The Supreme Court today slammed the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) for basing its criticism of the judiciary in an assessment to the UN on a 2013 report by the UN Special Rapporteur for Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul.
The Supreme Court has charged HRCM with undermining the constitution and sovereignty of the Maldives by spreading lies about the judiciary in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submission to the UN Human Rights Council.
The judges today denounced the HRCM’s statements on the judiciary as “dangerous,” “irresponsible” and poorly researched.
The HRCM denied all charges, saying the commission’s observation – that the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the judiciary to the detriment of lower courts – was based on a report by Knaul, as well as reports by International Commission of Jurists and local NGO Transparency Maldives.
In response, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the judiciary had rejected Knaul’s report as invalid and reprimanded the HRCM for its alleged failure to fact-check the findings of reports by other institutions.
Faiz also reprimanded the HRCM for failure to ask the Supreme Court’s opinion on reports which were critical of the judiciary.
The Maldives government, in June 2013, said Knaul’s report undermined the country’s sovereignty. The report outlined political, budgetary, and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the judicial watchdog body and the failure to appoint qualified judges as per the Constitution.
Faiz repeatedly asked the commission today if its own report was based on opinion or fact. HRCM President Mariyam Azra replied that the report consisted of the commission’s informed observations.
Today’s trial is only the second suo moto case in the country’s history. Suo moto regulations allow the Supreme Court to initiate proceedings, prosecute and pass judgment. The first – in March this year – saw the Supreme Court sack the Election Commission’s President and Vice President for contempt of court.
The hearing ended after the HRCM said it had no further statements in its defense. A date for the next hearing has not been set.
The full seven member Supreme Court bench is overseeing the case.
The UPR 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.
The HRCM’s 2010 UPR submission had no mention of the judiciary, noted HRCM’s lawyer Maumoon Hameed. He said that the commission was obliged to monitor access to justice in the country in its 2015 submission as the Maldives government had admitted in 2010 that the sector required reform.
The Supreme Court had taken issue with the following statement: “Judicial system is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court, weakening judicial powers vested in other superior courts and lower courts.”
Hameed said the statement referred to the Supreme Court’s practice of taking over cases from the lower courts before completion of trial.
The HRCM repeatedly said it had exercised its constitutional mandate, and said the commission was obliged to adhere to and refer to international human rights standards in its reports.
Although the report was shared with the Department of Judicial Administration, and the Attorney General’s Office prior to its submission, the two offices had not made any comments on the access to justice section, the commission said.
The HRCM has defended and advocated for the independence of the judiciary, noted Hameed, especially during the military detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2012 and President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to lock up the Supreme Court in 2010.
He also contended that the HRCM had continuously advocated for protection of judges and their families.
However, the HRCM’s defense appeared to unravel after a barrage of questions from the bench, with Hameed later suggesting the HRCM did not intend to demonstrate the Supreme Court was “negatively influencing” the lower courts.
He also suggested a limit of 2000 words in the UPR submission required the commission to make generalised statements.
The UPR report also said the HRCM faced difficulties in gathering information related to the judiciary due to lack of cooperation.
Chief Justice Faiz rejected this claim, saying that the Supreme Court – through the DJA – had complied with all requests for information for the UPR.
HRCM President Mariyam Azra said, however, that the commission had faced difficulties in cooperation for a project on court monitoring and on reviewing a court verdict.
In reply, Faiz said the HRCM could only monitor court proceedings on the explicit permission of a presiding judge before stating firmly that the HRCM does not have the mandate to review any court verdict.
Judge Abdulla Saeed repeatedly said the Supreme Court as custodian of the Constitution would not violate the law and would follow due procedures.
He also said the HRCM had implied judges were acting against behavioral norms in enforcing hadd offenses, such as for fornication for children aged fifteen and above. Saeed said it was not the judges, but Islamic Sharia and the Maldivian laws, that had set the punishment.
Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council, of which the Maldives is a member, in 2012 said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives.”
“The state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised. The Committee has said the judiciary is desperately in need of more serious training, and higher standards of qualification,” a statement read.
The Supreme Court in particular needed “radical readjustment,” the committee said. “As 6 of 7 Supreme Court judges are experts in Sharia law and nothing more, this court in particular is in need of radical readjustment. This must be done to guarantee just trials, and fair judgments for the people of Maldives.”
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.