United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has released a statement on Wednesday expressing concern about “the dangerous drift in the democratic process in the Maldives largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s repeated interventions in the presidential election process”.
“I am alarmed that the Supreme Court of the Maldives is interfering excessively in the Presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives,” the statement read.
The Supreme Court immediately hit back today, with Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz describing Pillay’s comments as “poorly researched” and “irresponsible”.
“The Supreme Court nullified the first round of the Presidential Election of 7 September 2013 on the basis of irregularities in the process, despite the general conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair,” read Pillay’s statement.
Pillay also described the court’s election guidelines as “onerous” and “difficult to satisfy”.
“There have been longstanding concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the Maldives, which both the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, addressed during official visits to the country in 2011 and 2013,” added Pillay
“I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities. Judges should act in accordance with the principles of impartiality, propriety, equality and due diligence, as reflected in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary, the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, and Maldives’ own code of conduct,” Pillay stated.
The statement further also expressed concern regarding the court’s threats to charge lawyers, media and civil society groups for challenging its decisions, as well as “the reactivation of old cases to arrest opposition MPs or bar them from Parliament.”
“The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate, and depriving litigants of the legal representation of their choice,” Pillay stated.
Chief Justice’s response
“I harshly condemn UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s false allegations regarding the Maldives Supreme Court’s work to uphold its constitutional duties and responsibilities. I do not believe she has any authority to speak in such terms,” responded Chief Justice Faiz today.
Defending the court’s neutrality, Faiz argued that Pillay’s statement was unacceptable for an official operating under the UN’s mandate to protect the rights of large and small states alike.
The first round of the Maldives presidential election – held on September 7 was annulled by the Supreme Court earlier this month, with a fresh round of elections arranged to be held on October 19.
The re-scheduled vote, however, was also cancelled after police obstructed the Elections Commission, citing the Supreme Court’s issued 16 regulation as justification.
As well as condemning the police for the delay, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has also condemned the police for “acting beyond its mandate”, while a leaked report by the commission questions the credibility of the evidence used by the apex court in its annulment of the first round of elections.
A joint statement by the International Federation for Human Rights and local NGO Maldives Democracy Network has described the court’s verdict as being founded on “materially baseless arguments”, after the first round was “applauded as a success by the international community.”
A new first round is now scheduled for November 9, with the EC President Fuwad Thowfeek maintaining it will not be changed despite requests to expedite the polling date from both the current government and the contesting presidential candidates.
Government-aligned parties go to SC for political solutions
Progressive Party of Maldives lawyer Ibrahim ‘Wadde’ Waheed submitted a case to the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking a ruling on the motion passed by the parliament to appoint Speaker Abdulla Shahid as interim head of state in the instance that an elected president cannot be installed by the constitutionally mandated date, November 11.
Waheed is quoted in local media as saying the parliamentary motion has been passed against the constitution and the verdicts of the Supreme Court.
On the same day, Wadde has also submitted another case to the court asking it to rule that the MDP MP Ahmed Hamza’s appointment to the judicial watchdog – the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – was conducted in breach of the constitution.
In this case, Wadde argued that Hamza is a person who works “against the judiciary” and so he finds it “unacceptable that such a man can serve in the JSC”.
Earlier this month Wadde, alongside Jumhooree Coalition member ‘Madhanee Ihthihaadh’ (Civil Alliance) President Sheikh Mohamed Didi, filed a case in the apex court challenging opposition Maldivian Democratic Party candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed’s candidacy.
The petition gave as grounds Nasheed’s criticism of the judiciary, as well as his “outright criticism towards Islam and iposing Islamic Sharia’ in the Maldives”.
Jumhooree Coalition’s Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim has also this week called on President Dr Mohamed Waheed to seek advice from the apex court on the course of action he should take should there not be an elected leader by November 11.
Speaking at a party rally, Gasim stated that as Waheed has previously written to the parliament for advice, he believes the president should also seek the opinion of the Supreme Court.