OHCHR expresses concern over Human Rights Commission charges

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concern over the Supreme Court’s suo moto case against the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM).

“We are deeply concerned about the case initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against the five members of the Human Rights Commission of the country,” read the press briefing.

The OHCHR expressed its concerns in a press release yesterday (October 17) from spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani.

The Supreme Court has charged the HRCM with undermining the constitution and the sovereignty of the Maldives by spreading falsehoods about the judiciary in its submission for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Next year’s review – the Maldives’ second since the introduction of the process – will take place between April and May next year.

The OHCHR statement noted that, in making the UPR submission, the commission had operated in line with international principles governing national institutions.

The OHCHR urged the government to “firmly defend the independence of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives in line with the commitments made during the first UPR of the Maldives in 2011.”

“The government has a responsibility to ensure a safe operating space for the commission and for civil society actors in the country, so that they are able to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms without fear of reprisals,” read the press release.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has also written directly to the Maldivian Government to express his concerns over the issue.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has already called the case “unfortunate”, describing the court’s action as “a decision that will not help restore its credibility.”

The Supreme Court came under intense international criticism following its role in the 2013 presidential election, which included the annulment of the first round based on evidence later discredited by UN experts.

“Free Speech must be protected, not trampled,” said Baird late last month.

The Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions urged President Abdulla Yameen to ensure the independence of the HRCM and to guarantee immunity from prosecution for its members.

In the second court hearing held in the case on September 30, the Supreme Court denounced the submission’s section on the judiciary as “dangerous”, “irresponsible” and “poorly researched.”

The Supreme Court slammed commission members for basing criticism of the judiciary on findings from the 2013 report by UN Special Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul that it had previously rejected.

Former Judicial Service Comission member Aishath Velezinee was denied entry into the hearing after being issued a pass at the reception, with a court official telling her that she could not be let into the court room for security reasons.

In similar suo moto action in March, senior members of the Elections Commission were dismissed after being prosecuted for charged with contempt of court and disobedience to order.

Suo moto cases – unheard of in the Maldives before this year – involve the court taking the initiative to bring charges which are then overseen by its own judges.

While the President’s Office has also criticised the HRCM’s submission, suggesting that sections on the death penalty are misleading, the Maldivian Democratic Party has accused the court of undermining the commission’s mandate.