Back in October 2016, the Republic of Maldives left the Commonwealth. The 49th country to join the organization, in July 1982, left saying that the global body had treated it "unfairly and unjustly".
The decision came after Maldives was placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) in February 2016, amid talks of targeted sanctions against human rights abusers in the government.
Then British Prime Minister David Cameron had, at the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2015, urged leaders ‘to toughen up approach over the unacceptable actions’ of the Maldives government.
At the last meeting held, prior to the country’s decision to withdraw, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had noted ‘the lack of progress in areas like the prompt release of political leaders and misuse of anti-terrorism legislation,’ adding that in absence of substantive progress it would ‘consider options, including suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth’. This was to be decided in March 2017.
However, on 13th October 2016, the Government of Maldives announced its decision to leave the Commonwealth, after accusing it of ‘trying to become an active participant in the domestic political discourse’ of Maldives, as well of using the country ‘as an easy object to increase its global political standing’.
The Commonwealth family expressed disappointment in Maldives’ decision, with its Secretary-General Patricia Scotland saying that they hope that ‘this will be a temporary separation’.
In response to Maldives’ allegations, Scotland added that the Commonwealth ‘will continue to champion [our] values and to support all member states, especially small and developing states, in upholding and advancing these practically for the enduring benefit of their citizens’.
So, what was the last straw for Maldives? Not being removed from CMAG’s agenda. While Maldives was placed on its agenda in February 2016, government officials such as then foreign minister had threatened to leave the Commonwealth ‘if the country is not removed from the agenda’.
In an interview in September 2016, Dunya had said that ‘there are a lot of citizens and very senior members of the government who have many serious concerns regarding whether the Maldives will stay on as a member of the Commonwealth’.
And thus, the Maldives quit the Commonwealth.
Now the United Nations is monitoring the situation in Maldives even more closely, and its Human Rights Committee on Tuesday ruled in favor of a case filed by its former President Mohamed Nasheed, over the government blocking him from running in the presidential elections. It gave the Maldives 180 days to send in its reponse.
However, by Monday night, the government had ‘rejected’ the views adopted by the Committee, adding that “it is unfortunate that, while the submission of the Government of Maldives to the Human Rights Committee explicitly accounts for this with factual detail, the Committee had not given sufficient consideration to these submissions’. The Maldivian government further told them that ‘it is the Maldives’ Supreme Court’s decision ‘to decide on the eligibility of Nasheed for the Presidential Election, and not for the Human Rights Committee’ a.k.a ‘its our business, stop meddling’.
This is basically what the Maldives had told the Commonwealth, prior to, and while withdrawing from the global body, sort of.
So, can the Maldives leave the United Nations?
The only member to actually attempt to withdraw was Indonesia in 1965, showing that withdrawal ‘has no force or effect’ in the short term. A year later, Indonesia told the UN that it would "resume full cooperation with the UN and [...] resume participation in its activities."
Back in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines, while addressing UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said that the country might ‘just have to decide to separate from the United Nations,” using vulgar language. He also threated to ‘burn down the United Nations’. A day later, Duterte said that his statement ‘was a joke’, while his foreign affairs secretary emphasized that the Philippines was ‘committed to the UN despite our numerous frustrations with this international agency’.
“The U.N. Charter deliberately makes no provision for the withdrawal of member governments, largely to prevent the threat of withdrawal from being used as a form of political blackmail, or to evade obligations under the Charter”.
Hence the answer to the question whether Maldives can leave the UN is, yes! Any nation wanting to withdraw, can do so. But what if we do leave though?
Well, the disadvantages are many, but to the country and not entire organization or its other members. And does leaving the United Nations mean that the Maldives ‘can do whatever’ without having its watchful eye over the country?
According to Article 1 of the United Nation’s Charter, the purpose of the organization is to:
- To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
- To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
- To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
- To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.”
Let’s also not forget that the organization can suspend a member country, against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council. While a country may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Security Council. This can only have restored through the Security Council.
Article 6 Chapter II states that ‘a Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council’.
Maldivian officials, including the head of state, have criticized the United Nations in the past as well. Parliamentary group leader of the ruling party claiming that the reason powerful world leaders are ‘helping’ former President Nasheed is because of his ‘anti-Islamic sentiments’ while Muslim scholars such as Sheikh Ali Zaid accused the United Nations of working ‘to erase Islam’.
Back in 2015, the President accused it of ‘unjustly taking harsh action against small states in relatively insignificant matters’, while turning a blind eye to the violations being committed by ‘powerful states’. He said this in his speech to mark the 50th anniversary since the Maldives became a Member state of the United Nations.
He also noted the reason Maldives continued to ‘participate in the international organisations and also regional organisations and associations’.
“Because remaining in isolation is difficult”.