Parliament’s deputy speaker Eva Abdulla, on Monday, said crimes of sexual violence against women and children often leave little evidence, and that suspects of such crimes therefore, must not be released based on insufficient evidence.
Eva made the remarks during the debate on an emergency motion presented by Nolhivaram MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla in response to sexual assault which took place on board a safari boat off the coast of suburban Hulhumale’ on Friday.
Nasheed’s motion is aimed at directing the government’s attention towards the concerns of the people regarding the actions of the police in response to the assault. He said he believes the actions of the police violate the rights of the victim.
Taking part in the debate, Eva, who represents the North Galolhu constituency, said that the case had served to highlight two primary issues; the issue of the lack of safety of women and the failure of the criminal justice system to protect women, and the issue of influential people being allowed to evade justice.
The crime was reported to the police at approximately 05:00 am on Friday.
The victim was identified as a woman of foreign nationality, while the suspects were identified as two Maldivian men of 39 years of age.
The two suspects were arrested from the scene of the crime, but were later released from police custody due to “lack of sufficient grounds to keep them detained for the investigation”.
It is being alleged they were released from custody because one of the suspects is the spouse of a parliamentarian.
Eva said that sexual offenses, including rape, sexual assault of children, and gender-based violence often leave little evidence and few or no witnesses. She said that it is for the very reason that laws to counter sexual harassment and other sexual offenses are designed to allow for the victim’s statement to be admissible as evidence.
“Therefore, releasing these offenders by claiming lack of evidence and saving perpetrators such crimes doesn’t fall in line with the spirit of the law at all. When victims say they have been violated, that they have been sexually violated; the laws are designed to accommodate that it be taken as evidence,” she said.
Eva said that the women in Maldives remain deprived of justice and protection despite the many laws which have been enacted for the very purpose.
“This means that even the police, when a woman says she has been sexually violated, cannot say there isn’t sufficient evidence. Sexual violence often leaves little evidence,” she said.
Eva said that everyone, whether the police, the prosecutor general’s office, the courts, the parliament, or the community at large, must believe a woman when she says she has been sexually violated.
She said that the investigation must begin based on the victim’s account, and that the victim must be believed, until the investigation is done, justice is served, and the truth revealed.
“The investigation must begin by accepting the victim’s account as truth. Whether the police, the prosecutor general’s office, the courts, or this parliament, everyone must look into the case my accepting the victim’s account as truth, until justice is served and the truth revealed,” she said.
Eva said the situation of the women in Maldives has remained uncharged throughout changes of political parties and governments in power.
“Maldives has never been able to establish protection and justice for women. Never. Political parties come and go, and governments come and go, but the situation of women in this country remains unchanged. It remains unchanged despite the numerous laws,” she said.
Eva said that until the desired change is realized, the lack of protection and justice for women must be treated as a major issue, which warrants additional funding, necessary legislative changes, and necessary changes to policymakers.
“We need to make a perpetual political commitment towards this to provide lasting protection for Maldivian women,” she said.
Eva said the investigation into the sexual assault on the safari boat must be fair and transparent.
She said that parliament has no other motivation but to seek the truth and establish justice in debating on the emergency motion and convening parliamentary committees to look into the case.
She said the reason why the parliament is looking into the case is because it considers it to be a huge issue, and does not wish to brush it off.
“I am certain that the parliament has no other motivation but to provide justice for the victim and seek the truth,” said Eva.