An established barrister in her own right, having made QC in 1995 and with a CBE to her name, Cherie Blair (the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair) founded Omnia Strategy LLP, an ‘international law firm that provides strategic counsel to governments, corporates and private clients,’ in 2011.
As stated in an email sent from Omnia Strategy to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), Omnia Strategy were appointed by the Government of the Maldives to “advise on legislative reform and promotion of human rights as part of the Government’s strategy of democracy consolidation.” The relationship between Omnia Strategy and the Government of the Maldives has come under scrutiny, mostly with regards to the case against the former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed.
After 30 years of autocracy, in the first multiparty election decided by popular vote, Nasheed was sworn in as President in November 2008. Four years earlier, he had been declared a political refugee here in the United Kingdom. At the time when Nasheed was recognised as a refugee by the British Government, Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Speaking at a press conference in London, Nasheed said of Mrs. Blair, “It’s very sad that a Labour former prime minister’s wife has decided to work against the people of the Maldives.” It’s understandable that Nasheed, having had a good working relationship with previous Labour leaders Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, may feel somewhat betrayed at this representation.
Having been arrested over twenty times for crimes including writing articles about the Maldivian elections, Mohamed Nasheed has been praised worldwide for his work in preventing climate change and promoting human rights and has been labelled ‘the Mandela of the Maldives.‘ In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron told The Guardian that “my new best friend is the President of the Maldives.” With public figures as wide-ranging as Barack Obama, Richard Branson and the UN Human Rights Commissioner backing President Nasheed, why does the wife of a former British Prime Minister continue to fight, with the Maldivian Government, against him?
In an email from Omnia Strategy on behalf on Cherie Blair to the FCO, it was stated that Omnia Strategy were aware that “the UK has expressed concerns regarding recent events in the country, particularly regarding Former President Nasheed.” With a UN Working Group stating that Nasheed did not receive a fair trial (according to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)), this means that the human rights of Mohamed Nasheed have been breached. The same UN Working Group concluded his conviction was politically motivated.
With Omnia Strategy’s former clients including the governments of Kazakhstan and Gambia, both of whom have a history of human rights violations including, but not limited to, illegal detention and torture, many people might start to wonder how a firm who advise ‘on the integration of the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’ are actually making a positive change with regards to human rights. In recent months, it has been said that Omnia strategy took an undisclosed amount of money from the repressive regime. It is perhaps also interesting to note that amongst the members of Omnia Strategy’s Advisory Council is Aliko Dangote, the richest person in Africa with an estimated wealth of $25 billion. The resulting corruption scandal over the relationship Omnia Strategy has with the Government of the Maldives has likely only increased the amount of time before justice can be found for Nasheed.
Why would a government choose a firm founded by the wife of a former British PM to advise them? Did they seek to use the firm’s political ties to influence the case against Nasheed? Perhaps the answer may be the simple fact that Omnia Strategy are a successful international law firm with a track record of resolving international disputes. Perhaps, these are the questions the world will likely never know the answer to.
With accusations of corruption against his prosecutors, a history of an unfair trial and the high profile nature of the case, it’s difficult to say if justice will ever be found for President Nasheed. To encourage the current President of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, to free Nasheed, sign this ‘Take Action’ petition.