Comment: Building a modern justice system that is right for the Maldives

As we see in the stories carried daily in this newspaper, Maldives is deep into the difficult business of building a strong and democratic society. There is often an understandable impatience about the time it takes to see the fruits of democracy, but when you compare to other countries that have had to do the same thing, you realise that the Maldives is trying to achieve in a few years what others have taken decades or centuries to do.

This is possible, but the key to success continues to be mobilising everybody around issues that are in the national interest. This is particularly true in the area of justice, which is the foundation of all democratic societies and the development of any nation. Developing a strong and independent justice system needs a concerted effort from all three branches of government, and civil society.

Change in the Maldives has brought its own anxieties, and society is particularly concerned about increasing levels of crime. This lends new impetus to the reform of the Criminal Justice System.

A reliable and operational criminal justice delivery system is needed to sustain democracy and the rule of law, strengthen new democratic institutions, and protect security, economic development and foreign investment, based on the firmest of foundations of justice and human rights. Establishing a robust criminal justice system is a very complex, long and difficult exercise, requiring work across many areas.

A vital step, however, is ensuring that the legislative foundation is put in place as soon as possible. Of priority, therefore, is enactment of criminal reform legislation, particularly the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), Evidence Bill, and the Juvenile Justice Bill.

A solid and modern Penal Code gives consistency to legal systems and makes criminal law more understandable and transparent to people. The Penal Code defines the general principles of criminal responsibility, classifying crimes and their penalties. If there is a proper Penal Code, it is much less necessary to draft legislation defining every crime or procedure. The Criminal Procedure Code will define procedures in criminal matters, which then provide transparency and accountability.

Another important piece of legislation is the Juvenile Justice Bill. Statistics on crime demonstrate that children under 18 and youth are involved in a lot of the cases of violent crimes. However, currently there are no strategic crime prevention programmes or rehabilitation programmes specifically targeting juvenile offenders.

In addition, there is no detention facility that caters for juvenile offenders, and there are no separate spaces for juvenile offenders to be incarcerated. In light of the emerging challenges and the increase in juvenile crime, the current law does not adequately cover rights of children or address the need for proper treatment of children in conflict with the law to rehabilitate them back in to society.

Until August 2008, Maldives’ criminal justice depended heavily on confessions. However with Constitutional reform, we are moving from a confession based to an evidence-based system, which is in line with international standards. It is therefore vital that we have an Evidence legislation that is in line with the new Constitutional reform and best practice.

Strong and functioning criminal justice systems certainly depend on a solid foundation of law, and effective courts, police, prosecutors, prisons and other institutions and actors. But it is equally important that public confidence in the system is high – to know that criminal conduct will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the rule of law, that the streets will be safe, that rehabilitation of offenders is possible, that human rights will be protected. Public confidence is served by knowledge and certainty. This demands the process of investigation and prosecution to be independent of political pressure, that it is transparent and follows a process that is fair and just.

We have already seen this year that pressure to ‘do something’ about crime, combined with a lack of the legal and institutional foundations discussed in this Opinion Editorial, can lead to a tendency to find reactive short-term solutions to complex problems, and even violate human rights.

The Maldives, instead, needs a proper criminal legislative framework as a matter of urgency. A real opportunity is now before the Majlis, supported by the justice system and the Government, to deliver a unanimous and thorough response to crime. It is possible to pass these key pieces of legislation in this session of the Majlis.

Technical support is available, if it is needed, from the UN and others, but above all, it is now a matter of political will to take this important step, in the national interest, to finalise and pass these key legislations. I urge MPs of all parties to pass these Bills as a matter of priority, resolve areas of disagreement constructively, and present the Bills to the Majlis for passage.

Andrew Cox is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Reactive and obstructive politics threaten democracy in the Maldives

The International Day of Democracy (September 15) is a good day on which to take stock of democracy in the Maldives, a country that is well into its democratic awakening.

This is an opportunity to look at the successes achieved and the challenges that lie ahead – to look at the progress of democracy, with all of its opportunities and difficulties.

You can see the progress made as a nation in the rapid advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A great deal of faith has been placed in democratic governance as a system, and in its transformative power for the country as a whole.

The space for free expression has been unlocked and is vibrant, with the role of the media growing. Two successful elections have been conducted, and the level of engagement by the people in the country’s development is increasing.

The forthcoming local elections offer another opportunity to show how democracy, development and human rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

However, transition and change is always a painful process and there is still much to be done. Tensions have run high in recent months between the Executive, Majlis and Judiciary, the three pillars of democratic government. We still find ourselves in a political crisis that has made it very difficult to make progress on issues of pressing importance to the nation.

This has created a logjam of desperately needed legislation, including bills necessary for the functioning of the Maldives’ economy and government. The judiciary, institutions and independent commissions have sometimes come under remarkable pressure. There is a great need to build their institutional capacity to help them function as strong democratic institutions.

Why does the political crisis matter to ordinary Maldivians, who may just reduce their support and involvement in democracy for a while?

The best answer to this comes from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says “setbacks in democratic advancement are setbacks for development. Development is far more likely to take hold if people are given a genuine say in their own governance, and a chance to share in the fruits of progress.”

This view suggests that the progress of democracy, and the resolution of the political crisis, is in the best interest of every man, woman and child in the Maldives.

With the parties frequently at an impasse, the challenges can seem too great to overcome. But I do believe that solutions are readily available to the parties, should they commit themselves to working towards them.

Dialogue and cooperation on areas of common interest (and there are many of these) are the only ways to deal with the challenges facing the country. I hope that the governing and opposition coalitions can recommit themselves to political dialogue after the September recess is over, so as to find political solutions that allow government to function as it needs to; and ensure cooperation where it is needed within the Majlis, and between the Majlis and the Executive.

This does not mean that there has to be agreement on everything – democracy is about managing disagreement in a productive way. But I do believe there are high expectations for government and opposition to work together on finding solutions to problems that affect the country.

The United Nations has been supporting the parties in the last few weeks to try to find these solutions. The UN is committed to continuing to help Maldivians to safeguard and advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country. But it has always been clear that these are Maldivian talks, on Maldivian problems, and we believe that a locally owned process offers the best way forward, with support from the international community when it is needed.

Maldivians and the parties that represent them face a decision point now. With the Maldives being one of the most promising young democracies in the region, there is undoubtedly a strong national commitment to democracy.

But should the political crisis continue as it is, many democratic gains could be lost. The choice therefore is to find a way forward and resolve political differences through dialogue and compromise to the greatest extent possible; or to continue reactive and obstructive politics that threaten the democratic project and prevent progress, even on issues where the parties might agree on normally.

It is my sincere wish that dialogue is chosen, trust is slowly but surely built, and Maldives continues to take the path towards a united, just and democratic nation.

Andrew Cox is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Loss of biodiversity would be an existential threat to the Maldives

On World Environment Day, we remember the fundamental connection that all species on this planet have with each other.

At a time of rapid change in our climate, and as we think about how to address these changes, it is important to remember that all species of flora and fauna are connected with each other. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, which gives us a chance to stress the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, reflect on our achievements to safeguard it and encourage a redoubling of our efforts to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss.

The theme for today, World Environment Day 2010, is “Many Species. One Planet. One Future.” It echoes the urgent call to conserve the diversity of life on our planet.

Reports indicate that up to 50 per cent of Asia’s total biodiversity is at risk due to climate change. Least Developed Countries are particularly vulnerable, as they are the least prepared or able to deal with the impact of climate change.

Moreover, because of our particular circumstances, there are perhaps few countries that are at greater peril from the adverse effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity than the Maldives – a nation of small islands dependent entirely on its coastal and marine resources.

Biodiversity constitutes the basis of most economic activity in the Maldives, and generates income directly or indirectly for most of the country’s citizens. A healthy and diverse marine ecosystem is vital for the functioning of the two largest industries, fisheries and tourism. Together, these provide three quarters of the country’s jobs, 90% of its GDP and two thirds of its foreign exchange earnings. Moreover, the islands, vulnerable to natural disasters, need healthy coral reefs to help protect and guard them against the adverse affects of climate change. A loss of biodiversity should therefore be seen as an existential threat to the Maldives.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reiterates that all countries shall “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

While every country has a right to development, there is a matching obligation that countries should aim for sustainable development, integrating environmental, social and economic growth as a whole. Adaptation to climate change and building the resilience of communities against the impact of climate change must be the pillars of sustainable human development in small island developing nations such as Maldives.

With President Mohamed Nasheed declaring the government’s intention to make the Maldives carbon neutral, and the government having prepared a Strategic Action Plan for the development of Maldives, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to assist the people of the Maldives in the pursuit of sustainable development, and a low-emission pathway to growth.

At the policy level, it is clear what should be done. But more importantly, we should focus now on action at a community, island and atoll levels. Policies only help if they are implemented to benefit both people’s livelihoods, and the environment that provides for the people. It is imperative for everyone to play a role, including individuals and non-governmental organizations, in sharing experiences and knowledge on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and on the sustainable use of the natural resources that surround us.

Maldivians have been dealing with climate change for hundreds of years. They know the impact it can have on their islands and their lives. It may well be that climate change is faster than it has ever been before, but nobody knows better than the Maldivians how to respond and adapt. Let us now use that knowledge and understanding to effectively adapt to climate change, and to work together to sustainably develop the Maldives.

Andrew Cox is the new UN Resident Coordinator in the Maldives

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]