United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul has expressed serious concern about the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Judge Muthasim Adnan.
“This decision seriously undermines the independence of the judiciary in the country and will have a chilling effect on the work of the judiciary at all levels,” said Knaul.
The rapporteur called for a reconsideration of the pair’s removal, noting that it had been characterised by a “lack of transparency and due process”.
Removal of the judges followed amendments to the Judicature Act made in the People’s Majlis, which called for the reduction of the Supreme Court bench from seven to five.
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) promptly selected Faiz and Adnan for dismissal, though the reasons for their selection were not shared with MPs who subsequently voted to dismiss both on December 14.
“The fact that the grounds for removal were not publicized is particularly unacceptable,” added Knaul in a statement released yesterday (December 22).
Knaul has joined numerous local and international organisations in condemning the move, while the political fallout in the Maldives has seen the expulsion of Majlis Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Moosa was one of six MDP MPs who failed to attend the December 14 vote, despite a three-line whip being issued by the party.
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has rounded on critics of the dismissals, with the party accusing Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim of attempting to deceive the public when stating that the Maldives had received international censure.
Local opponents to the move have included the opposition MDP and civil society groups, while the Civil Court bench passed a resolution stating that the Majlis had “forced” the JSC to deem Faiz and Adnan unfit for the Supreme Court bench.
Faiz himself has described his dismissal as raising doubts over the separation of powers and the continuation of judicial independence in the Maldives.
“Today will be written down as a black day in the constitutional history of the Maldives. I state this is a black day for the constitution. Taking such a vote against the constitution is, I believe, disrespectful to the constitution,” he told local media immediately after his removal.
Elsewhere, the International Commission of Jurists have called the decision an “astonishingly arbitrary” one which has “effectively decapitated the country’s judiciary”, while Commonwealth groups have expressed fears that the rule of law has been “severely jeopardised”.
In her own statement, Knaul noted that under both Maldivian and international norms judges could only be removed on grounds of incompetence or misconduct.
Knaul’s 2013 report into the the state of the Maldivian judiciary called for drastic reform, noting that the appointment of the current Supreme Court bench in 2010 had “no legal or constitutional basis” and that the JSC was unanimously regarded as “inadequate and politicised”.
“Since my visit to the Maldives in February 2013 I have been closely following a series of developments in the country that point at a serious deterioration of respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” she warned yesterday.
UN special rapporteurs are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Knaul was appointed to the position in 2009 after having worked as a judge in Brazil for over a decade.
Knaul’s 2013 report was welcomed by the Maldivian government – despite some suggestions that the country’s sovereignty was being undermined. The Supreme Court, however, has dismissed the findings.
After the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) used recommendations from Knaul’s report in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review this year, the Supreme Court initiated ‘suo moto’ proceedings against the commission in September.
The (ongoing) case against the HRCM followed similar charges against the Elections Commission (EC) in February, which resulted in the removal of the EC’s chair and deputy chair just weeks before the Majlis elections. The EC case was linked to the presidential election in 2013, in which the court was accused of “subverting the democratic process” by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Following the HRCM case, former Justice Minister Ahmed ‘Seena’ Zahir suggested the country was facing a “judicial dictatorship”, calling for immediate reform to end misinterpretation of the constitution.
Pro-government MPs have suggested the removal of the two judges is a move towards reform of the courts.
Attempts to obtain comment from officials at the President’s Office and the PPM were unsuccessful at the time of publication.
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