When I first scheduled my July 22 trip to Maldives, I thought that I would concentrate on our expanding relationship with this progressive island nation. Since the 2008 election of President Mohammad Nasheed, we have cooperated on climate change activities, increased engagement on maritime security, and enhanced our diplomatic coordination.
By the time I arrived in the capital of Male, the political situation had deteriorated to a constitutional crisis. While President Nasheed had put in "protective custody" a leader of the opposition (an ironic move considering that Amnesty International had once designated President Nasheed as a prisoner of conscience after he challenged the former authoritarian regime), the opposition had obstructed any legislative movement in the Parliament. As a result, my visit, the first that I had made as Assistant Secretary, shifted focus to whether the United States could help resolve the dispute.
I have some perspective. When I served as Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives, I helped assist Nasheed and his colleagues with the democratic transition, during which they overcame obstacles much more profound than the current impasse. During my friendly meeting with the President, I urged him to stay true to the democratic ideals for which he had fought in the lead up to the elections. As for the opposition, I pressed its leaders to act responsibly and work with the government. I don't know if my conversations had an impact, but I was pleased to see the government released the opposition leader the day after I departed.
The political crisis underscored the difficulties that any nascent democracy faces. When I had lunch with a group of young, energetic civil society leaders, they expressed concern about rising Islamic extremism. We have also placed Maldives on our Trafficking in Persons Tier 2 Watch List, but I was heartened to learn from the Human Rights Commission that it has prepared its own report about trafficking that contained recommendations for the government.
Despite these bumps, Maldives still stands as a successful, moderate Islamic democracy -- one that punches above its weight in the world. In May, the country received the highest number of votes to secure a seat on the Human Rights Council. Faced with a rising sea that threatens its lovely atolls, Maldives has emerged as a leader in shaping global climate change policy. The United States will continue to increase its engagement with Maldives, which I hope will help bolster its democratic institutions.