The Commonwealth has clarified that criteria for members of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) are expected to extend to all members, under the government’s commitment signed last week.
The CNI was set up by incoming President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to investigate the controversial circumstances that brought him to power on February 7.
Dr Waheed appointed the three member panel: Dr Ibrahim Yasir, Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef and Chair Ismail Shafeeu, Defence Minister under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – and subsequently the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) – challenged the independence of the commission and set a deadline for its composition to be adjusted.
Last week, a day before CMAG’s deadline, the government agreed to allow a retired Singaporean judge to co-chair the CNI, and also permit former President Mohamed Nasheed to appoint a representative to the commission.
Following the signing of that commitment – and the departure of Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon – the government gave a press conference during which Attorney General Azima Shukoor outlined the conditions for Nasheed’s appointee: they must not have served in a political position in the past two years, must not have taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must “be of good behavior and integrity”.
If an acceptable appointee was not nominated before the June 1 deadline, the government stated that it would appoint a lawyer to represent Nasheed on the panel.
Following the government’s rejection of nine nominees, the MDP challenged these conditions as highly subjective: “They are [essentially] saying Dr Waheed will appoint President Nasheed’s representative,” said former Youth and Human Resources Minister, Hassan Latheef.
Spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Richard Uku, told Minivan News that the criteria for membership of the CNI, as reflected in the commitment given to the Commonwealth Special Envoy, “are intended to apply to all Commission members, including existing ones as well as the nominee of former President Nasheed.”
“The Commission is intended to consist of persons who have not taken a public stand on the events of 7 February 2012 or who may be expected to testify to the Commission. The criteria are designed with this in mind,” he said.
“The Maldives Government has made a written commitment, witnessed by the Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Don McKinnon, to keep one place vacant for a suitable nominee from former President Nasheed on the Commission of National Inquiry. It is the Special Envoy’s hope that such a nominee can be in place no later than 1 June 2012, so that the reconstituted Commission can commence its work,” Uku added.
MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said it was likely that the Commonwealth would again have to mediate: “The government have defined ‘suitable’ in a manner conducive to them – in that case it might as well be Azima Shukoor. I think in the end it will be up to CMAG or the Special Envoy to define what they mean by this. That’s the impression I am getting at the moment,” he said.
The ‘Thinvana Adu’ campaign of NGOs has issued a statement in support of changes to the CNI, saying that it would “pave the way towards addressing the current political crisis”, and that any commitment to dialogue and working with international organisations by political actors “is a positive sign.”
Thinvana Adu spokesperson Aiman Rasheed said the NGO coalition was not able to comment officially on the conditions as they had not seen the Commonwealth’s agreement with the government and the MDP – “however any conditions should be agreeable to both parties,” he suggested. “Our stand is that the MDP should be represented on the commission, and that any people on the committee are acceptable to all parties. That is not the case with the current composition.”
Meanwhile, despite agreeing to change the CNI’s composition, the government has continued to maintain that the Commonwealth is being manipulated by opposition politicians, with President Waheed alleging to diplomats in Delhi last week that the Commonwealth was “intimidating” and “punishing” the government. He also challenged CMAG’s remit in placing the Maldives on its formal agenda.
“We are aware of the Maldives Government’s concerns as to CMAG’s scrutiny of the Maldives situation and have responded to them,” Uku told Minivan News.
“CMAG is specifically mandated by Commonwealth leaders to promote adherence to Commonwealth fundamental political values and to address situations where those values are seriously called into question. Given the situation where an elected Head of Government claimed that he was forced to resign, the nine Foreign Ministers who comprise CMAG felt obliged to be seized of the situation.”
Gayoom’s political party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), have meanwhile also demanded a representative on the CNI.
“President Nasheed has made the false allegation that our party’s interim president is behind the coup, and if a seat is reserved for Nasheed’s representative, then we must have representation on the council as well,” said PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer, addressing media last week.