The Supreme Court has initiated suo moto proceedings again the Human Rights Commission of Maldives in relation to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) last week.
All five commission members were called to the court this afternoon before being handed a summons for a hearing on Wednesday (September 24).
HRCM members have told Minivan News today that they face numerous charges, though lawyers have advised them not to give further details at this point.
The commission’s report – submitted as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review – criticised the court’s growing powers, suggesting that control of the judiciary by the Supreme Court was damaging the lower courts.
“[D]ue to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility,” read the report.
The Supreme Court’s use of suo moto proceedings – which allow the court to initiate hearings and act as both plaintiff and judge – mirrors proceedings use against the Elections Commission (EC) earlier this year.
EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz were charged with contempt of court and disobedience to order as a result of testimony given in the People’s Majlis independent commissions oversight committee.
The unprecedented suo moto procedures were used to remove both Thowfeek and Fayaz from their posts just weeks before the Majlis elections in March, with both given 6 month suspended sentences.
Subsequent changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.
The 2006 Human Right Commission Act lists the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with international conventions along with the assistance and support of relevant NGOs as basic objectives of the commission.
Additionally, Article 27 of the HRCM Act grant members immunity from prosecution in relation to acts carried out as part of the commission’s duties.
Article 27 (b) meanwhile says that a case can only be filed against the commission regarding published reports following an inquiry which proves components of the report to have been false.
UN bodies have been amongst those most critical of the Maldivian justice system in recent months, with a report into the judiciary by a UN Special Rapporteur last year making particular note of the centralised administration and the failure to address human rights violations.
The report was subsequently described by the Maldives representative to the UNHRC as undermining the sovereignty of the country.
Criticism of the Supreme Court’s role in the electoral process by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last October was subsequently described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.
Waheed is amongst the delegates representing the Maldives at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, along with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon.
Earlier this week, on the occasion of the Maldives’ 49th year of UN membership, Dunya praised the organisation as “the only forum where every nation in the world, big or small, has an equal say”.
The UNHCR’s periodic review studies the human rights records of all 193 UN member states, aiming to prompt, support, and expand the protection of human rights. After having been reviewed first in 2010, the Maldives will again undergo inspection in 2015.
Speaking to Minivan News last week after receiving her summons for today’s hearing, HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood defended the UPR report.
“It’s the one chance we get to bring the world’s attention to issues that the state chooses to ignore on domestic forums”.