Government defends Supreme Court’s HRCM ruling

A Supreme Court judgment that bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organization without oversight “clearly stresses” the commission’s independence, the Maldivian foreign ministry has said.

The 11-point guideline issued by the apex court, in a ruling that also found the a human rights assessment submitted by the watchdog to the UN unlawful, simply prescribes how the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives should operate within the law, the ministry said.

UN rights experts, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and civil society groups have denounced the guideline as one that restricts the HRCM’s work and its right to share information freely with the UN.

But the foreign ministry said the guidelines “do no stipulate, in any specific terms, any restriction or limitation on the HRCM’s ability to submit reports to the UN or any other national or international organ in the future.”

The guideline was issued under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

Point 7 of the guideline orders the commission to ensure “full cooperation” from other state institutions, while point 8 says the HRCM must communicate with foreign bodies according to procedures set by the state and through the relevant state institution.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the verdict was “completely unacceptable.” The guideline is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst described the verdict as “an act of reprisal.”

The charges relate to a report the HRCM had submitted to the Universal Periodic Review, a process that studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states with the aim of supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

In the report, the HRCM had said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.

The apex court said the report was biased and undermined judicial independence and the Maldives constitution.

Defending the Supreme Court, the foreign ministry today said: “To suggest that the Supreme Court has, in this case, deliberately sought to curtail the activities of the HRCM, as a state institution appears to be a mischaracterization, in that the substance of the suomoto case is not concerned with the substance of the report prepared for the UPR, but issues concerning the compilation of that report.”

The Supreme Court judges, in fact, did take issue with the substance of the report, and also censured the HRCM for basing its assessment of the judiciary on reports written by Knaul, the International Commission of Jurists and advocacy group Transparency Maldives.

Then- Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, in September last year, suggested the HRCM should not cite Knaul as the judiciary had rejected her 2013 report on the judiciary.

The Supreme Court verdict, delivered eight months after the charges were first pressed, comes as the parliament prepares to appoint three new members to the HRCM as the five-year terms of three members are due to expire in August and September.

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former ruling party MP, the wife of a current ruling party MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the soon to be vacant seats.

The government has meanwhile hired a law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to “strengthen the legislative framework of the government.” Omnia Strategy also specializes in public relations.

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Criticism mounts against Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judgment, which bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organizations, appears to weaken its ability to engage with the UN human rights system and is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” a UN rights chief has said.

The apex court on Tuesday declared a rights assessment submitted to the UN by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful, and issued a legally binding 11-point guideline.

The guideline requires the HRCM to communicate with foreign bodies through relevant government institutions, and warn against causing damage to the reputation of the Maldives.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement on Friday said it was “completely unacceptable” for the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on the commission’s engagement with international bodies.

“In this case, the Supreme Court appears to be yet again overreaching its mandate by playing a legislative role. Laws regulating the very important human rights monitoring and reporting work of civil society and independent institutions must be transparently adopted by legislative bodies following wide consultations and open debate, in line with international human rights and standards,” he said.

The guideline was issued under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

The charges relate to an HRCM report to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, in which the commission said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.

The UPR studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states and is aimed at supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

The Maldives underwent a second inspection in May. Nations across the world criticized the Maldives over the politicization of the judiciary and raised concern over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of HRCM.

Zeid reminded the government that it had committed to ensuring the HRCM’s independence after the UPR. The foreign ministry had also committed to ensure that the HRCM and other civil society groups would be able to participate in international mechanisms without reprisals.

Noting that three new commissioners are to be appointed for August and September, Zeid said: “The appointments must be made through a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process, with the extensive involvement of civil society.

“New commissioners must be selected on the basis of their proven commitment to human rights, integrity and independence, not their political loyalties.”

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the wife of a current PPM MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the HRCM. The three are expected to gain parliamentary approval as the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a Geneva-based advocacy group, has said the Supreme Court’s ruling is a clear breach of the Maldives’ membership of the UN human rights council.

The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.

“For a member state of the UN Human Rights Council to retaliate against a national human rights institution for providing a report to the council is tantamount to contempt and is plainly incompatible with membership of that body,” ISHR Program Manager, Eleanor Openshaw.

The Asian Center for Human Rights has also called for Maldives to be suspended from the council over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

Zeid, in his statement also said: “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former president Nasheed.”

The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst have described the Supreme Court verdict “an act of reprisal” and urged the court to reconsider its verdict.

In March last year, the Supreme Court had sacked the Elections Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticized a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the court after it annulled the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-corruption watchdog was not authorized to suspend government contracts even if they suspected major corruption.

The president of the Anti – Corruption Commission at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption.

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Supreme Court verdict against HRCM ‘an act of reprisal,’ says UN experts

The Supreme Court’s ruling which imposes several restrictions on the Maldives human rights watchdog “is an act of reprisal” and contravenes both the Maldives’ Constitution and its international human rights obligations, two UN rights experts have said.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled a report submitted by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to the UN in September last year as unlawful.

Judges set an 11-point guideline barring the commission from communicating with foreign bodies without oversight from “relevant state institutions.”

The guideline also orders the HRCM to ensure their activities are conducted with the full cooperation of other state institutions and that they “will not ruin the reputation of the Maldives.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision is purely and simply an act of reprisal against the Human Rights Commission for its legitimate cooperation with the UN human rights systems and its mechanisms,” said the UN special rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

Knaul and Forst have urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its verdict.

The Supreme Court had charged the HRCM with treason under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the court to prosecute and pass judgment.

The charges related to an HRCM report to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, in which the commission said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldives judiciary.

The UPR is a process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states by other states, in order to improve the situation in all countries and address violations.

During a second hearing last year, the HRCM said its observations were based on reports by Knaul, the International Commission of Jurists and advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives.

Judges censured the commission then, saying the judiciary had rejected Knaul’s 2013 report as “invalid.”

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed on Tuesday said the HRCM report was biased and undermined judicial independence in the Maldives.

Knaul and Forst said the Supreme Court verdict “is an undue interference into the independent work of the commission and their right to share information freely with the UN.”

The verdict is at attempt to strip the HRCM of its independence and “severely limit its constitutional prerogative to promote, as well as monitor and assess observance of, human rights in the country,” they said.

The Supreme Court has contravened the Maldives constitution which enshrines the independence of the Human Rights Commission, they added.

“While the judiciary is to decide matters before it without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, or threats, it is bound by the powers granted by the Constitution and the laws and must function in full compliance with the state’s international human rights obligations.”

Knaul and Forst said the government has not responded to an October 2014 letter they had written regarding the charges.

“We deeply regret that the government of the Maldives has failed to respond to this letter and urge the government to respond to the questions addressed in a timely manner.”

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, civil society groups and lawyers have also condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling and said the court has infringed on the parliament’s mandate by “writing laws” for the HRCM.

In March last year, the court had sacked the Elections Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticized a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the court after it annulled the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-corruption watchdog was not authorized to suspend government contracts even if they suspected major corruption.

The president of the Anti – Corruption Commission at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption.

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Nasheed’s terrorism trial “a mockery” of Constitution, verdict “may have been pre-determined,” says Knaul

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism trial “made a mockery” of the Maldives Constitution, and violated the country’s international human rights obligations, the UN special rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers has said.

In a damning statement issued on Thursday, Gabriela Knaul highlighted several irregularities in the opposition leader’s rushed trial, and said: “The speed of the proceedings combined with the lack of fairness in the procedures lead me to believe the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on March 13 after the Criminal Court found him guilty of “forcefully abducting” Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The surprise trial began one day after Nasheed was arrested on February 22, and was completed in just 11 short hearings over 19 days.

“The series of due process violations that were reported to me since Mr. Nasheed’s arrest on 22 February is simply unacceptable in any democratic society,” Knaul said.

Warning of a “seriously deteriorating situation in the independence of the justice system,” the expert urged the Maldives to guarantee that Nasheed’s appeal would respect the most stringent fair trial and due processes.

The Maldivian authorities must allow the public, including international observers who were arbitrarily denied access to the Criminal Court, to attend appeal hearings, she said.

Nasheed’s lawyers, however, have already raised concern over alleged attempts by the Criminal Court to block the former president from launching an appeal.

With one week having passed since the verdict was issued, the Criminal Court failed to release any relevant trial documents until yesterday (March 19), which lawyers say are necessary for Nasheed to meet the ten day appeal deadline provided in new regulations enacted by the Supreme Court.

Selective justice

The Maldives’ decision to try Nasheed on terrorism, while his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has not had to answer for any of the serious human rights violations documented during his term is “troubling for a country whose constitution enshrines the independence and impartiality of the justice system as a prerequisite for democracy and the rule of law,” Knaul also said.

She urged the Maldives to consider the recommendations she had put forth in a 2013 report, including revising the composition of the judicial watchdog body the Judicial Services Commission, proper investigation of judges’ misconduct, enforcing the judges’ code of conduct and increasing the judiciary’s financial and human resources.

“The delicate issue of accountability for past human rights violations also needs to be addressed,” she noted at the time.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday raised similar concerns as Knaul over Nasheed’s trial, including the Criminal Court having denied Nasheed adequate time to prepare defence and a refusal to call defence witnesses.

The experts have also expressed concern over the Criminal Court’s decision not to wait until Nasheed sought new legal representation when his lawyers resigned half-way through the trial.

Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin and two judges of the three-member bench providing witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest amounted to conflict of interest, both Knaul and Zeid have said

“Clearly no one should be above the law, and the trial of a former Head of State would be a major challenge for any government. But in a polarised context, and given the long-standing serious concerns about the independence and politicisation of the judiciary in the Maldives, this case should have been handled with much greater care and transparency,” Zeid said on Wednesday.


Related to this story:

UN human rights chief expresses strong concern over “hasty and apparently unfair” Nasheed trial

Former President Nasheed found guilty of terrorism, sentenced to 13 years in prison

US, EU, and UK concerned over lack of due process in Nasheed trial

Respect Criminal Court verdict, says President Yameen

“This is not a court of law. This is injustice,” Nasheed tells the Criminal Court

Judge Abdulla suspected of involvement in “contract killing,” says Nasheed

A justice system in crisis: UN Special Rapporteur’s report

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MDP files motion calling government to address judicial issues highlighted by Special Rapporteur

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has filed a motion calling the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to address issues highlighted in the report by United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, concerning the country’s judiciary.

Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council extensively outlined the political, budgetary and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and its failure to appoint qualified judges under Article 285 of the constitution.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tried for an act he took outside of his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” Knaul wrote.

The motion, filed by MDP MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, was debated during the parliamentary session held on Monday. The motion was passed by 23 out of 34 members present during the session, while nine members voted against it.

Presenting the motion, Fahmy said the judiciary was impaired after it appointed the judges for life, without considering the constitutional provisions specified in article 285 of the constitution.

He contested that the JSC, instead of ensuring that the judges met the required standards befitting an independent judiciary, had lowered the standards to ensure all existing judges were qualified to sit on the bench for life, plunging the whole judicial system into chaos.

Due to the JSC’s decision to lower the standards, judges accused and in some cases convicted of criminal wrongdoing had been reinstated, he contended.

Fahmy further contested that every citizen of the country was entitled to the right to get a fair hearing and that not even the Supreme Court could undermine such a fundamental right.

He noted that the judiciary disregards any remark made that highlight its own flaws, dismissing them as attempts to tarnish the image of the judiciary and lower its image among the public.

Parliamentary debate

Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla raised doubts over the legitimacy of the current membership of the JSC, highlighting that current Attorney General Aishath Bisham – who by virtue of her position is also a member of JSC – is yet to be endorsed by the parliament.

Local media alleged that Aishath Bisham had taken part in the vote taken during the JSC meeting in which it decided to indefinitely suspend the Chief Judge of High Court over a complaint filed a year ago.

Abdul Raheem Abdulla also questioned the legitimacy of the position of Civil Service Commission (CSC) President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, who was removed from his post by parliament reinstated after the Supreme Court overturned parliament’s decision.

In March, the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Mohamed Fahmy Hassan would receive two punishments for the same crime if he was convicted at court following his dismissal by parliament (double jeopardy).

The doubts surrounding the legality of these people sitting in the JSC posed questions over how just a decision by JSC could be, Abdulla Abdul Raheem said.

He further contended that the JSC had been overpowered by political influence both internal and external, however maintained that no one should meddle with the affairs of the court.

JP’s own leader, resort tycoon and MP Gasim Ibrahim, also sits on the commission.

However, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) MP Ahmed ‘Aims’ Amir spoke in favour of JSC, stating that he saluted the commission for completing the appointment of judges within the time frame required by the constitution.

Amir claimed that the two parties had agreed with the appointment of the permanent Supreme Court bench, but were now criticising the bench because it did not work to their pleasure.

Government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Parliamentary Group Leader, Ahmed Mausoom, said Special Rapporteur Knaul had asked to resolve the issues through dialog between the authorities, and noted that her recommendations included amending the constitution.

Other recommendations, Mausoom said, included changing the composition of the JSC, and calling on political parties to work on creating awareness among the public of the laws of the country and its constitution, and speeding up the legislative process.

Opposition MDP Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ali Waheed meanwhile accused the JSC Chair Justice Adam Mohamed of being a “gang leader”, and said the only way to reform the judiciary was through direct action by the people.

Another MDP MP, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, claimed that presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Abdulla Yameen, and JP MP Gasim Ibrahim were key conspirators behind the sabotage of the judiciary.

Government’s response

Following Knaul’s report, the government of President Waheed responded with a statement that “international actors should not undermine national jurisdiction and the court system of any country”.

The statement was issued on May 28 via Permanent Representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, who further said that the Maldivian delegation, in light of the report, “wishes to discuss specific matters contained in the report with the Rapporteur”.

At the same time the statement “welcomed” the UN Rapporteur’s report and “fully acknowledge[s] that the various challenges she has identified and raised in her report are in fact the residue challenges present in a system in the midst of democratic consolidation.The Maldives judicial system continues to be hampered by structural deficiencies and resource constraints in addressing the difficult challenges facing the country in general.”

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A justice system in crisis: UN Special Rapporteur’s report

UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, has expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.

“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tried for an act he took outside of his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” wrote Knaul, in her final report to the UN Human Rights Council following her Maldives mission in February 2013.

The report is a comprehensive overview of the state of the Maldivian judiciary and its watchdog body, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Knaul examines the judiciary’s handling of the trial of former President Nasheed, the controversial reappointment of unqualified judges in 2010, and the politicisation of the JSC.

Knaul also examines parliament’s failure to pass critical pieces of legislation needed for the proper functioning of the judiciary and “legal certainty”, as well as raises serious concerns about an impending budget catastrophe facing the judicial system.

“The immediate implications of the budget cuts on the judiciary are appalling. For instance, the Department of Judicial Administration only has funds to pay staff salaries until November 2013 and it had to cancel training this year,” Knaul notes.

“The Civil Court reported that it would not have sufficient funds to pay its staff salaries after October 2013; furthermore, existing budgetary resources would not be sufficient to pay for utilities and facilities after June 2013,” she adds.

The Nasheed trial

Former President Mohamed Nasheed is currently facing criminal charges in the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court for his detention of the Criminal Court’s Chief Judge, Abdulla Mohamed, days prior to the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

“Judge Abdulla had allegedly shielded a number of powerful politicians in corruption cases by refusing to issue orders to investigate, and many complaints had been made regarding his conduct and supposed lack of ethics,” Knaul outlined.

“The Judicial Service Commission had completed an investigation on him in November 2011, holding him guilty of misconduct. This decision was appealed to the Civil Court, which ordered that the Judicial Service Commission’s complaint procedure be suspended.

“Although the Commission appealed the Civil Court’s ruling, Judge Abdulla was allowed to continue in his functions,” she added.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain the case against Nasheed is a politically-motivated attempt to convict and bar him from the September 7 presidential elections, while the new government has emphasised the judiciary’s independence and insisted on its policy of non-interference.

Following Knaul’s visit and her departure statement, several members of the JSC have also challenged the commission’s creation of the Hulhumale’ Court, and its appointment of the bench. The commission includes several of Nasheed’s direct political rivals, including a rival presidential candidate, resort tycoon, Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim.

“The trial of the former President raises serious concerns regarding the fairness of proceedings,” Knaul notes, questioning the constitutionality of the Hulhumale’ Court and the appointment of the three-member panel of judges, “which seems to have been set up in an arbitrary manner, without following procedures set by law.”

“According to the law, the Prosecutor General’s office should have filed the case of Mr Nasheed with the Criminal Court. While the concerns of the Prosecutor General’s office regarding the evident conflict of interests in this case are understandable, since Judge Abdulla sits in this court, it is not for the Prosecutor to decide if a judge is impartial or not,” stated Knaul.

“The Prosecutor should act according to the law when filing a case, as it is the duty of judges to recuse themselves if they cannot be impartial in a particular case,” she explained.

“All allegations of unfair trial and lack of due process in Mr Nasheed’s case need to be promptly investigated, including the claims that the trial is being sped up to prevent Mr Nasheed’s participation in the 2013 elections,” she added.

Knaul noted a decision by the Supreme Court to declare the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court as legitimate after the Commission filed a case with it in 2012.

“The Special Rapporteur was informed that the judge of the Supreme Court who cast the deciding vote in this case also sits as a member of the Judicial Services Commission, whose decision to establish the Hulhumalé court as a magistrates court was under review,” the report noted.

Politicisation of the JSC

Knaul observed that the JSC had a “complicated” relationship with the judiciary, given that the commission “considers that it has exclusive jurisdiction over all complaints against judges, including over criminal allegations, while the Prosecutor General understands that the criminal investigation agencies have the competence to investigate criminal conducts by anyone.”

Knaul underlined that “judges and magistrates, as well as other actors of the justice system, are criminally accountable for their actions. Criminal actions entail consequences and penalties that are different from those resulting from disciplinary or administrative investigations.”

The special rapporteur stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC – which draws members from sources outside the judiciary, such as parliament, the civil service commission and others – was “inadequate and politicised”. This complaint was first highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.

State of the courts

Conflicts of interest and the resulting impact on judges’ impartiality was also a concern, noted Knaul.

“It seems that judges, and other actors of the State, do not want to fully acknowledge and understand this concept, leading to the dangerous perception from the public that the justice system is politicised and even corrupted,” she said.

Knaul also expressed “shock to hear that many members of the judiciary, including in the Supreme Court, hold memberships in political parties.”

The Supreme Court, she noted, has meanwhile been “deciding on the constitutionality of laws ex-officio, without following appropriate examination procedures, under the understanding that they are the supreme authority for the interpretation of the Constitution.”

The relationship between prosecutors and the judiciary was also difficult, Knaul noted, expressing “serious concern” that some courts “use the threat of contempt of court and disbarment to impose their decisions and superiority over prosecutors.”

“The lack of a centralised case-management system does not facilitate their tasks either. In some places, such as Addu City, one prosecutor covers four courts and is often called to different hearings at the same time,” she observed.

“Symbolic” reappointment of judges

Two months prior to the end of the constitution’s transitional period and the deadline for the appointment of new judges according to moral and professional criteria – article 285 – the interim Supreme Court informed President Nasheed “that all its members would permanently remain on the bench.”

This action, Knaul noted, had “no legal or constitutional basis.”

“The five judges who had been sitting on the transitional bench were appointed to the seven-member permanent bench, leaving many with the perception that the Supreme Court was appointed in a politicised manner,” she noted.

The rest of the courts followed suit several months later at the conclusion of the interim period, with the Commission “opting for interpreting article 285 of the Constitution in a rather symbolic way and [not scrutinising] judges’ qualifications thoroughly.”

“For instance,” Knaul noted, “not all criminal allegations pending against judges were investigated. This resulted in a seemingly rushed reappointment of all sitting judges but six, which in the opinion of many interlocutors corrupted the spirit of the constitutional transitional provision.”

While the 2008 Constitution had “completely overturned the structure of the judiciary”, at the conclusion of the JSC’s work on article 285, “the same people who were in place and in charge, conditioned under a system of patronage, remained in their positions.”

As a result, “many believe that some judges who are currently sitting lack the proper education and training […] A simple judicial certificate, obtained through part-time studies, is the only educational requirement to become a judge.”

Way forward

Knaul’s report contains four pages of recommendations for judicial reform, starting with a “constitutional review” of the composition of the Judicial Services Commission – the same conclusion reached by the ICJ in 2010.

“The Maldives finds itself at a difficult crossroad, where the democratic transition is being tested, while remnants of its authoritarian past are still hovering,” Knaul observed, stating that the power struggle she witnessed during her visit had “serious implications on the effective realisation of the rule of law in the Maldives.”

Among many other recommendations, Knaul called on the government to show “strong and nonpartisan leadership”, by pushing for “constructive dialogue aimed at establishing clear priorities for the country, the adoption of necessary core legislation, and policy measures to consolidate the democracy. Such leadership should be guided by the Maldives’ obligations under international human rights law, which provide for a sound and sustainable foundation for democracy.”

She also noted that “the delicate issue of accountability for past human rights violations also needs to be addressed.”

Read the full report

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Nasheed’s legal team files High Court case to defer trial until after elections

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team filed a case with the High Court today (March 24) regarding the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election.

Nasheed is facing criminal charges over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during the last days of his presidency.

Nasheed’s legal team previously requested the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court delay the trial until the end of the scheduled presidential elections in 2013, and in a separate request, asked the Hulhumale’ court for a delay in proceedings by four weeks, during the March 7 Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing.

At the same hearing, state prosecutors said they did not object to delaying the trial until presidential elections scheduled for September this year are over.

The Hulhumale’ court dismissed the request to delay the trial until the end of the elections, but agreed to withhold it for four weeks, stating that the panel of judges by majority “had decided to proceed with the trial”.

Nasheed’s lawyers subsequently contested the decision, claiming that continuing the trial could compromise the rights of many people, arguing that Nasheed was the presidential candidate of the largest political party in the country, the MDP.

However, the court stated that Nasheed’s claim he was the presidential candidate of a political party lacked legal grounds to support it, as presidential candidates were decided by the Elections Commission after it opened the opportunity to file presidential candidates.

Filing of presidential candidates is expected to take place in July.

High Court case submission

Nasheed’s legal team submitted a case to the High Court at approximately 10:20 this morning (March 24) to defer the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election, MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy told Minivan News.

“Now the court has to formally accept the case, which will happen at a later date,” stated Fahmy.

“We expect that prior to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing, the High Court should have a decision and will ask the lower court to halt the case,” he added.

Nasheed’s legal team confirmed with Minivan News that the case has been submitted to the High Court.

“This is not an appeal. We submitted a case to the High Court for the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court case until the election is over,” said one of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hifaan Hussain.

“The court accepted the documents, but we are waiting for the court to accept and register the case,” she explained.

Hussain explained a reply from the High Court will likely be issued within three days and once the case is accepted it should take about a month to complete.

She expects the High Court to grant the deferment of lower court’s case against Nasheed until the presidential election is over.

President Nasheed’s Spokesperson MP Mariya Didi is also confident the High Court will grant the deferment.

“The prosecution has said they have no objection to deferment of the trial until after the elections,” Didi stated.

“I don’t see any reason why the court should not grant deferment when the prosecutor has no objection to it,” she added.

Politicising  justice

The MDP maintain that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting elections in September, and have condemned the former President’s repeated arrest on the court’s order by squads of masked special operations police.

Speaking during a party rally held earlier in March, President Nasheed stated that the four-week break granted by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court until the next hearing was an opportunity for state institutions to decide on the matter.

“Delaying trial for just four weeks has no meaning. There is no reason for it nor does it help anyone. We want the trial to be delayed till the elections are over. [The prosecution] gave one month and said that they did not object to further delays,” Nasheed told his supporters.

Nasheed said that it was very clear that charge of arresting the judge was not a charge against him alone, but several others as well.

He also warned that if the magistrate court issued a verdict that would bar him from contesting the elections, a lot of people would rise up against the decision and trigger a “very dangerous political insurgency”.

Didi also highlighted the large number of Maldivians continuing to support Nasheed, speaking with Minivan News today.

“It is clear that 46,000 Maldivians have decided President Nasheed is their presidential candidate. Our campaigns show that President Nasheed will win the elections with a clear majority.

“The coup has set us back not only with regard to democracy and human rights, but in regard to investor confidence and development.

“Our international development partners have also urged the government to take account of the wishes of the people and to hold an inclusive election with – as the European Union put it – the chosen candidate of MDP Mohamed Nasheed being able to contest the elections.

“We cannot waste another five years with a government that lacks a democratic mandate,” Didi declared.

Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court legitimacy questioned

During the early-March MDP rally, Nasheed also criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) stating that the problem with Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was not just the panel of judges. He alleged that the JSC had formulated the bench and have now been forcing administrative staff of the court to do specific things to impact the trial.

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee has been investigating the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, specifically the appointment of judges by the JSC.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Friday (March 22) that a notice had been sent to Gasim Ibrahim - who is a Majlis-appointed JSC member and also the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party (JP) – regarding a case to remove him from his JSC post.

The parliamentary committee summoned all members of the JSC to attend the committee on Wednesday (March 20) to face questions regarding the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

Another committee meeting is scheduled to take place tonight (March 24).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, also raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC during her investigative visit to the Maldives this February.

As part of a wider review of the Maldives justice system, Knaul claimed that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

Knaul maintained that the former president, like every other Maldivian citizen, should be guaranteed a free and independent trial.

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Documents from JSC show Gasim is lobbying Hulhumale’ court bench: MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged there is evidence to support claims that parliament’s member to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Gasim Ibrahim, has influenced the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

The party’s comments follow a recently submitted motion by MDP Parliamentary Group Member Ibrahim ‘Bondey’ Rasheed to remove Gasim – who is also the leader and presidential candidate of Jumhoree Party – from the JSC.

Rasheed accused Gasim of influencing the legal processes in place to make judges accountable, adding that it “is not right” for a party president to sit on the JSC, local media reported.

Speaking to Minivan News today, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee had received documents from the JSC, showing that Gasim had been lobbying the Hulhumale’ Court bench.

The JSC was responsible for both creating the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court in which the former President of the Maldives and leader of the MDP, Mohamed Nasheed, is currently facing trial, and appointing the panel of judges hearing the case.

The MDP have maintained that the charges against Nasheed are a politically motivated attempt to bar him from the election in September – in which Gasim is also competing.

“The oversight committee received a total of 18 documents and a number of minutes from the JSC. The documents show that a magistrate [from Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court] had originally proposed a bench of judges for the court to the JSC on September 2, 2012,” Hamid claimed.

According to the MDP Spokesperson, the JSC had responded to the proposal by letter on September 4, calling for the aforementioned magistrate to “not do anything”.

“On the same day [September 4, 2012], The JSC then held a meeting at 12:30 whereby they proposed a new bench before ratifying it and sending it to the Supreme Court for approval.

“The JSC received the approval from the court on the same day and the bench proposed by the magistrate was never even discussed,” he added.

Responding to the MDP’s claims, JP Spokesperson Moosa Ramiz stated that Gasim had “every right” to sit on the JSC under the Maldivian constitution.

“Actually Mr Gasim is the JSC member not on behalf of the Jumhooree Party, but is there from the people’s majilis, so there are no more comments from the party on this matter,” Ramiz stated.

Gasim Ibrahim was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Local media reported on Tuesday (March 12) that Ramiz had claimed the MDP’s motion to remove Gasim from the JSC was an attempt to tarnish Gasim’s reputation and “good name”.

Furthermore, Ramiz was quoted as saying that the slanderous statements made by the MDP were done because they feared Gasim’s popularity as a presidential candidate.

The parliament secretary general confirmed to local newspaper Haveeru that the motion to remove Gasim from the 10 member JSC had been received.

Last month, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC.

“I have heard from numerous sources that the current composition of the JSC is inadequate and politicised.

Because of this politicisation, the commission has been subjected to all sorts of external influence and consequently has been unable to function properly,” Knaul stated last month.

Knaul said that she believed it best for such a body to be composed of retired or sitting judges, adding that it may be advisable for some representation of the legal profession or academics to be included.

However, she maintained that no political representation at all should be allowed in a commission such as the JSC.

In response to the Knaul’s findings, Gasim accused her of lying and joking about the state of the Maldivian judiciary.

“[Gabriela Knaul] claimed that the judges were not appointed transparently, I am sure that is an outright lie. She is lying, she did not even check any document at all nor did she listen to anybody.

“She is repeating something that was spoon-fed to her by someone else. I am someone who sits in JSC. She claimed there were no regulations or mechanism there. That is a big joke,” Gasim claimed.

Knaul is an independent expert appointed to deliver recommendations on potential areas of reform to the Maldives’ legal system at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in May, 2013.

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JSC member/presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim accuses UN Special Rapporteur of lying, joking

Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) and Parliament’s representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), MP Gasim Ibrahim, has accused UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul of lying and joking about the state of the Maldivian judiciary.

During her preliminary observations on the country’s judicial system, Gabriela Knaul expressed concern over the politicisation of JSC – the body constitutionally mandated to oversee the functioning of the judiciary.

Addressing a relatively small party gathering held in its headquarters in Male, Gasim – also the party’s presidential candidate – claimed that JSC had been acting within the boundaries of the law and that the process of the appointment of judges adhered to constitutional stipulations and the law.

“[Gabriela Knaul] claimed that the judges were not appointed transparently, I am sure that is an outright lie. She is lying, she did not even check any document at all nor did she listen to anybody. She is repeating something that was spoon-fed to her by someone else. I am someone who sits in JSC. She claimed there were no regulations or mechanism there. That is a big joke,” Gasim claimed.

“She wouldn’t tell bigger lie”

“We had made all the announcements through the media and we even clearly stated necessary criterion required as well as how the interviews will be carried out. We were acting on what we had announced. She couldn’t tell a bigger lie than that,” Gasim said.

Gasim claimed that the composition of  theJSC was decided after a strong debate between members of the assembly, and contended that “nobody can criticise its decisions, not even under international law”.

“That is why I am telling you all this. We the people should not believe the reports compiled by people who come like this without verifying it. This is an influence that has a different motive,” Gasim accused.

Gasim – who is also the Chairman of the Villa Group of companies that owns several resorts in the country – said that a UN representative had once come to Maldives and claimed it could never build a tourism industry.

“A person came like that in 1972. After much surveying, he claimed that the Maldives cannot host a viable tourism industry. Is that true today? But that is what was in the UN report. That is what is on the report by the World Bank. Does the Maldives not have a tourism industry now? He said we cannot; according to him we did not have electricity, water or a transport system but just a bunch of small islands. What would he know?” Gasim said.

Gasim also referred to the presidential elections.

“Is the US judiciary very good? What happened when [George W] Bush sought re-election? You would all know how that election went. Florida High Court ordered for a recount of the vote. When the issue came, Al Gore began winning and winning. Then the Republican Party, who was very upset with that, filed a case at the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court ordered not to count the votes and that President is Bush. Following that order, Al Gore admitted defeat and congratulated Bush on his re-election. This is something the world witnessed,” he told his supporters.

The incident to which Gasim Ibrahim referred took place in the US Presidential Elections 2000, in which George W Bush was running for office for the first time against then Vice President Al Gore. The election was called a victory for Bush after the US Supreme Court declared the ruling made by Florida Supreme Court requiring a state wide recount of votes was unconstitutional. Bush later ran for re-election against then Senator John Kerry in which he won the race by 286 to 251 electoral votes.

Concerns

Knaul’s preliminary observations highlighted that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

Her comment was among a number of preliminary observations on the Maldives’ judiciary and wider legal ecosystem, following an eight day fact-finding mission.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed – who is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

She also criticised the appointment of judges presiding over the case against former President Mohamed Nasheed, alleging that the set up was made in an “arbitrary manner”.

“Being totally technical, it seems to me that the set-up, the appointment of judges to the case, has been set up in an arbitrary manner outside the parameters laid out in the laws,” Knaul said.

Her key concerns included the politicisation of the JSC, flaws and inconsistencies over the independence of the judiciary and lack of transparency and accountability.

“I have heard from numerous sources that the current composition of the JSC is inadequate and politicised. Because of this politicisation, the Commission has been subjected to all sorts of external influence and consequently has been unable to function properly,” Knaul stated.

Knaul said she believed it best for such a body to be composed of retired or sitting judges. She added that it may be advisable for some representation of the legal profession or academics to be included.

However, she maintained that no political representation at all should be allowed in a commission such as the JSC.

“I believe that an appointment body acting independently from both the executive and legislative branches of government should be established with the view to countering any politicization in the appointment of judges and their potential improper allegiance to interests other than those of fair and impartial justice,” Knaul added.

Judicial independence

Knaul stated that upon conclusion of her mission meetings, she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.

“The requirement of independence and impartiality does not aim at benefiting the judges themselves, but rather the court users, as part of their inalienable right to a fair trial,” Knaul stated, while emphasising the important role of integrity and accountability in judicial independence, and hence its role in the implementation of the rule of law.

Stating that it is vital to establish mechanisms of accountability for judges, prosecutors and court staff, Knaul said: “Such mechanisms must guarantee that the investigation of any actor in the judicial system safeguards the person’s right to a fair hearing. Investigations should be based on objective criteria, the process should respect the basic principles of a fair trial and an independent review of all decisions should be available.”

Transparency and accountability

“When selection criteria [of judges] used by such a body [as the JSC] are objective, clear, based on merit, transparent and well publicised, public understanding of the process and the basis for the appointment of judges increases, and the perception of unfair selection of appointments can be avoided,” Knaul said.

Knaul also spoke of the lack of transparency in the assignment of cases, the constitution of benches in all courts, including the Supreme Court.

“When cases are assigned in a subjective manner, the system becomes much more vulnerable to manipulation, corruption, and external pressure. Information on the assignment of cases should be clearly available to the public in order to counter suspicions of malpractice and corruption,” she observed.

Knaul stated that while transparency is public administration is an obligatory requirement in a democracy, transparency remains a challenge for the Maldivian judiciary.

Furthermore, Knaul highlighted the absence of some fundamental legislation – including the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act – in the Maldives, adding that this posed huge challenges to upholding the rule of law.

Knaul was appointed to deliver recommendations on potential areas of reform to the Maldives’ legal system, at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in May, 2013.

Velezinee ruined the JSC: Gasim

Gasim meanwhile alleged that the JSC could not function properly due to then President Mohamed Nasheed’s appointee to the commission, Aishath Velezinee.

Velezinee was an outspoken critic and whistleblower on judicial inconsistencies and lapses. She has consistently maintained that the JSC is complicit in protecting judges appointed under the former 30 year autocracy, colluding with parliament to ensure legal impunity for senior supporters of the old regime. In January 2011 she was stabbed twice in the back in broad daylight.

“At first, the JSC were not able to carry out its duties because of a person called Aishath Velezinee who was appointed to the commission by [President] Nasheed of Canaryge’. She destroyed the whole place. The damage she inflicted on the JSC was so severe that we had to do so much work to bring the place back to order,” he claimed.

Gasim said judiciaries in all countries had problems and that this was not a different case in the Maldives. He also contended in all the countries have to be reformed.

“A person called Gabriela came and met us. She told us there are lots of issues that need to be corrected within the judiciary. Judiciaries in all countries should be reformed. Which country has a judiciary that does not need to be reformed?” Gasim asked.

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