MPs clashed over signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at a rancorous debate during yesterday’s sitting of parliament.
While MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) used the debate time to condemn the “unlawful and authoritarian” practices of the previous government, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance (DRP-PA) MPs accused the current administration of disregarding rule of law and negating parliamentary oversight.
Following an hour-long debate, a motion to send the matter to the national security committee for further consideration, proposed by DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, was carried with 61 votes in favour and four against.
The issue was sent for parliamentary approval by President Mohamed Nasheed in accordance with article 93(a) of the constitution, which states that, “Treaties entered into by the executive in the name of the state with foreign states and international organisations shall be approved by the People’s Majlis and shall come into force only in accordance with the decision of the People’s Majlis.”
MDP Parliamentary Group Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik said the purpose of the international criminal court was to “arrest torturers like Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom], people like Ilyas Ibrahim [brother-in-law of the former president] who stole state property and funds, and Attorney Generals like Hassan Saeed who tried to hide it.”
Moosa compared legislation voted through last year to afford privileges and protection to former presidents to laws enacted in Serbia to protect war criminals.
The former president and his brother-in-law, along with former National Security Services senior officer “Isthafa” Ibrahim Manik, he continued, numbered among “the worst torturers in the country’s history.”
Moosa accused former Attorney General Hassan Saeed, leader of the minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), of unlawfully arresting and jailing peaceful protesters on August 12 and 13, 2004.
Further, he speculated that the current administration was “incapable of touching [the issue of the former government]” because people involved in the purported crimes were in the new government as well.
He added that “suckling babes” in parliament who “jump up to defend [senior officials of the former government]” would not be able to understand the “feelings of torture victims”.
Moreover, he argued, numerous custodial deaths and brutal torture in prisons exacerbated the national crises of drug abuse and corruption, adding that the new government would go the same way if “action is not taken now.”
Following Moosa’s tirade, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom accused the MDP government of formulating policies only to “benefit certain people”, which he argued could be “considered a crime in international courts.”
DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru Ali Azim insisted that parliament needed time to carefully study the documents sent over by the president’s office, containing legal advice from the Attorney General, before reaching a decision.
Minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur meanwhile noted that the absence of the United States and most Islamic countries from the list of signatories “raises some questions”.
Referring to article 7.1(h), which deals with persecution of minorities, Independent MP Ibrahim Muttalib argued that parliament should consider whether some articles of the convention were in conflict with Islamic principles.
“This article talks about discrimination,” he cautioned. “Today, international parties consider as discrimination the fact that people of other religions don’t live among us; the fact that we don’t have gay marriage. This is something we have to think about.”
Muttalib added that he was “certain” that secularists and followers of other religions in the Maldives would “come out openly after this convention is signed and start working for their rights.
“Those amongst us today who want gay marriage, once this convention is ratified, will begin work on getting married,” he continued. “We are certain that there are people among us who are scared of our religious scholars and rebuke them. They will make use of this court and begin work against the scholars.”
Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan agreed that Maldivian citizens would “surely” take the government to the ICC “saying the government did not allow us to have gay marriage.”
Controversial religious scholar Dr Afrashim Ali, DRP MP for Ungoofaru, meanwhile warned that such conventions could be used “to shatter Islamic principles” and defame individuals “outside the bounds of law”.
Afrashim insisted that the convention should not be signed if it could lead to “the construction of temples here under the name of religious freedom.”
Moreover, Afrashim reprimanded MDP MPs for leveling serious accusations at the former president, pointing out that he had never been convicted of wrongdoing in a court of law.
DRP Deputy Leader Ali Waheed attacked the government for refusing to enact legislation passed by parliament, such as the amendments to the Public Finance Act, which was passed for a second time after the president vetoed the bill.
Independent MP Ahmed Amir suggested that consultations should take place with stakeholders in the judiciary before parliament makes a decision.
Vilifushi MP Riyaz Rasheed of DQP questioned the President’s motive for proposing the matter to parliament.
Referring to the People’s Court protests carried out by the MDP, Riyaz insisted that parliament should pass a law before signing the convention to specify the circumstances under which a Maldivian could be tried at an international court.