The European Union has said it will continue trying to work with Maldivian authorities to reform the country’s judiciary following requests for assistance made by Mohamed Nasheed “shortly” before Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan became president this month in an alleged “coup d’etat”.
Nasheed was replaced by his Vice President Dr Waheed after “resigning” his presidency on February 7 – a decision he later claimed had been forced upon him by opposition figures and security forces unhappy, in part, with his commitments to reform the nation’s judicial system.
A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has said the bloc now hoped to open discussions with Dr Waheed’s government over judicial reform on the back of concerns raised by former President Nasheed about the conduct of the nation’s judges.
“Shortly before the events of February 6 to February 7, we were asked for assistance [with judicial reform], as were the UN and Commonwealth. We were ready to look into this matter and hope to discuss the matter further with the Maldivian authorities,” added the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton.
“The HR/VP’s spokesman has already reiterated the importance we attach to the correct functioning of the democratic institutions in the Maldives; we had previously offered the Nasheed government support under the Development Cooperation Instrument for the improvement of governance across the board.”
The country’s judges and their conduct became a major focus for President Mohamed Nasheed in the run up to him being replaced by Dr Waheed earlier this month. Nasheed had raised concerns over allegations of perjury and “increasingly blatant collusion” between senior judicial figures and politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
However, Nasheed came under criticism from some international bodies after detaining the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed. The former president claimed the detention was designed to prevent the judge from sitting on the bench whilst charges against him were investigated.
Last year, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) unveiled findings suggesting that the Maldives’ legal system was failing to serve its citizens despite many “positive developments” that have been made in an effort to depoliticise the courts; with many of judges found lacking in qualifications and independent attitude.
Nasheed’s government had eventually consulted international organisations like the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU after describing itself in a “Catch-22 situation” in terms of a lack of mechanisms to investigate the judiciary independently. In November, the national court watchdog, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), was ordered to cease an investigation into Judge Abdulla Mohamed by the civil Court under an action he himself instigated.
Amidst the violent upheaval and pro-government and anti-government protests that have taken place since President Waheed came to power, the EU has said the issue of the country’s judiciary was among a number of concerns foreign governments wished to investigate in light of the transfer of power.
In an interview with local and foreign media on Friday, President Waheed confirmed that Judge Abdulla Mohamed had taken a month’s leave from his post for “personal issues”, but did not elaborate whether he had been reinstated to the bench.
“It is for the judiciary to decide what to do with him, not for me. I don’t want to interfere in the judiciary. I want our constitution to be respected, and work with everybody to make our constitution work. This is a new constitution, and it is the first time we are trying it out. And so there are difficulties in it,” the president claimed.
“We need to find ways of solving it. It is time for us to work together, and if there are problems with the judiciary we need to work together to solve them – they are intelligent good people in the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). We welcome assistance from the Commonwealth and United Nations to develop programmes and build the capacity of the judiciary.”
While currently preparing an official statement on the main concerns the EU holds over the ongoing political disputes facing the Maldives, the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton said the bloc hoped to see more consensus by rival political groups including the MDP to move forward democratically.
“It is essential that the business of government can continue and that multi-party democracy and the constitutional checks and balances are preserved,” the spokesperson added. “The army and police should exercise maximum restraint in the execution of their duties which must remain strictly within their constitutional mandate. Further violence must be prevented.”
The spokesperson claimed that the EU continued to support calls for an impartial investigation to ascertain whether President Waheed came to power legitimately or under a “coup”, though provided no details of how this may be achieved within the country’s highly partisan political arena.
“The EU supports an impartial investigation on this. In the mean time we hope there is a general understanding, following our Heads of Mission (HoMs’ ) visit to Malé, that all parties, including Mohamed Nasheed’s party, the MDP, need to cooperate to prevent the country falling victim to political factionalism, which can only lead to further unrest,” the spokesperson added.
In a statement released earlier this week by the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia, “deep concern” was expressed by the group’s chair Jean Lambert over a “sword of Damocles” he said was hanging over ousted President Mohamed Nasheed.
“The European Union had deployed a team of experts to observe the first democratic Presidential elections held in the country in 2008; a sword of Damocles now hangs above the winner of these elections, with his arrest warrant already issued on unspecified grounds,” said a statement from Lambert.
“We understand a number of MPs and local councillors have also been detained or are in hospital following continued police violence,” Lambert added, further noting that several EU countries have issued travel advisories for the Maldives as “public resentment and violence are now spreading well beyond the capital.”
Since the statement was made, Dr Waheed has denied setting a deadline for the MDP to join with other parties in forming a “unity” government up until the next general election presently scheduled for 2013. The MDP has maintained it’s belief that Dr Waheed’s government is “illegitimate” and called for power to be transferred to the parliamentary speaker ahead of early elections.