Scottish Police College and former officers have trained some of the Maldives police facing allegations of brutality against pro-democracy protesters, opposition MPs and journalists
Maldivian policemen block protesters after the ‘coup d’etat’ in February, when the island nation’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, stepped down. Photograph: Ibrahim Faid/AFP/Getty
The Maldives are marketed as a tourist paradise; a chain of idyllic coral islands with golden, palm-fringed beaches, where holidaymakers can bathe undisturbed in the warm, crystal-clear seas of the Indian Ocean.
But that image has been challenged by a series of damning reports by human rights investigators. They accuse the Maldives police service (MPS) of serious, repeated civil rights abuses against pro-democracy protesters, opposition MPs and journalists.
Violence in the Commonwealth nation sharply escalated this year after the forced departure of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed, in February. Human rights agencies believe that the alleged coup, and the violence since then, has shattered the islands’ slow, fragile journey to democracy.
That conflict, which has reportedly led to the mass detention of 2,000 opposition activists, assaults and arrests of 19 opposition MPs, as well as sexual assaults, torture and the indiscriminate use of pepper sprays – including twice against ex-president Nasheed, has raised significant questions about the role of British police in training and advising the islands’ controversial police service.
Opposition groups, Amnesty International and senior officials in the reformist Nasheed government, including the former high commissioner to the UK and the former chair of the Maldives’ police integrity commission, have told the Guardian about their serious concerns over the UK’s role.
They believe significant contradictions have emerged in the UK’s dealings with the Maldives police, which threaten to damage the UK’s reputation in south Asia.
Farah Faizal, the former Maldives high commissioner to the UK and a member of the UK-based Friends of the Maldives pressure group, said: “If they’ve been providing training all these years and the MPS in Maldives are carrying out all these brutal attacks on people then there are obviously questions for them [whether] it is the right training they’ve been getting.”
Opposition activists say the UK has been aware about the police force’s troubled reputation for years: senior British officers raised serious anxieties about human rights standards more than five years ago.
After a fact-finding mission in 2007, one senior retired Scottish officer, John Robertson, described the force’s special operations command as an “openly paramilitary organisation” and a “macho elite … most of whom lack basic police training”.
In 2009, two senior British officers recruited by British diplomats – Superintendent Alec Hippman of Strathclyde police and a former inspector of constabulary for England, Sir David Crompton, made a series of recommendations to improve policing, after discovering the Maldives police service was poorly equipped for modern policing.
After policing improved during Nasheed’s three-year term of office, the MPS has been heavily implicated in the violent, alleged coup when Nasheed was deposed in February this year. He stepped down – alleging that he was forced to at gunpoint – after several days of brutal clashes between the police, the Maldives’ military, senior members of Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic party and pro-democracy campaigners.
That violence has continued since the alleged coup, raising allegations that the opposition Maldives Democratic party is being suppressed before fresh but unconfirmed elections are due to take place next year.
That alarm intensified after former president Nasheed was arrested in October for allegedly arresting a judge, and ignoring a travel ban and several of his MPs were arrested on a private island for allegedly drinking alcohol.
In July, Amnesty International described the situation there as a “human rights crisis” following “a campaign of violent repression [which] has gripped the country since President Mohamed Nasheed’s ousting in February 2012.” Its report, The Other Side of Paradise, concluded “there are already signs that the country is slipping back into the old pattern of repression and injustice.”
Opposition groups are alarmed that former police officers acting privately and the Scottish Police College (SPC), backed by the Foreign Office, have continued training MPS officers and advising the force during a period of intense political conflict and mounting allegations of human rights abuses.
Faizal said she had been pressing the Foreign Office to take much tougher action on human rights in the islands. “I would hope they would definitely review what they’ve been doing because somebody has been paying for this: they should dramatically review what they’ve been doing and they need to tell these people in the MPS if they want to continue their relationship, they must be seen to be policing rather than act like thugs, just going around and beating people.
“They have to be a credit to the Scottish Police College if they do well, but right now, how the MPS is behaving is absolutely shocking.”
An investigation by the Guardian has found that Scottish police forces and the SPC have been closely involved in training Maldivian police, including its current commissioner, Abdulla Riyaz, for more than 15 years – when the Maldives were dominated by the unelected, autocratic President Abdul Mamoun Gayoom.
Since then, more than 67 MPS officers have been trained at the college at Tulliallan in Fife, their fees helping the SPC earn millions of pounds of extra income from external contracts. In 2009-10, the college received £141,635 from training MPS officers. The SPC said those fees did not make a profit, but was breakeven income.
The course, a diploma in police management in which human rights was “covered”, was taken by 67 Maldives officers. A separate group of MPS officers were also given human rights training in 2011, the college said. At least 10 middle- and senior-ranking Maldives officers are believed to have attended previously.
Links between Scottish and Maldives police began in 1997 when Riyaz and three other officers – then part of the Maldives’ military national security force, which ran all internal policing before a civilian police service was set up in 2003, had a five-month visit to Scotland the Highlands and islands.
Seconded to the Northern constabulary, Riyaz spent a month in the Western Isles and four months in Inverness, before taking a postgraduate diploma in alcohol and drugs studies at Paisley University in 1999. That tour of the Highlands was seven years before Gayoom, reacting slowly to pressure from its allies, including the UK government, split up his national security force into a military arm and a civilian police service in 2004. In January 2007, as Gayoom came under growing pressure for democratic reforms, including relinquishing his control over the judiciary, the police and state prosecution service, the SPC signed its open-ended training deal with the MPS.
The Foreign Office admitted it had “serious concerns” about the alleged police brutality and was pressing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, to tackle the problem but added: “Targeted police capacity-building programmes can lead to increased police professionalism, responsiveness and accountability.
“Although progress is not always swift, we judge that UK engagement can make a positive contribution to consolidation of democracy and respect for human rights.”
The Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA), which runs Tulliallan, admitted it does not monitor policing in the Maldives, or check on how its former students perform, and admitted it had no knowledge of the critical report by Robertson from 2007. It said that monitoring links with the Maldives was the Foreign Office’s responsibility, through the British high commission in Sri Lanka.
John Geates, the interim chief executive of the SPSA and the former police college director who signed the original deal with the Maldives in 2007, defended its relationship with the force.
“We believe that sharing our wealth of experience and expertise is a positive way of contributing to the development and delivery of fair and effective policing across the world,” Geates said.
“We are passionate about showing other police forces how to deliver community policing by consent which, by its nature, means the college does not work with western democracies where that culture and ethos already exists.”
Bruce Milne, a former head of training and educational standards at Tulliallan college and retired chief superintendent, now works in the Maldives as a private consultant through his firm Learning & Solutions, but there are differing accounts about his work there.
Milne, who left Tulliallan in June 2010, initially signing a deal to provide training up to degree level with a private corporate security firm set up by Riyaz called Gage Pvt, and an organisation called the Centre for Security and Law Enforcement Studies.
According to Gage’s Facebook page, that deal was signed at a famous Maldives tourist resort called Sun Islands in December 2011, when Riyaz was not working for the Maldives police. Formerly an assistant commissioner, Riyaz had been sacked in early 2010 during Nasheed’s presidency for alleged fraud. He was reinstated as commissioner in February 2012, after Nasheed was deposed.
Riyaz told the Guardian that the deal signed last December lapsed after he rejoined the police. Milne’s company website said his firm “is in the process of forming a partnership with the MPS to create and support the Institute for Security and Law Enforcement Studies (Isles), in affiliation with the Scottish Police College, a world-renowned police training establishment.”
The college denied that. It said: “There is no formal affiliation between Learning & Solutions and the SPC in relation to the Maldives.”
Milne refused to discuss his dealings with the MPS with the Guardian, but his profile on the social networking site LinkedIn states he has been “responsible for the provision of advise [sic] on organisational development to the Commissioner of Police and to provide assistance and direction in the development of Isles, a professional institute offering competitive education and training for police and security staff in the Maldives”.
Superintendent Abdul Mannan, a spokesman for the MPS, denied that Milne was working with the MPS. He said: “Learning & Solution [sic] is working with Police Co-operative Society, a co-operative society registered under the Co-operative Societies Act of Maldives, and not MPS, to deliver a BSc course through Isles.
“Learning and Solutions is one out of the many foreign partner institutions working with Polco to deliver courses through Isles and Polco welcomes all interested parties to work in partnership to help Maldives deliver its security and justice sector training needs.”
Mannan said the MPS was committed to improving the force’s standards and its human rights record; it now had an internal police standards body that was modernising its policies and procedures. The force was “trying to professionalise the organisation and solid international partners are helping us achieve this goal.
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 17 December 2012 19.01 GMT
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