Parliament’s failure to approve a President and Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) before going into recess has left the country without a functional human rights body, according to former HRCM President Ahmed Saleem.
“Because of the irresponsible behaviour of the Majlis, the three member commission sworn in on August 17 is now defunct,” Saleem claimed.
The required quota of commission members is five.
“Two new members are still to be sworn in and there is no President or Vice President to preside over the meetings, which must be held at least once a month according to HRCM’s regulations,” Saleem explained.
“What the Majlis has done to HRCM is unforgivable, and it’s all because HRCM and human rights are not as important to the Majlis as taking their leave,” he said.
“The Majlis is destroying this country and leaving the government incapable of doing anything.”
Saleem’s concerns about HRCM were echoed by a coalition of local human rights NGOs, including the Maldivian Democracy Network, Maldives NGO Federation,Transparency Maldives and Democracy House.
“According to Article 9 of the HRCM Act, the President of the Commission holds the chair in all meetings of the Commission and is also tasked with assigning complaints that the Commission receives to the different members,” the coalition observed in a statement.
“The Vice-President of the Commission takes over these responsibilities when the President is either absent or unable to perform these duties. Thus, the non appointment of either a President or a Vice-President is an immense obstacle to the effective functioning of the Commission.”
The NGOs claimed it was the duty of the Majlis “to ensure that an important institution such as the HRCM does not fall into a legal void”, and that leaving the institution to flounder until parliament reconvenes in October “would be a great disservice to the people of the Maldives.”
The reasons for parliament’s failure to resolve the appointments of the commission’s President and Vice President are unclear.
The three members appointed to the Commission from the list sent to parliament by President Mohamed Nasheed included Maryam Azra Ahmed of Maafannu Hukuradhige, Jeehaan Mahmood of Dheyliyage in Hinnavaru of Lhaviyani Atoll and Ahmed Thalal of Henveiru Adduge. Saleem was listed but was not approved by parliament – “it is my job to be critical of the government – I was surprised when the whole opposition voted me out,” he commented.
However President Nasheed’s nominations for HRCM’s President and Vice President, Azra and Jeehaan respectively, were not approved prior to parliament’s recess – an approval Saleem described “as usually just a formality”, but critical to the functioning of the institution.
Speaking in parliament on August 30 (pages 69-75), DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed said that while he considered the people appointed for HRCM as capable, the role of President and Vice President “should include a male.”
“Even if you look at it from a religious perspective or from the perspective of good policy, there should be a male in either post,’’ he said.
Independent MP for Kudahuvadhoo, Ahmed Amir, said it was “against human rights” to have two females in the roles of President and Vice President.
“It is the woman who calls for equality most of the time,’’ said Amir.
Minivan News attempted to contact Ilham, but he hung up with an apology.
Saleem observed today that the last commission “had men as President and Vice President and nobody said anything.”
“This time [President Nasheed] proposed two ladies. I have no problem with that – but they must be capable people,” he said, adding that “it would be nice to have a man and a woman for the sake of gender balance.”
The NGO coalition called on parliament to remain free of gender bias, stating that as the laws allowed women “to take up not only the Presidency of the Republic, but also become judges, commission members, commission presidents, and take up other important posts in the State, and that the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of most other commissions and bodies in the country are dominated by men, there is also no room to claim that women being appointed as both President and Vice-President of the HRCM is contrary to the rule of equality among the sexes.”
To not appoint a person to a particular post on grounds of the person’s sex “would in fact be contrary to Article 17 of the Constitution which enshrines the principle of non-discrimination”, the coalition suggested.
Maldives High Commissioner to the UK and the first female in the Malidves to receive a PhD, Farahanaz Faizal, said it was “absolutely horrifying to know that in the 21st century some of our parliamentarians are trying to obstruct this and discriminate against women simply because of their gender, no matter how experienced or qualified they may be.”
“In our recent past, we have had very capable women leaders in all walks of life, both in the government and outside, such as Moomina Haleem, our first female cabinet Minister,” Dr Faizal said.
Deputy Minister for Health and Family, Mariya Ali, said she felt it was important that “more women are in such positions, because it inspires younger women to seek higher education, and shows them what they can achieve if they work hard.”
“I feel it is a very important step for us to take that women are given such high posts, because unless they are taken, stereotypical attitudes towards women will persist,” she said. “If they are capable, why not appoint them?”
Saleem suggested that the government had made a mistake by not waiting until all five members of the commission had been approved, including the President and Vice President, “instead of rushing the whole process.”
“No democracy can function without a functioning human rights body,” he said.
“According to Article 297 of the constitution, the old commission must continue functioning until a new five member commission takes over. If there is to be a legally functional HRCM to protect the rights of the Maldivian people it can only be the HRCM appointed for five years in November 2006 – or else constitute the new one lawfully ASAP.”
Parliament was also recently criticised for leaving HRCM in constitutional limbo following the conclusion of the interim period, after failing to conduct the reappointments in time for the August 7 deadline.
A source at HRCM observed at the time that the legal legitimacy of the institution’s activities were questionable until the new commission was approved: “we don’t even know if we are supposed to be going to work.”