GENEVA (Reuters) - The Maldives will make a big mistake if it ends a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty, an independent U.N. human rights expert said on Thursday, after a senior government minister said executions might take place within days.
"The resumption of executions in the Maldives after more than 60 years would be a great setback for the country and entire region, and would run counter to international trends towards abolition," Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a statement.
The U.N. said 20 prisoners, including at least five juvenile offenders, had been sentenced to death, and three men convicted of murder were at imminent risk of execution, despite concerns over whether they had had fair trials.
"The Government must halt the executions of these three men," Callamard said. "To implement the death penalty after flawed trials would constitute arbitrary executions in clear violation of international law."
Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the Maldives risked earning global notoriety. The move would put it "on the wrong side of history", since 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
"The executions are a transparent ploy by the government to distract attention from its own woes. It is alarming that they would think of depriving people of their right to life just to ensure their own political survival," Patnaik said.
The largely Muslim island chain, which has a population of 400,000, has a reputation as a tourist paradise, but it has been mired in political unrest since Mohamed Nasheed, its first democratically elected president, was ousted in 2012.
The opposition is trying to unseat Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, alleging President Abdulla Yameen's administration is trying to cover up corruption, including money laundering. The government has denied the accusations.
The U.N. statement said Callamard had sought clarifications from the government after Home Affairs Minister Azleen Ahmed said on 28 July that executions would take place within the next few days.
Five months ago, he announced that the country was building two execution chambers, and in April Yameen said executions would be carried out within the next few months, the U.N. statement said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Mohamed Shihar in Colombo, editing by Larry King)