Comment: No need for Speaker to take charge if elections held, results respected

The Maldives’ Constitution (Article 4) is very clear that our country is a democracy in which all the powers of the State are derived from and remain with the citizens.

In particular legislative power (the power to enact laws that govern our society) lies with a democratically-elected parliament while executive power (the power to act as executor of those laws and see the will of the people reflected in the governing of the country) should lie with a democratically-elected president.

Unfortunately, since the coup of February 2012 we have seen power flicker from one unelected institution to another, in complete disregard of the will of the people as voiced in the 2008 elections: from an unelected president to an unelected supreme court, and from an unelected police commissioner to an unelected attorney-general.

It is now time to place power back in the hands of the citizens. The 88 percent voter turnout in the September 7 polls was that power. It is imperative that November 9’s elections proceed peacefully and with the full cooperation and goodwill of all political parties and State institutions, including the police.

Certain political leaders, as well as members of the Supreme Court, have treated voters with a level of contempt that beggars belief – asking citizens to vote, and when they didn’t like the result, asking them to vote again, and again, and again.

As the UK’s MP for Redditch, Karen Lumley suggested during the Westminster Hall debate on the Maldives this week, this has been like “watching a child who cannot win at a board game tip over the board”.

If our stroppy candidates (who could put Fagin to shame), and their gang of police boys, discredited judges and the unloved President allow these elections to go ahead, and this time they do respect the result, then we will not enter a constitutional void and it will not be necessary for the parliament as the only body in the Maldives which has been democratically elected in a free and fair vote, through the person of the Speaker, to assume executive control.

If, however, unelected individuals once again demonstrate contempt for democracy, if they once again decide that the powers of the State reside with them and not with the citizens, then parliament will be forced to step in as per the Majlis resolution of October 27th 2013.

The Speaker, as the last remaining democratically elected head of the last remaining democratically elected body must take over the interim presidency and ensure a free and fair vote for the people of the Maldives.

To quote President Nasheed, “there is no Houdini to pull the rabbit out of the hat. No magic tricks. No improvisations. We follow the Constitution. We follow the spirit and letter of the Constitution.”

Eva Abdulla is the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Galolhu North, and Asia-Pacific Member of the IPU Committee for Women MPs

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: Human Rights Day 2012 marks exclusion and imposition of government by force

As we look back on this week’s celebration of Human Rights Day 2012, it is important to recall what, beyond the pageantry and back-slapping, this day really stands for.

During the 30-year long dictatorship of President Gayoom, those of us who longed for a fair, just and democratic Maldives would mark Human Rights Day by wearing secretly-printed t-shirts to mark the occasion – printed in stealth, worn in stealth. We took this risk (open advocacy of human rights and political reform was liable to end with a jail-term) because Human Rights Day was, we believed, important – a moment to remember that the outside world stood steadfastly behind our hopes for a better future.

It is therefore difficult, in 2012, not to feel a sense of disappointment – even shame – at what Human Rights Day has become, at least for Maldivians.

Human Rights Day 2012 goes under the banner of “inclusion and the right to participate in public life”.

Over recent days we have heard the UN Resident Coordinator encourage people to play an active role in public life and to hold public servants accountable (no word, however, about securing accountability for the systematic human rights violations that have occurred since February). We have heard the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives warn us that enjoying human rights should not be taken as an excuse to break the law (an unusual message for a national human rights institution to focus on – but not entirely a surprise). We have heard the Commonwealth Secretary-General remind the government (more in hope than expectation) that those responsible for gross human rights violations following February’s coup – mainly police officers guilty of beatings and torture – must be held accountable.

And yet, these platitudes come against a background wherein, in 2012, the majority of Maldivians who voted in 2008/9 have been disenfranchised; wherein those of us who want a new election in order to reassert our fundamental right to choose our government are being routinely beaten, arrested and tortured, wherein members of parliament who have sought to protest against the death of our democracy are being hounded, threatened and chastised as infidels; wherein the presidential candidate of the Maldives’ largest party is being manoeuvred into prison by the ancient regime; wherein the man who stands accused of torturing many over his 30 years of dictatorship announces he is likely to be a presidential candidate, again, and wherein our corrupt and immoral judiciary is openly attacking parliamentary prerogative and the constitutional separation of powers in order to protect those guilty of sexual harassment, and to protect the government from democratic scrutiny.

How is it possible that the UN, the HRCM, and our friends in the international community can let this year’s Human Rights Day pass without any mention of the dismantling of our democratic rights; without any suggestion that in 2012 we have lost, for the foreseeable future, our right to participate in public life and to determine, freely, our government; and without any meaningful call for those who have had their rights violated in 2012 to receive justice and redress?

For those of us who weep for the lost promise of our young democracy; for those of us who flinch at every new injustice heaped upon us; for those of us who wish our former friends in the international community would stand-up for the rights and principles that they purport to uphold; Human Rights Day 2012 will be remembered as nothing more than an empty shell.

Not even worthy of a hidden t-shirt.

Eva Abdulla is an MP in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

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: Maldives’ judiciary unreformed and unrepentant

I have read with concern a number of articles and commentaries over recent weeks which appear to be based on two false premises: first, that the Maldives judiciary is independent and impartial; and second, that it is capable of delivering a fair trial to the democratically elected President of this country, Mr Mohamed Nasheed.

Neither premise holds-up to careful scrutiny.

The first false-premise, which is regularly put forward by members of the Government, especially Dr Hassan Saeed, as well as by the Maldives’ own ‘independent’ UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Andrew Cox, appears to be based on a misguided reading of the concept of ‘independence’. In essence, this misreading holds that if our Constitution says that the judiciary is ‘independent’ then it must be so, irrespective of what the on-the-ground reality tells us.

The 2008 Constitution does of course establish a separation of powers and makes clear, in article 142, that “judges are independent”. But just because the Constitution says this is so, does not, of course, magic the situation into existence.

What the Constitution also does therefore is set up mechanisms to ensure judicial independence, impartiality and integrity. It therefore makes clear that all judges will, under the new Constitution, be subject to a reappointment process (article 285) and that to be (re)appointed, judges (article 149) “must possess the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a Judge, and must be of a high moral character”.

Central to this process is the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which is responsible for both the (re)appointment process and for upholding the impartiality and integrity of judges including by listening to complaints and taking “disciplinary action” against them if necessary (article 159b).

The importance of these mechanisms is clear when one recalls that all judges at the time of the entry-into-force of the new Constitution had been appointed by, and owed their loyalties to, former President Gayoom during his 30-year rule.

However, as Aishath Velezinee, President Nasheed’s former member on the JSC, has demonstrated in her book “The Failed Silent Coup”, former President Gayoom succeeded, through securing a post-election de facto majority in the Majlis, in controlling the appointment of members to the JSC and thus of controlling the JSC’s reappointment and disciplinary procedures.

As a result, despite ample evidence of some judges possessing neither the competence, qualifications nor moral character to be reappointed, the JSC quickly moved to swear them all in, arguing that the criteria laid down by the Constitution to control reappointment were only “symbolic” .

When Velezinee objected she was manhandled out of the room.

In the years thereafter, the JSC compounded this failure by refusing to process any of the multiple public complaints it received against Gayoom-era justices. When, in 2011, it finally bowed to public pressure and recommended disciplinary action be taken against Judge Abdullah Mohamed, a man accused of serial wrongdoings over many years, the judge in question simply asked his friends in the Civil Court to annul the proceedings.

When the Civil Court did so, it removed the last pretense that the Maldives’ judiciary is independent, impartial or accountable. As of that date, the Maldives’ judiciary became a failed institution.

So what of the second premise: that such a judiciary is capable of delivering a fair trial to President Nasheed, who is ‘accused’ of arresting Judge Abdullah Mohamed after the judge used his friends in the Civil Court to circumvent the Constitution and then used his position in the Criminal Court to repeatedly free not just allies of former President Gayoom, but also a number of known criminals?

Here, it is perhaps worth turning to respected international experts, international organisations and NGOs which have studied the Maldives judiciary and the justice sector more broadly.

The systematic problems facing the judicial system have been widely documented and were perhaps best summed-up by legal expert Professor Paul Robinson who advised the Maldives on judicial reform.

In his 2005 report, he characterised the Maldives criminal justice system as “systematically failing to do justice and regularly doing injustice”.

One of Professor Robinson’s main recommendations – to conduct a complete overhaul of the country’s archaic Penal Code – remains unimplemented. As a consequence, the Prosecutor-General is insisting on prosecuting President Nasheed on the basis of a Code drafted in the 1960s and which is based on a document produced in India in the 19th century.

In February 2011, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) visited the Maldives and issued a report which echoed many of Professor Robinson’s earlier concerns and demonstrated that, irrespective of the new Constitution, little had changed.

In its report, the ICJ expressed concern at “the apparent failure of the JSC to fulfill its constitutional mandate of properly vetting and reappointing judges” as well as the “judicialisation of politics”.

“The JSC”, according to the ICJ, “was unable to carry out its functions in a sufficiently transparent, timely, and impartial manner”. The ICJ concluded that the complete lack of judicial accountability in the Maldives undermines public confidence and calls into question the institution’s independence.

In July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Committee considered the state of the Maldives judiciary. In its concluding statement, the Committee said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives”.

“The State has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised” noted the Committee, which called for serious reform of the Supreme Court, the judiciary more broadly and the Judicial Service Commission.

These findings were mirrored by both Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in late 2012, following their visits to the Maldives. For example, FIDH in its report “From Sunrise to Sunset” on human rights in the Maldives, noted that despite important constitutional changes, “different sections of the judiciary have failed to become fully independent”, while pointing out that the JSC lacks transparency and its members are prone to “conflicts of interest”.

With the above in mind, it is difficult to understand how members of the government or some parts of the international community can claim with any degree of sincerity that our judiciary is either independent or capable of delivering a fair trial for President Nasheed or the hundreds of other Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) members currently facing prosecution for “terrorism” and other trumped-up charges.

If justice is indeed blind, then why are hundreds of MDP supporters awaiting trial, while not one police officer or member of the current government has been held accountable for the widely-documented brutality unleashed against protesters since February 7?

And if justice is indeed blind, then why are cases against MDP supporters being fast-tracked while there are over 2000 other cases pending with the Prosecutor-General? Why have all the serious corruption cases against Gayoom’s political allies been either sidelined or discontinued?

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Maldives judiciary is that, at this time of political division, it is the one subject about which nearly everyone in the country can agree. Whether you are for President Nasheed or against him; whether you think February 7 was a legitimate change in government or a coup, nearly everyone – at least outside the President’s Office – agrees that our judicial sector are not fit for purpose.

And yet it is this deeply flawed institution, wielding a two hundred year old legal code that is supposedly able to deliver a fair trial for President Nasheed.

Over recent years, we have achieved much. We have amended our Constitution, embraced party politics, held our first free and fair elections, voted-out a 30 year old autocracy and voted-in our first democratically elected leader.

But the judiciary has failed to come even close to matching this pace of change and remains, by-and-large, the same institution as it was during the Gayoom era – unreformed and unrepentant.

Eva Abdulla is an MP in the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

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: Open letter to Ruder Finn

The following open letter was sent by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla, also a member of the IPU’s Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians, to Emmanuel Tchividjian, Senior Vice President and Ethics Officer at US public relations firm Ruder Finn. The company recently won a three-month contract to represent the Maldivian government.

Dear Mr Tchividjian,

On 7th February 2012, elements of the police and army loyal to the former autocratic leader of the Maldives, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, threatened the democratically-elected President of the country, H.E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, his family and his supporters with physical harm unless he resigned by a certain time that day. Those elements of the police and army then escorted President Nasheed to the President’s Office and stood over him as he wrote a ‘resignation’ letter, while others forcibly took control of the country’s main television station. A new Government has since been constituted, dominated by allies of former President Gayoom – even though the country clearly rejected him and his thirty-year dictatorship through the ballot box in the 2008 presidential election.

As a member of the governing council and the Women’s Wing of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and an elected representative, I am therefore writing to express our surprise and disappointment that Ruder Finn decided to tender for and sign a contract with this clearly undemocratic and illegitimate government, a contract under which you will be asked to act as public apologist and public advocate.

We note that you claim to be Ruder Finn’s ‘Ethics’ Officer and that you once argued in an interview that “ethics is essentially an issue of values”. We put it to you however that both you and Ruder Finn, by accepting this contract, have demonstrated a complete lack of both values and ethics.

You justify your decision on ‘ethical’ grounds by saying that you have studied the “complex political situation” and have concluded that the current government is legitimate according to the country’s constitution but that if the National Commission of Inquiry determines that the government came to power illegally you will resign the contract. This position is so riddled with contradictions that it is difficult not to conclude that your ‘ethical’ analysis is nothing more than a fig leaf disguising a policy of ‘profit-at-any-cost’.

How can Ruder Finn have determined that the government is constitutional and legitimate when the national mechanism established to answer that very question, the NCI, has not yet presented its findings? Do you have the power of foresight?

Having already prejudged the conclusions of the NCI, you then claim Ruder Finn will resign the contract if the NCI demonstrates foul play. And yet if you had indeed “closely examined” the complex situation you would know that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), the Maldives’ largest political party – the MDP, and the country’s civil society have all stated that the NCI, chaired by President Gayoom’s former Minister of Defence, is neither independent nor credible.

Also in interview, you have argued that “the starting point of using one’s values to make an ethical choice is, one would presume, to have a clear and accurate understanding of the facts”. If this is the case, one wonders which facts you are basing your ethical choices on. You are the only organisation outside the Maldives, which has already decided that the current government is legitimate. Both the Commonwealth and the European Union, the two organisations most closely following events in the Maldives have both said the opposite – that there are clear questions marks over the legitimacy of this government and it can only demonstrate its legitimacy through an independent and impartial national commission of inquiry, and through early elections. Does Ruder Finn have a political analysis capability greater than that of the Commonwealth and the EU?

Which brings me to perhaps the most damning indictment of your company and your claim to conduct “ethical public relations” – that in your public statements on this issue you have knowingly issued untruths and sought to mislead. You claim in your interview with the Holmes Report on 27th April that “accusations of a coup have been dismissed from many international organizations and governments, including the United Kingdom government who has said that they do not recognize the transfer of power in the Maldives to be a coup”. Yet this is a clear misrepresentation of the position of the UK and the European Union, both of which have consistently made clear that there are serious questions about the legitimacy of this government and thus (taken from a Declaration by Baroness Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on 22nd February 2012 ): “The EU is of the view that the legitimacy and legality of the transfer of presidential power in the Maldives should be determined by an impartial, independent investigation as agreed by all parties in the Maldives”. Both the EU and the Commonwealth – which is working in close cooperation with the United Nations on this issue – have also clearly said that in the medium-term legitimacy can only be conferred through a popular vote expressed through early elections in 2012.

Thus one can only conclude that, if ethical public relations is indeed a case of having a clear and accurate understanding of the facts, and then applying one’s values, it would seem that Ruder Finn practices a deeply unethical form of public relations because you lack a clear grasp of the facts, and, it would seem, have no values beyond a wish to make money.

On this point, it has been reported that your contract with the current government is worth almost $150,000 a month ($1,800,000 or Maldivian Rufiyaa 28 million annually). To provide you with some “clear and accurate facts.” If in the Maldives:

  • N. Milandhoo sewerage project = 29.9 million MRF
  • N. Magoodhoo harbour project = 18.8 million MRF
  • One government built housing unit in Ga. Kolamaafushi = 1 million MRF
  • Aasandha health insurance premium per person = 2650 MRF

The Ruder Finn contract, per annum, with the current Maldivian regime is then equivalent to:

  • A sewerage project
  • A harbour project
  • 28 government built housing units,
  • Aasandha health insurance premium for 10,473 citizens (the same health insurance scheme the current regime has announced scaling back, claiming lack of funds).

I invite you to apply your ‘values’ to these facts and to reach an ‘ethical’ conclusion.

Finally, I would like to remind you that while you are fortunate, in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to enjoy stable democracies which allow for the full enjoyment of human rights, with those rights come certain duties and responsibilities. Among those duties, I would hope, is to use your freedoms to promote the rights of other people in other countries and not knowingly work towards the suppression of those rights. President Gayoom presided over extrajudicial killings in our jails, and over hundreds of documented cases of torture. Since the overthrow of President Nasheed, cases of Police brutality have again begun to resurface – including against Members of Parliament (cases have been lodged with the Inter-Parliamentary Union), as have cases of State-sponsored sexual and gender-based violence against women, arbitrary detention and police brutality. Ruder Finn has now unwittingly made itself a vehicle through which he and his associates are defying the democratic right of people in the Maldives to choose their government and are instead reasserting the old autocracy.

If you continue down this path, then you will be party to one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on the people of the Maldives. It is difficult to understand how Ruder Finn or you personally would be able to call such a choice “ethical”. We also wonder whether your corporate clients, such as Israeli Airline El Al (which Members of Parliament of the current regime voted to ban from landing in the Maldives) Reuters, Acca, Lexus, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Ricoh, Michelin, Four Seasons, Johnson & Johnson, Manpower, would be able to understand.

Yours sincerely,

Eva Abdulla

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]