Maldives human rights watchdog under siege

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has slammed the judiciary for compromising its independence, describing the Supreme Court’s suo moto proceedings over a submission to the UN Human Rights Council as the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.

In its 2014 annual report, the independent commission noted the Supreme Court and the Juvenile Court accused the HRCM of making false allegations in the Universal Periodic Review and a confidential report into a 15-year-old rape victim’s flogging sentence.

The Supreme Court and Juvenile Court’s charges affected the commission’s independence and ability to carry out its mandate, the report said.

The controversial suo moto regulations allow the Supreme Court to initiate proceedings, prosecute and pass judgment. The first case of its kind, in March 2014, saw the apex court sack the Elections Commission’s President and Vice President for contempt of court.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ali Hussein said the judiciary’s “harassment of HRCM” was an indication of the “extraordinary levels of judicial activism in the country.”

“The judiciary is acting outside its boundaries, it is annulling laws, making laws, dismissing members of the independent commissions. The judiciary needs to be restrained immediately. But there is no way to hold them accountable.”

Judges must be educated and sensitised to human rights, fundamental norms and best practices in a democratic society, he continued.

However, lamenting President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to appoint disgraced Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed to the judicial watchdog Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Ali said judicial reform was only possible through a long hard people’s struggle.

Hameed was implicated in a series of sex tapes involving foreign women, but the police have closed the investigation citing non-cooperation from the judge, according to media reports. The JSC subsequently refused to take action against Hameed.

Meanwhile, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Ahmed Nihan, said the People’s Majlis must play a key role in mediating the conflict between the HRCM and the judiciary to ensure the commission’s independence.

The majority leader described the dispute as “a teething trouble in a nascent democracy,” and said the HRCM must continue to exist as “a pillar of multi-party democracy.”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) agreed the responsibility for ensuring HRCM’s independence rested with parliament, but said the PPM-dominated Majlis had no regard for the independence of the state’s watchdog bodies.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla also accused ruling party MPs of harassing human rights commissioners through the parliament.

The five members of the HRCM were summoned separately to the Majlis last week and questioned in a closed-door meeting regarding the commission’s statement condemning the Criminal Court’s 13-year sentence on former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The HRCM on March 14 expressed concern over apparent lack of due process in the opposition leader’s trial, and said the Criminal Court had failed to respond to a request to monitor court proceedings.

Eva also noted increasing threats against the HRCM, most recently that of a group of angry men on February 24 entered the commission’s officers and threatened to harm the five commissioners following a statement condemning the police’s mistreatment of Nasheed ahead of a hearing on February 23.

HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal meanwhile received threatening calls and messages after the police claimed he had called them “baagee” or traitor on February 22. The police have since withdrawn the claim.

The Supreme Court’s suo moto case is still pending “like a sword hanging over the HRCM,” Eva said.

The MP for Galholhu North also concurred with JP’s Ali Hussein, stating the judiciary should be held answerable through the JSC.

“We must end this judicial dictatorship. Within the People’s Majlis we must ensure the JSC fulfills its mandate. And above all, appoint qualified judges to the judiciary,” she said.

The HRCM in its report said the judiciary faced the most number of challenges in protecting human rights in 2014. The commission also expressed concern over the sudden dismissal of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan in December.



HRCM Vice President under threat after police ‘traitor’ claim

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned the Maldives Police Services’ claim its Vice President Ahmed Tholal had called police officers “traitors” on Friday.

In a live blog on the opposition’s mass Friday protest, police claimed Tholal had called officers traitors while disembarking from a speedboat returning from Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Center following a visit with former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Condemning the police’s “false accusations,” the HRCM in a statement yesterday said Tholal and his family had started receiving threatening phone calls and messages.

Meanwhile, Tholal, in a tweet described the accusation as “politically charged” and said he would resign if police are able to prove their claim.

“But if I’m proven right, who’ll resign from the police?” he asked.

Speaking to Minivan News, Tholal said the HRCM’s Secretary General (SG) Shamoon Hameed and staff who were present in the speedboat would testify no such incident had taken place and that there had been no confrontation with the police at all.

The police have asked the People’s Majlis’ Independent Institutions Oversight Committee to investigate the case.

The HRCM said the police’s accusations undermines public trust in the commission and obstructs it from carrying out its mandate. It has asked the Police Integrity Commission to investigate the incident.

Angry crowd

Last week, a group of five angry men entered the HRCM offices and threatened to assault the five Human Rights Commissioners.

According to HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud, the group had been unhappy over a statement issued by the commission on February 23 condemning the police’s mistreatment of former President Nasheed at the Criminal Court.

The opposition leader, currently in pre-trial detention, claimed he had sustained injuries when police manhandled him and dragged him into the court on Monday prior to the first hearing of a sudden terrorism trial.

Nasheed limped into the courtroom with his arm in a makeshift sling.

The HRCM statement said police had used disproportionate force, and urged the state to immediately extend medical attention and access to a lawyer.

Meanwhile, Hameed last week said police refused to allow the HRCM to conduct an independent medical examination of the former president.

However, the police have denied Nasheed sustained any injuries, with Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed telling the press on Wednesday (February 25) that an X-ray taken of Nasheed’s shoulder at the doctor’s request did not reveal any injuries.

“Doctors have assured us that President Nasheed did not sustain any injuries,” Rasheed said.

Rasheed also condemned the HRCM for issuing a statement “immediately after the incident” without “conducting an investigation.”

The police ‘use of force review committee’ was also conducting an investigation to determine if excessive force was used, Rasheed revealed.

The Supreme Court in September initiated suomoto proceedings against the HRCM, charging the commission 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 case is still pending at the Supreme Court. The HRCM has denied the apex court’s claims.

Related to this story

Police denied Nasheed an independent medical examination, claims HRCM

Angry crowd threatens to assault Human Rights Commissioners

Former President Nasheed appears in court with arm in makeshift sling

Supreme Court slams HRCM for basing rights assessment on “rejected” UN rapporteur findings


UPR report shared with judiciary before submission, says HRCM at Supreme Court trial

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) shared its Universal Period Review (UPR) report with the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) and sought feedback ahead of submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the commission’s lawyer told the Supreme Court today.

The DJA – which functions under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court – did not respond to the request for commentary on the report or object to its content, the lawyer noted at the first hearing of the trial.

All five HRCM members are on trial after the apex court initiated suo moto proceedings in relation to the UPR report, which suggested that the Supreme Court’s control over the judiciary was undermining powers of lower courts.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain reportedly said that the HRCM’s report contained false and misleading information concerning procedural matters of the judiciary.

The suo moto proceedings – which allows the court to act as both prosecution and judge – were initiated to hold the commission’s members accountable under Article 141 of the Constitution, Article 9 of the Judicature Act, and Supreme Court regulations, the chief justice said.

Article 141(b) states, “The Supreme Court shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives.”

Article 141(c) states, “No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts,” while section (d) states, “Persons or bodies performing public functions, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

The commission’s attorney Maumoon Hameed explained that each UN member state was required to submit a report for the UPR.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.

In a press release today, the HRCM said it submitted as evidence information regarding the UPR process as well as commentary received from various state institutions.

“At today’s hearing, the commission requested an opportunity to submit further information and evidence,” the press release stated.

“The Supreme Court adjourned today’s hearing. The commission has not yet been informed of a date for the next hearing.”

The next hearing has since been scheduled for 1:30pm on Sunday, September 28.

Noting that Supreme Court decisions could not be challenged as it was the highest court of appeal, Hameed had, however, asked for five working days to prepare a defence.

Control of judiciary

Less than two weeks before the parliamentary polls in March, the Supreme Court had charged Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz with contempt of court and dismissed the pair under unprecedented suo moto proceedings.

Subsequent changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to penalise individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

Meanwhile, in a press statement yesterday, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party noted that under Article 27 of the HRCM Act a case could only be filed against the commission regarding published reports following an inquiry which proves components of the report to have been false.

In its UPR report, the HRCM stated that the Supreme Court’s control of the judiciary was weakening judicial powers vested in lower courts.

“Supreme Court issued a circular ordering all state institutions not to communicate to individual courts regarding any information relating to the judiciary except through the Supreme Court. HRCM is facing difficulties in gathering information related to judiciary due to lack of cooperation,” the report stated.

Moreover, the report noted that “due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility.”

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, wrote that centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court “has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”

The Maldives representative to the UNHRC subsequently accused the special rapporteur of 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 meanwhile described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.


Human Rights Commission VP calls for state response to abductions

Human Rights Commission (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal has called for an immediate state response to reports of a series of vigilante attacks in the capital over recent days.

“The concern to me is that there needs to be a state response to state very clearly that we cannot just start labelling people un-Islamic as it’s a very dangerous thing,” said Tholal.

After multiple accounts of the abductions and assault of individuals perceived to be supportive of atheism or homosexuality, the HRCM plans to meet with state representatives in order to determine the cause for these events.

“I think the issue of safety of paramount. We’re not very clear why this is happening,” said Tholal. “But I think the key role is what the state response is going to be and putting an end to the speculation – to let the people know what is happening.”

After reports that senior government members met with citizens concerned about the harassment of Islam in the days before the attacks – some of whom have subsequently been linked with the abductions – Minivan News has been unable to obtain a response from the relevant authorities on this issue.

The vigilante group was believed to have been attempting to identify members of online secularist groups – some of which had repeatedly featured content defaming and mocking the prophet.

Freedom and responsibility

Tholal noted that the incidents had raised issues regarding freedom of expression but also the responsibility inherent in the enjoyment of that freedom – noting that the state should take action against criminal activity.

“It’s not just about people who are expressing these opinion,” said Tholal. “For one thing, the freedom of expression is highly sacred, and at the same time so is responsibility.”

Article 27 of the Maldives constitution grants the right to freedom of expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.

Police began investigations into anti-Islamic comment posted on the ‘Maldives Atheists’ Facebook page in March this year, although no arrests have as yet been made.

Expressing his fear that Maldivian society was becoming less tolerant of diverse opinion, Tholal noted that people’s freedom of expression must be based on understanding rather than intimidation.

“Reinterpretations should be based, not on fear, but on an understanding that there are things you cannot say as they might hurt people or be hateful or incite violence,” he said.


Ismail Hilath Rasheed, a self-exiled blogger who was subjected to multiple attacks as a result of his outspoken calls for freedom of expression has also suggested greater tolerance is needed across Maldivian society.

“Freedom of expression should not be abused as to lead to anarchy and chaos. Such a balanced equilibrium can be obtained only through granting minority rights, which means the sorely missing secularism in the context of Maldives.”

“This is where we need to build bridges – a bridge to gap the gulf between moderates and extremists on all sides,” said the former journalist.

Hilath has suggested that many Maldivians – including himself – were now refraining from expressing themselves due to the current climate of fear.

“With the liberal community now opting to refrain from exercising their right to free expression, the Maldives as a culture and society will plunge into an abyss unless the powers that be give them the courage to come out and contribute to society’s collective creativity, and express free expression without fear,” he said.

A landmark ‘Threat Analysis Report’ by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission earlier this year found 84 percent of journalists surveyed had been threatened at least once, with 27 percent noting a reluctance to cover certain topics.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat, while gangs and religious extremists – both alleged to have been involved in recent attacks – were next on the list.

Other than coverage of a Maldivian Democratic Party press release expressing concern over the incidents, local media has not reported on the succession of attacks.


HRCM has complete confidence in Elections Commission, says acting chair

Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) member Ahmed Tholal – currently acting chair or president – has told local media that the commission had complete confidence in the Elections Commission’s (EC’s) ability to conduct the upcoming presidential election freely, fairly and in a transparent manner.

The remarks come after the HRCM issued a press release on Thursday (October 10) stating that a letter has been sent to the EC concerning alleged “discrimination” in taking measures against political parties for illegal activities.

“As the Elections Commission is an independent state institution, [the HRCM] urged [the EC] to not discriminate among political parties and treat all parties equally when issuing warnings and taking measures concerning an illegal activity,” the press release stated.

While Tholal declined to comment about the HRCM’s letter, newspaper Haveeru reported that the letter was sent by commission member Ahmed Abdul Kareem without the knowledge of the other members.

HRCM regulations require that such decisions are made with the participation or vote of all members.

“We noted in our report after the election that it was conducted well. So we have that confidence this time as well. HRCM is ready to provide cooperation required by the Elections Commission at this stage,” Tholal was quoted as saying.

He added that the HRCM did not have any concerns or dissatisfaction with the EC.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday (October 11), EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek said two members of the HRCM contacted him, apologised and explained that the press statement was issued by just one member without the knowledge of the rest.

“The two members have said they condemn the act as it was done without their knowledge,” Thowfeek said.

He added that HRCM Chair Mariyam Azra was currently out of the country as well.

“So we don’t find it easy to accept what just one member said because two members have informed me that it wasn’t a decision made by the Human Rights Commission,” Thowfeek said.

The two HRCM members told Thowfeek that they were “ashamed” because of the sole member’s personal antagonism.

Kareem has however denied the allegation that the letter was sent without the knowledge of the other members, claiming that the decision was made following consultation among the five members regarding a number of complaints against the EC.

While the letter was signed by Kareem alone, he claimed that the decision to send it was approved by a majority of the commission.


Director General of Elections Commission alleges political motivations behind dismissal

The recently dismissed Director General of the Elections Commission (EC), Ahmed Tholal, has alleged that his removal is related to his participation in a strike earlier this year which had questioned the impartiality of certain commission members.

Following his dismissal Tholal took to Twitter, suggesting that his dismissal was politically motivated.

“The reason for my dismissal is to retaliate because we protested, and also because votes cannot be rigged at 2013 Elections if we are there,” he tweeted.

“On March 20, the Elections Commission staff protested. I believe this is the reason for my dismissal,” he told Minivan News. “I received a chit saying  that I’ve been dismissed yesterday because I have another post.”

“I am President of the Athletics Association – that is not a job, that is a social responsibility,” he added.

Tholal explained that he had been on the executive committee of the Athletics Association since 2004 and had been promoted to chair of the committee in July this year.

The strike in question, which included 45 EC employees, demanded better remuneration for staff as well as the resignation of three of the five members of the commission who were accused of acting with bias and in violation of EC regulations.

“They have not been following rules and regulations,” said Tholal. “I fight for the right thing, always – I always tell them they have to follow the regulations.”

He noted that the three commissioners in question – Mohamed Farooq, Ali Mohamed Manik and Ogaru Ibrahim Waheed – were still on the commission.

Tholal also pointed out that other staff members who had taken part in the protest had faced repercussions. He noted that a fellow Director General had been demoted and the Human Resources Director dismissed.

“I will fight for my rights,” said Tholal.

The right to strike is protected by Article 31 of the Maldivian constitution.

Secretary General of Elections Commission, Asim Abdul Sattar, denied that Tholal’s dismissal was politically motivated, arguing that Tholal had acted against the rules of the commission.

“It is against the rules of the commission to have any other job, whether paid or not, it is a conflict of interest,” said Sattar.

Sattar also said that the March strike had mainly been about money and that the issue had now been settled.

He explained that the decision had taken one and a half months to be made, although Tholal has claimed his dismissal came without warning.

Independent institutions such as the EC have come under increasing scrutiny once more following the release of the Commission of National Inquiry’s final report (CNI).

This week has seen prominent members of both the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) question the ability of their own institutions to fulfil their mandates.

Transparency Maldives’ Aiman Rasheed suggested that weak and unassertive institutions must take some of the blame for the events of February 7 and the surrounding political crises.

“The independent institutions need to step up their game by standing for and protecting the values for which they were constituted,” said Aiman.

Although the EC was not specifically mentioned in the final CNI report, it has been mentioned as an institution in need of strengthening by prominent members of the government.

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon told the BBC in April that the EC was too weak to withstand the rigours of an early election campaign.

This charge was dismissed at the time by EC President Fuad Thawfeeq and, when asked today about the need to strengthen the commission, Sattar was equally confident.

“We have a good system but we feel there is always need for improvement and capacity building,” he said.

“For any constitutional elections, we will be given two months – we will be able to do it,” said Sattar.

When asked the same question, Tholal suggested that the key to strengthening the EC was to change some of the body’s members.


Tholal receives 87 points from parliamentary review committee

Ahmed Tholal has been recommended to the post of Deputy Human Rights Commissioner by a parliamentary review committee.

President Mohamed Nasheed recommended Tholal for the post on December 18. Parliament is now expected to vote on the nomination.

The review committee reports that Tholal received 87 points for his capability, experience, leadership, integrity and educational qualifications, Haveeru reports.

The committee includes Dhidhoo MP Ahmed Sameer, Machangoalhi-North MP Mohamed Rasheed, Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim, Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Hithadhoo-South MP Hassan Latheef, Velidhoo MP Ali Mohamed, and Maavashu MP Abdul Aziz Jamaal Abu Bakr.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has operated without a deputy commissioner for over one year, although one is required by the commission’s charter. The nomination of Jeehan Mahmoud  last year was rejected on the grounds that the commission leadership should exhibit a balance of genders following Mariyam Azra’s approval as HRCM President.


Committee to review HRCM nomination

A temporary committee will review President Mohamed Nasheed’s nomination of Ahmed Tholal of Henveiru Adduge for deputy human rights commissioner. Parliament endorsed the committee today with 66 out of 68 votes.

The President made the nomination on Sunday.

The committee includes Dhidhoo MP Ahmed Sameer, Machangoalhi-North MP Mohamed Rasheed, Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim, Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Hithadhoo-South MP Hassan Latheef, Velidhoo MP Ali Mohamed, and Maavashu MP Abdul Aziz Jamaal Abu Bakr.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has been without a deputy president for over a year. On October 4, 2010 Parliament unanimously approved Mariyam Azra as HRCM President but rejected the President’s nominee Jeehan Mahmoud by ten votes.

A coalition of local NGOs called the vacant posts “an immense obstacle to the effective functioning of the commission” at the time.

MPs said they opposed Mahmoud’s nomination for reasons of gender equality.

DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed told Minivan at the time 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,’’ Amir said, regarding the case.