No-confidence motion delayed after Attorney General calls in sick

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid has postponed the no-confidence motion against Attorney General (AG) Azima Shakoor, initially scheduled for today (October 28).

According to Majlis officials the speaker made the decision to delay for two days after Shakoor informed him that she was unwell and not able to attend the parliament session.

Article 101(b) of the constitution states that cabinet members must be given at least fourteen days notice of any debate concerning no-confidence motions against themselves, and that the individual has the right to defend themselves – both verbally and in writing – in the sittings of the People’s Majlis

Parliament received the motion on September 25, with the ensuing notice to the AG being delivered on October 1.

The motion has now been rescheduled for October 30.

Cabinet members against whom no-confidence motions are raised are allowed to sit in in the parliamentary debate on the matter. At the sitting, they are given the opportunity defend themselves against the claims raised.

An official from parliament stated that it was the cabinet minister’s decision whether or not they used the opportunity to defend themselves. He said that,while the parliament could proceed with the motion even though the minister is unable to attend, it is at the discretion of the speaker to decide to postpone the motion.

Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Consul General Fathimath Filza were not responding to calls at the time of press.

The no-confidence motion was submitted to the parliament on September 25 with the signature of 26 Members of Parliament (MPs) – 16 more than is stipulated in the constitution’s article 101(a).

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) previously decided to pursue a no-confidence motion against the AG during a contingency meeting of the party’s National Council on September 20 .

During the debate, MDP MP Ahmed Sameer announced that the party’s parliamentary group had prepared a no-confidence motion against the AG, contending that she had neglected her duties and had advocated on behalf of a political party against the Elections Commission (EC), a state institution.

Meanwhile, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Parliamentary Group’s Deputy Leader Moosa Zameer at the time said that the party would not support the removal of a former council member of the party.

However, with the support of at least six out of ten MPs of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – which has pledged support to MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed in the upcoming election – the MDP would have enough votes in parliament to pass the no-confidence motion.

AG Shakoor was approved to her post by 38 votes in favour in parliament on July 31, with 31 MPs having voted against.

Formerly the lawyer for PPM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Shukoor was initially appointed AG by sitting President Dr Mohamed Waheed after the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

She was later reassigned as Minister of Family, Gender and Human Rights – an appointed which subsequently failed to gain the approval of parliament, before the President Waheed re-appointed her to her former position as AG.


UN Special Representative calls for abolition of degrading and capital punishment against children

The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, has called on the government to find an alternative for, or abolish, capital and degrading punishment against minors.

Pais made the comments at a press conference held on Wednesday, together with Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shakoor, at the conclusion of a six day visit to the Maldives to “support national efforts to address concerns” about the case of a 15 year old female rape victim sentenced to a 100 lashes on charges of fornication.

“My visit was sped up because of the case of this 15 year-old. As you know, the whole world is following this very closely with concern, for a number of reasons. The most important one is that we are talking about someone who is very young, who has been the victim of a sequence of situations that are very traumatic, and which has certainly affected her well-being. And which should not put at risk the way she looks at her future,” Pais stated.

“We have been concerned naturally about the opportunities that seem to have been missed in the process, in the first stages of the judicial procedures that were carried out. At the same time we feel encouraged by the fact that not only were there expressions of condemnation by the President, the government and the Maldivian civil society, but there is an appeal for her now,” she continued.

“We are very confident that the situation will be globally assessed in the light of the best interests of the child, and the assumptions made about the capability of a girl of 15 years of age to channel such decisions about one’s life will be taken into consideration,” Pais said.

“In her case, as well as the other case mentioned of capital punishment, as you know, there is a very important trend across the world. The first is to recognise that the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties in fact consider that these forms of sentencing are not in conformity with human rights. And these are treaties ratified by the Maldives, and as you know, the Constitution of the Maldives recognise the primeness of these, providing guidance to act in line with these treaties including when courts are applying or interpreting laws and constitution,” the Special Representative continued.

“And secondly there is a trend visible in many countries, including muslim countries, to abolish this form of sentencing and also to find alternatives to deal with children and young people who are in such situations. So we are very hopeful that these options will be taken under consideration in Maldives in these particular cases, and other similar cases that may come up,” she stated.

Former Attorney General and Acting Gender Minister Azima Shakoor admitted that “there were a lot of misses in the 15 year old’s case”, adding that the matter could have been better handled if the state had acted earlier, and if the necessary systems were more strongly built.

Action by the state

The Special Representative welcomed the establishment of a Child Protection Committee by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, noting the importance of pushing for change to prevent similar cases from happening again, calling the girl’s case a “paradigmatic of the wider situation of violence against children.”

Pais said that she had conducted discussions with government officials, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, other political actors, members of the judiciary, national institutions and relevant civil society organisations during her brief visit.

While noting that she had observes a common “reaffirmation of the international commitments undertaken by the Maldives to safeguard the rights of the child and ensure the implementation of the CRC” and other ratified conventions, she added that the country “now has before it a critical opportunity to translate these commitments into tangible legal, policy and programmatic action”.

Pais also emphasised that “incidents of violence still remain hidden and concealed, and are sensitive to be raised as a public concern, and difficult to report.”

She noted that in the recent past, significant tools and studies have been developed to address cases of violence, abuse and exploitation, including pieces of legislation like the Domestic Violence Act.

“Steady action is of essence”

Special Representative Pais said that despite the current action being taken by the state, a lot more steady action needs to be taken in the country to protect the rights of the child.

She recommended that awareness campaigns be carried out to prevent social acceptance of violence against children. Additionally, she stated that it is crucial to focus on capacity building programmes for teachers, social workers, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and other child protection actors as they are in a unique position to safeguard children’s protection from violence and intervene in case such incidences occur.

Also among her recommendations is the importance of building upon the country’s Constitution and passing progressive legislation for the protection of human rights and children’s rights.

“It is imperative to improve in the legislation a clear legal prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including in the home, in care and justice institutions, as well as a form of criminal sentencing,” Pais stated.

In conclusion, Pais referred to the upcoming September 7 presidential elections, and called on all political actors to refrain from involving children in politics and from sidelining children’s right issues.


Parliament notifies Gasim of case to remove him from JSC

Parliament has sent a notice to Majlis-appointed member to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Gasim Ibrahim, regarding a case to remove him from his post.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Friday (March 22) that a notice had been sent to Gasim, who is also the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party (JP), as per parliament procedures.

Nazim stated that the case submitted by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to remove Gasim from the JSC would be put on parliament’s agenda only after speaking with leaders from various political parties.

The notice follows a meeting held last week by Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee, in which the entire JSC board was summoned to attend.

Throughout March, the oversight committee has been speaking with members of JSC in regard to the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench. The court is currently hearing the trial of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is Gasim’s presidential rival in the upcoming elections in September.

Oversight Committee member and MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that during the meeting held on Wednesday (March 20), Gasim had lacked integrity when faced with questions from the committee.

“The focus of my questions was on the integrity of the JSC members and of the independence of judges.

“When I asked Mr Gasim whether he had announced his [presidential] candidacy before or after he was nominated to his post within the JSC, he said ‘I am not sure’,” Hamid claimed.

Gasim’s presidential rival and leader of the MDP, former President Mohamed Nasheed, is currently facing charges at Hulhumale’ court over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The MDP has maintained that the charges against Nasheed are a politically motivated attempt to bar him from the election in September.

Despite the JSC Chair and Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed declaring that the commission refused to discuss matters regarding the Hulhumale’ Court, individual members of the JSC still attended the oversight meetings.

“It is like a domino effect – the chair of the JSC has lost his authority. We believe this is the first step of the JSC being shaken to its core,” Hamid said. “Even on Wednesday the chair was still resistant to being questioned.”

Statements from individual JSC members given to the oversight committee revealed there had been concern as to how the Hulhumale’ Court bench had been appointed.

Furthermore, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC last month.

“I have heard from numerous sources that the current composition of the JSC is inadequate and politicised.

Because of this politicisation, the commission has been subjected to all sorts of external influence and consequently has been unable to function properly,” Knaul stated last month.

JSC composition does not allow independence of judiciary to be maintained: Shakoor

On Wednesday (March 20), Attorney General and JSC member Aishath Azima Shakoor told local media that the current composition of the commission did not allow it to maintain independence of the judiciary.

“I believe that, even though JSC has been composed according to constitution, it does not allow [it] to maintain the independence of the judiciary.

“I do not believe that JSC’s configuration is based on the most effective model. But JSC is how the Constitution says it should be, so we have to function like that,” Azima was quoted as saying in local media.

In regard to Gasim, who voted in favour of establishing the Hulhumale’ Court bench, Azima told local media that if she had been in Gasim’s position when the vote for the court bench had been undertaken, she would not have participated in the vote.

“I believe that the Parliament Committee on Independent Institutions’ review or investigation of the manner in which Hulhumale’ Court bench of judges was established will affect the trail that is currently proceeding in that court,” Azima was quoted as saying in Sun Online.


UN Special Rapporteur criticises “arbitrary” appointment of judges in Nasheed trial

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, has criticised the appointment of judges presiding over the case against former President Mohamed Nasheed, for his controversial arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2011.

“Being totally technical, it seems to me that the set-up, the appointment of judges to the case, has been set up in an arbitrary manner outside the parameters laid out in the laws,” Knaul said, while responding to questions from media after delivering her statement on Sunday.

Nasheed is currently facing trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the legality of which has been much contested in recent weeks.

The Special Rapporteur commented on the matter of Nasheed’s trial being conducted by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

“According to the law, the constitutional court which has jurisdiction to hear this case is the Criminal Court. While I understand the concerns of the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office regarding the possible eventual conflict of interest since Judge Abdulla sits in the court, it is not for the prosecutor to decide if the judge will be impartial,” Knaul stated.

“It is the duty of the judge or judges to recuse themselves when they feel they would not be impartial in presiding over any case,” Knaul said.

Speaking about the case of the detention itself, Knaul stated that judging by the briefings received in her meetings in the country, the detention seems to have taken place outside the parameters laid down by the constitution.

“Regardless of the merits of the allegations of corruption or misconduct on the judge, I do believe that proceedings against judges should also be fair and impartial,” Knaul said.

“I think in disciplinary proceedings, especially disciplinary hearings, a judge should have the right to a fair trial. And all decisions taken should be subject to an independent review.”

In presenting her preliminary findings after the eight day fact-finding mission, Knaul stated that she found the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself.

Knaul also spoke about the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – the body mandated with appointment, transfer and removal of judges – stating that the commission is politicised, subject to external influence, and hence unable to fulfill its mandate effectively.

Knaul also highlighted the lack of transparency in the assignment of cases and the constitution of benches in all courts, including the Supreme Court.

“When cases are assigned in a subjective manner, the system becomes much more vulnerable to manipulation, corruption, and external pressure. Information on the assignment of cases should be clearly available to the public in order to counter suspicions of malpractice and corruption,” she observed.

Knaul asserted again that the composition of the JSC must be revised. She has written in her statement that “an appointment body acting independently from both the executive and the legislative branches of government should be established with the view to countering any politicization in the appointment of judges and their potential improper allegiance to interests other than those of fair and impartial justice.”

Responding to a question posed by a journalist asking if the rapporteur believed it wise for such a ‘high-profile’ case to be delayed, Knaul said that the judiciary should be effective for everyone who seeks justice.

“According to the constitution, the judiciary should not choose cases based on X,Y, or Z person. It should be equal in applying or delivering justice. It is necessary to have an objective criteria for selecting cases and to assign cases in court. If you apply these processes, you make the system work in the least subjective manner possible,” Knaul stated.

Government responds

Attorney General Azima Shakoor received the preliminary findings from Rapporteur Gabriela Knaul on behalf of the government of the Maldives.

“In the discussion the Government also noted the responsibility of international partners in establishing a conducive environment where institutions of the the State, particularly the judiciary, are respected by the public,” an official statement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website read.

The statement did not include any details of whether or not the government planned to take any action in response to the rapporteur’s findings and comments on the judicial system.

When the question was asked of President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad, he referred Minivan News to the Attorney General, saying “she is probably a more relevant person to talk about this matter.”

Attorney General Azima Shakoor said she was unable to speak on the subject once Minivan News posed the question to her.

The government also did not offer any response to the additional comments Knauls made regarding Nasheed’s trial after delivering her written statement.

MDP claims commitment to judicial reform

Responding to the Special Rapporteur’s findings, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it is ready to work with other political parties to immediately begin work on urgent reforms to the judiciary and the judicial accountability mechanisms.

“Establishing a truly independent, professional and widely respected judiciary is central to ending the political turmoil in the Maldives and to consolidating democracy in our country. We have always accepted this. Yet Gayoom, Waheed and others who have benefited and continue to benefit from our current corrupt and biased judiciary never have,” MDP’s international spokesperson, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, said in a statement.

“Today, as we digest yet another report by an eminent international body that clearly says our judiciary is not fit for purpose, it is time for all political parties to put aside their differences and work together to urgently reform our justice sector. This means immediately halting the political trials launched against President Nasheed and the hundreds of pro-democracy activists currently facing ‘terrorism’ and other trumped-up charges. It also means establishing a caretaker government to oversee judicial reform and to prepare the ground for genuinely free and fair elections,” Ghafoor said.

The party’s statement also noted Knaul’s concern over the system of appointment of judges, stating “the Special Rapporteur expressed support for the concerns repeatedly raised by Aishath Velezinee, a former member of the JSC and whistleblower (who, in 2011, was stabbed and almost killed because of her outspoken comments), who said that the very starting point of judicial independence – the post 2008 Constitution system of screening and reappointing judges – was marred by malpractice and corruption.”

Referring to the rapporteur’s comments on selectivity in case assignment, prioritisation and bench constitution, the MDP alleged it had led to “hundreds of important cases against allies of former President Gayoom and members of the current government being kicked into the legal ‘long grass’, while the Prosecutor-General, the judicial administration authorities and the courts enthusiastically pursue political trials against President Nasheed and other MDP members.”

MDP echoed Special Rapporteur Knaul in stating that these deep-rooted problems had led to the public having an alarming lack of trust in the judiciary.


Bill on death penalty drafted, unclear on action on past sentences: AG Shakoor

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shakoor stated on Thursday that the government’s bill on implementing death penalty would be made public early in the coming week.

Speaking at a press conference in Velaanaage, Shakoor confirmed that the AG’s office had completed drafting the bill, which was now in the final stages of discussion. She confirmed that the bill would be made public on the office’s website in the coming week, stating the matter “is very much connected to public sentiments and a large number of people feel this matter needs a fast solution”.

Saying that “it was a pity” that three weeks had passed in the drafting stage, Shakoor said that unlike most other bills, the death penalty implementation bill was going through processes of in-depth research and further discussions among a high-level group appointed by the government.

According to Shakoor, the research took much longer than the state had expected, adding that the AG office had included the legal systems of Medina, Egypt and America in its research.

“I would like to point out that the death penalty is still implemented in over 50 countries across the world even today. Not all of these are even Islamic states. Nor is murder the only crime for which the sentence is given. For example, some countries sentence people to death for being caught trying to bring in narcotics to the country. We are considering all of these points and have made a comparative legal assessment,” Shakoor explained.

Other crimes besides murder which are punishable by death according to Islamic Sharia include apostasy, adultery, sodomy, rape and high treason.

“We need to conduct an academic exercise since we are trying to do this through a rather weak penal code,” Shakoor said.

“If this can be done before the penal code pending in parliament is passed, it might be best to include this as part of that code. Right now, we have drafted this with the thought that if the penal code gets passed up front, then this can be passed as a separate act on death penalty.”

Shakoor said that the bill was important as the current practice was to charge murder convicts under Article 88 of the existing penal code.

Article 88 of the Penal Code states that disobedience to order is a crime, while Article 88(c) details that if the result of violating the article leads to a death, the case should be dealt with according to Islamic Sharia.

Shakoor provided details of the drafted bill, stating it would be looking at the investigation stages, prosecution stages, sentencing and the implementation of sentences.

“The act looks into deciding on the number of judges who will sit on the sentencing panel. Furthermore it considers the rights of the family, the rights of the murder victim, the rights of the victim’s family, the final rights of the convict during sentencing,” Shakoor stated.

Responding to a question regarding how those sentenced to death prior to the bill being ratified would be dealt with, Shakoor said “it is difficult to give a straightforward answer as the final discussions on the bill have not yet been completed.”

“We too believe that answers to that must come to light through how this bill is composed. However, I believe that a solution must be provided even for past cases. So the act will be drafted to reflect that. You can see for yourselves once the bill is made public,” Shakoor replied.

“When an act is passed which explicitly spells out implementation [of the death penalty], then I believe the benefits of it must be carried to even past cases.”

Among a number of other cases, a young couple charged with the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb were sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in July, a few days after the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty. The statement said “the state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime.”


Attorney General expresses doubt over legality of former govt’s property deals

Attorney General Azima Shukoor has expressed doubt over the legality of the privatisation of state property that took place under the last government.

Talking last night on DhiTV, the Attorney General said that the correct legal processes had not been followed.

“We have noted that when the state properties had been transferred, no detailed list or opening balance sheet had been created. And these properties have been leased to other parties or councils in the absence of any legal guidelines,” Shukoor said.

“That’s why the Auditor General is involved in the process of transference of state property from one entity to another. But that role had been bypassed.”

The Attorney General informed DhiTV that her office, as well as the Anti-Corruption Commission would be investigating. Regarding the GMR airport deal, she said that a decision had not yet been made.