ministries. The Gender Equality Act requires full implementation, and reportedly increasing patterns of violence against women, including FGM, in recent years need to be effectively addressed. The Special Rapporteur encourages the government to reconsider Article 3(a) of the act which places overly broad and unclear limitations on its protections, and may be difficult to reconcile with article 3(b). 

Persons With Disabilities

The Special Rapporteur was pleased to learn about the participation of the Maldives in the Paralympics and Special Olympics and congratulates the athletes who have participated and those who have won medals. She was also glad to learn of the decrease in stigma with regard to certain disabilities. Remaining obstacles reported include the challenge of access to education in schools, the lack of understanding of the range of disabilities beyond physical impairment, and the reported lack of specially designed programs for persons with disabilities in the area of cultural rights. She hopes that funds will be made available without delay for installing Dhivehi in Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA). The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage consider holding a consultation with persons with disabilities, and those working to defend their rights, to ascertain their needs and hopes in the culture area.


1/ CAT/C/MDV/CO/1, paras 31-32.

2/ A/HRC/34/56.

3/ Id. At para. 4. A/72/155, para 12.

4/ “OHCHR analytical study on climate change and human rights is now available,” March 2009.

5/ A/HRC/10/61, para 90.

6/ A/68/296

7/ A/HRC/17/38; A/71/317.

8/ Further recommendations are available in UNESCO, Preventing Violent Extremism Through Education: A Guide For Policymakers (2017).

9/ See A/HRC/23/34 and A/HRC/28/57.