The Republic of Maldives is a constitutional democracy with a strong executive headed by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In 2004 the country began a process of political reform that included recognizing political parties, expanding freedom of expression and assembly, and improving prison conditions; however, serious issues remained. In March 2006 the government published the "Roadmap for the Reform Agenda." Progress in implementing the reform roadmap has been uneven. Most of the reform bills have not yet passed, and none has been fully implemented. Citizens faced restrictions on their ability to change their government; security forces occasionally abused detainees; and the government at times limited freedom of the press and freedoms of assembly and association. Citizens were not free to practice religions other than Islam. Unequal treatment of women existed, as did restrictions on workers' rights.
U.S. goals for advancing freedom and democracy in the country focus on assisting its democratic transition. The United States encourages the government to adhere to its reform roadmap timeline in order to hold the country's first free, multiparty elections in late 2008. The ambassador and other U.S. officials encourage President Gayoom, the opposition, and other decisionmakers to cooperate in working toward genuine democratic reform. The United States seeks to promote awareness of and respect for human rights, including religious freedom, and democratic institutions through bilateral discussions, public statements, exchange programs, and training for the security forces.
U.S. programs to advance democracy focus on urging the government to advance democratic reform. The ambassador encourages discussions between opposition leaders and senior government officials and expresses support for further negotiations on the reform agenda. Other senior U.S. officials, including the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, stressed this point several times in 2007 in meetings with the president, government officials, and members of the opposition. Engagement with the government consistently focuses on the need for more concrete steps on political reform.
Following the country's August 2007 referendum on its form of government and complaints by the opposition about the process, the ambassador urged the government and the opposition to make early plans to invite the international community to monitor what would be the country's first-ever multi-party presidential election in late 2008.
The United States promotes a robust civil society and consistently calls for respect for freedom of assembly. The U.S. government supports passage in parliament of a freedom of assembly law and a press freedom regulation instituting greater protections for journalists.
Through exchange programs, speakers, and educational opportunities, the United States promotes democratic values and seeks to mitigate extremist influences. In November 2007 the second annual U.S.-Maldives Friendship Week advanced U.S. goals on advocacy for democratic reform. The ambassador hosted and served as moderator for the first-ever multiparty public discussion on the democratic reform process. The week also inaugurated a new student advising program and boosted efforts to build ties between American and Maldivian educational institutions. During the week the ambassador and other U.S. officials engaged with a number of citizens and government officials to encourage the progress of democratic reform.
The United States frequently engages the government on the need to eliminate continued barriers to women's political and economic equality. To support the promotion of women's rights, in 2007 the secretary of state awarded the International Woman of Courage Award to a prominent Maldivian supporter of reform and respect for women's rights.
Training focused on increasing respect for human rights is a key component of all military-to-military programs. With U.S. funding, military officers participate in training programs, professional military education courses, and senior service schools, where they receive training on respect for human rights. The U.S. military also conducts joint exercises with local armed forces and promotes further professionalism and human rights awareness.