The High Court has today (August 21) ruled that the Maldivian citizens are “not required” to act in compliance with Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), as no national law currently exists in the country that requires enforcement of the convention.
The High Court’s ruling came alongside a decision made regarding an appeal case filed at the court concerning breach of a lease agreement between an individual named Mohamed Shareef and the High Commission of India.
During the hearings of the appeal case, the appellant Shareef’s lawyer claimed that in February 2006 the Indian High Commission, on behalf of the President of India, had entered into the agreement with Shareef concerning the leasing of Dhivehige of Henveiru Ward – the residence of the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives.
According to the lawyer, the parties had agreed to specific terms that need to be fulfilled before the contract could be set aside, but the High Commission had dishonored those terms when it vacated the premises on September 2009 – claiming to have terminated the contract.
In breach of contractual duty, Shareef sued the High Commission in the Civil Court, claiming damages worth US$196,101 (MVR3,023,877.42). The claims included US$193,666 (MVR 2,986,329.72) as rent owed for the remainder of the contract period, while US$ 2,435 (MVR 37,547.7) was sought for refurbishment of the premises.
In 2010, the Civil Court rejected the case claiming that it did not have jurisdiction to look into the matter as the VCDR – to which the Maldives is a party – included immunity for diplomatic missions and diplomatic agents.
The court argued that these immunities had also been “implicitly incorporated” into the contract between the parties, with the result being that the Civil Court would be in violation of the treaty should it proceed with the case.
During the appeal, the Attorney General’s Office also intervened, admitting in court that national legislation was required to enforce an international treaty as well as requesting that the court make a decision on whether treaties such as the VCDR had been ratified prior to the enactment of the current constitution in 2008.
The Maldives ratified the 1961 VCDR in October 2007 under the leadership of then Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid – now Speaker of Parliament. The convention outlays a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries, and specifies privileges and immunities granted diplomatic premises.
Overruling the Civil Court decision, the High Court in today’s verdict claimed that under Article 93 of the Constitution, Maldivian citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the state and provided for in laws enacted by the parliament. The High Court claimed that no such law had been introduced.
Article 93(a) of the constitution states: “Treaties entered into by the Executive in the name of the State with foreign states and international organizations shall be approved by the People’s Majlis, and shall come into force only in accordance with the decision of the People’s Majlis.”
Article 93(b) states: “Despite the provisions of article (a), citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the State as provided for in a law enacted by the People’s Majlis”.
Issuing the final verdict, the High Court invalidated the Civil Court’s decision to dismiss the case in favour of Shareef.
However, both the High Court and the Attorney General’s verdict noted that such a case could strain the bilateral relations between India and Maldives. In hope of avoiding this, a period of three months has been given for the parties to come to an out-of-court settlement.
Should the parties not be able to come to an agreement within the given three months, the High Court in its verdict ruled that Civil Court has the jurisdiction to proceed with the case.
Meanwhile an official from the Indian High Commission said that it did not wish to comment on the matter while it remains in the court.