In May 2013, the report presented to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers made critical observations on the Maldives’ state and current constitutional crisis.
Ms Gabriela Knaul observed, among other things, two issues that, in my opinion, negate any belief in the Maldives as a democratic State respecting rule of law, or even as a so-called infant democracy intent on building a democratic government and a democratic culture.
She noted; (1) The “concept of independence of the judiciary has been misconstrued and misinterpreted in the Maldives, including among judicial actors”; and (2) The “People’s Majlis should bear in mind how their actions or inaction affects the establishment of the rule of law.”
Can there possibly be a more damning observation to conclude that the Maldives State has failed? Can there be a more damning observation to declare that the Maldives State does not hold legitimacy under its’ own Constitution? Or, in fact, that the events of February 7, 2012 were the end result of a long drawn struggle, and the eventual kill of the Constitution?
The responses of the State to the UNSR report is further incriminating.
The Government, instead of being alarmed or attempting to inquire or redress as may be expected of a responsible State, pointed the finger at Ms Knaul, inferring the report “undermined the country’s sovereignty and legal jurisdiction”.
How it undermines the legal jurisdiction is not quite understood, and it appears the Government is referring to Ms Knaul’s interpretations, perhaps claiming it a sovereign right, the right to interpret its laws independently, independent of established international law, democratic principles and standards?
The Parliament saw little of concern in the report. Government aligned MPs had no initiative and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) overlooked the fundamental questions on the legitimacy of the Courts, the breach of trust by judge, Court and the Judicial Service Commission, instead focusing on subsidiary issues: Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and the political trial of President Nasheed.
The corruption of the judiciary, impunity of the JSC and its constitutional breaches are matters the Parliament has been unable to address, the real struggle being within the Parliament itself, as conflict of interest interferes in MP duties.
Presidential candidate, Jumhooree Party (JP) leader, MP and sitting JSC member Gasim Ibrahim, during a rally soon after the UNSR’s visit to the Maldives in February this year, went as far as to call Ms Knaul an ignorant busybody – “just like that Velezinee” – who does not understand the Maldives is a sovereign country and has the right to define and interpret its own Constitution and act free of foreign influence.
He had a lot more to say, suggesting the UNSR was either charmed or bought into repeating a tale the majority do not agree with!
The JSC itself too found the UNSR had not told the tale they had to tell. The same for the Supreme Court, which has previously expressed the opinion that they are not bound by international human rights covenants the State is a Party to.
Today, the Courts in the Maldives are more a source of comedy than justice, ridiculed rather than respected, and the subject of much discussion on the widely used social media network as “news” of judges, Courts and JSC make frequent headlines on local media.
The most recent scandal to hit the headlines, and rise to international news too, is the blackmail of a Supreme Court “Justice” using a sex tape of the judge in a compromising position.
The police caught the blackmailer red-handed. He turned out to be Ahmed Faiz, an Executive Committee member of sitting President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP).
Ironically, Faiz had been dismissed from Dr Waheed’s government himself following an earlier leaked audio clip in which Faiz was heard telling some friends all about how the February 7, 2012 coup that was not was really a coup had been carried by Faiz on behalf of Dr Waheed.
I myself was ambushed by the same Faiz in a café a few weeks after the tape leak and he told me a very long story where he said Dr Waheed had dismissed him only from an honorary position he held without pay, that it was “just for show” to pacify the public, and that he was not dismissed from his real paid job!
Faiz also confided that he’d been called to meet President Waheed where all was explained to Faiz and he was reassured Waheed was only taking a superficial action to end pressure from others. Faiz owned up to it being him on the recording, alleged that it was the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of former President Gayoom behind the leak of his conversation, and named a PPM activist as the one responsible.
It must be said, Faiz is not a person I had met in person or spoken a word to before this chance meeting, and I only “knew” him from Facebook where he had harassed me relentlessly (2010-11) without reason or argument until I finally blocked him.
Since the leaked sex tape, another “tape” of another friendly chat has been made public. In this spy camera recording, Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, who is alleged to be the subject in the exposed sex tape, and Mohamed Saeed, a local businessman from Ali Hameed’s native Addu Atoll, are heard to discuss the politics of the judiciary, and a mention of a possible murder is also heard.
If Ali Hameed as heard on the tape is to be believed, the judiciary is in cohort with the politicians backing the coup, and are now at the receiving end of the political scuffles within the “unity government” as the politicians realign in a bid to take over government in the scheduled September 7, 2013 elections.
The Supreme Court remains silent. So does the Judicial Service Commission. The Parliament, instead of focusing on holding the State accountable, has taken upon them the role of attacking or defending the judge and Courts.
Considering that “the Supreme Court has 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,” as the UNSR Ms Knaul noted, and that the checks and balances do not function, it seems the scramble now is to re-conquer the Supreme Court.
The sitting “Judges” remain sitting ducks, without will or agency to stand up independently for the independence of judges, and to protect their own good names tarnished in the political struggle to control or free the judiciary.
Where the President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had, for 30 years up to 2008, “the supreme executive and judicial authority” and the culture developed therein, it is no surprise that there is little understanding or identification of real issues by the masses.
Worrying is the continued misreading by the politicians and the miseducation of the public.
Aishath Velezinee (@Velezinee on twitter) is an independent democracy activist and writer. She was the Editor of Adduvas Weekly 2005-07 and served on the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (2009-11). She claims the Commission she sat on breached constitution in transition; and advocates for redress of Article 285, and a full overhaul of the judiciary as a necessary step for democracy consolidation.
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