This is the second of a series of articles as I attempt to unpack the Naaz Report, Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens published in May 2013.
Part one of Velezinee’s critique of the Access to Justice report is available here.
1. Naaz was a warden of Vice President Waheed Deen who taught and groomed her. He sponsored her study in Australia where she read Law, and lived and worked in Australia before returning home in late 2009.
2. I was first introduced to Naaz in 2009 by a mutual friend, a judge, who was a school friend of Naaz, and my closest friend at the time. As I understood, Naaz had been away for a long period, returned to the Maldives for a “break year,” and was excited by the changes she was seeing in the Maldives. She wanted to contribute to the nation with her knowledge and experience, and at the same time build her CV. Maldives lacks people of the knowledge, experience, exposure and grooming Naaz has, and she could help fill the gap. Naaz was living in Bandos Island Resort, courtesy of VP Deen, and was exploring opportunities. It was an exciting time.
3. She met with the then Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed by appointment to introduce herself, and express her interest, and met others whom she knew from earlier, looking for a way to contribute. I was aware of the issues in child protection and the lack of expertise in law or human rights in the then Department of Gender and Family Protection (DGFPS) and thought Naaz could contribute much to strengthening the child protection system, and encouraged her to take up the challenge.
4. In the end, Naaz joined the UNDP office in Male as a Project Director to lead the Access to Justice project, an ongoing UN program with the government. With the UNDP, Naaz had privileged access to all institutions that few others had.
5. The author’s introduction in the publication, Access to Justice in the Maldives: Through the Eyes of a Colourless Lens (May, 2013) reads somewhat different.
6. In it she informs the reader she was the “Protecting Human Rights and Access to Justice Project” Program Specialist as well as the Project Manager with UNDP Maldives”, and that she is “a practicing lawyer in Australia” who has been “in the legal field for over 12 years”. All facts.
The “framing”, however, is misleading. It gives the reader the impression that the author is an Australian lawyer practicing in Australia, who happened to be in the Maldives working with the UN between 2010-12. A Maldivian would have “interests”, but what interests, as such, would an Australian have in rewriting a narrative? The framing, thus, gives a false impression of author as standing outside.
7. Second, the tag “Lead Researcher and Author: Naaz Aminath (LLB, GDLP, LLM)” implies the report is the work of a team. This too is misleading. There is no research team mentioned elsewhere in the report or credits, nor is there a reference list or bibliography included in the report.
8. Copy editing is credited to Maaeesha Saeed and Aishath Rizna, who was the Registrar at the Interim Supreme Court during the transition period, and is currently working for the Department of Judicial Administration.
10. Could the author be deliberately misleading the reader? Are these all innocent omissions and/or typos? Maybe. Or maybe not. What is the purpose of the Naaz Report? What influence could it have on the political processes in the Maldives today? Everything, depending on the winners in the presidential elections scheduled for September 7, 2013.
11. Naaz’s long standing patron, Waheed Deen, a businessman, resort owner, and society-man of wide social contacts known for his philanthropy and gift-giving, is the current Vice President, handpicked by Dr Waheed following the February 7, 2012 coup d’état. And the fact is, with all the plotting and re-plotting, it was “on a judges’ back” that Dr Waheed rose to office.
What went on in the JSC during 2009 and 2010 is clearly linked to events of January and February 2012, as I tried explaining to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) in my testimony.
So, what does Naaz say?
1. On “access to justice”, Naaz argues that the urban-rural disparity, the “deficiency in development and lack of access to justice creates inequality and injustice while giving an advantage to politicians to ‘buy’ their ideas rather than sell it.” Access to Justice as a fundamental right, and the broader definitions of it, and the constitutional guarantees and requirements are not recognised.
2. There is no mention of the crucial role of an independent judiciary in democratic government, or necessity of independent judges and public trust in the justice system to protect human rights and provide access to justice.
3. The fact that a UNDP Study (2000) of governance found the judiciary to be “the weakest link” in transitional constitutional democracies; and that Article 285 of the Maldives’ Constitution provided exactly for this challenge, is not recognized by Naaz.
This, despite her position as the Project Director of the Access to Justice project with the UNDP in Male’ during the Maldives’ transition from a constitutional autocracy to a constitutional democracy.
4. The Maldives, I maintain, lost an independent judiciary and the independence of judges through the high treason of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), on which I sat a member under oath.
The JSC nullified Article 285 unconstitutionally in an elaborate game of lies, deception and drama. The state refused to officially acknowledge the dispute in the JSC, or the alleged treason and constitution breach, with the Majlis majority unashamedly covering up the hijack of the judiciary in what I have since called the Silent Coup.
5. Post coup, the JSC has become exposed as it never was in 2010. The frequent public appearances of the JSC, especially the Chair, Supreme Court justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla, has revealed more about the Commission than any other intervention could.
Concurrently, renewed interest in transitional matters, and inquiries into the JSC and its functioning by independent experts have exposed the secrets of JSC: the JSC does not act to uphold the Constitution, is highly politicised, and misconstrues constitutional concepts and law for its own ends and the benefit of judges. In short, the JSC acts against the Constitution and the State.
6. The latest report on the Maldives’ judiciary and access to justice by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriella Knaul, provides a substantive summary of the challenges Maldives faces, and highlights where a UN-led Access to Justice program must focus.
7. On the ground in 2010, Naaz was a sympathetic ear to my complaints against the JSC, and my grievances against the Parliament for their failure to hold the JSC accountable, and to ensure Article 285 was fulfilled meaningfully. I was advocating for substantive and meaningful action on Article 285 aimed at judicial reform as envisaged by the Constitution, and Naaz agreed with my interpretation and opinion.
8. Naaz always left with me a standing offer of assistance, which was much appreciated, as I do not have a background in law. In retrospect, that assistance never materialised, as Naaz was occupied when and where I did request help. My requests mainly were for assistance in reading through some of my drafts, and in translating to English and/or preparing briefs in English to share some information of the ongoing dispute, and the dozens of pages I was putting out in Dhivehi at the time.
9. With all attempts to get an inquiry into Article 285 and the JSCs’ constitution breach blocked, the judges took their infamous “symbolic” oath, en masse, on August 4, 2010. No one, neither the state institutions nor the media, questioned the oath or its legitimacy despite what was witnessed live and the questions it raised. It was the public left with unanswered questions.
10. The UN was satisfied. Naaz was on the ground, and was active in the efforts that followed to legitimise the judiciary, appointed unconstitutionally and without due process, by the will of the majority. No one mentioned rule of law. Not until 2012.
Aishath Velezinee (@Velezinee on twitter) is an independent democracy activist and writer. She was the Editor of Adduvas Weekly 2005-07 and served on the Maldives’ Judicial Service Commission (2009-11). She claims the Commission she sat on breached constitution in transition; and advocates for redress of Article 285, and a full overhaul of the judiciary as a necessary step for democracy consolidation.
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