The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has filed a motion calling the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to address issues highlighted in the report by United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, concerning the country’s judiciary.
Knaul’s final report to the UN Human Rights Council extensively outlined the political, budgetary and societal challenges facing the judiciary and wider legal community, as well as the politicisation of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and its failure to appoint qualified judges under Article 285 of the constitution.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed “deep concern” over the failure of the judicial system to address “serious violations of human rights” during the Maldives’ 30 year dictatorship, warning of “more instability and unrest” should this continue to be neglected.
“It is indeed difficult to understand why one former President is being tried for an act he took outside of his prerogative, while another has not had to answer for any of the alleged human rights violations documented over the years,” Knaul wrote.
The motion, filed by MDP MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, was debated during the parliamentary session held on Monday. The motion was passed by 23 out of 34 members present during the session, while nine members voted against it.
Presenting the motion, Fahmy said the judiciary was impaired after it appointed the judges for life, without considering the constitutional provisions specified in article 285 of the constitution.
He contested that the JSC, instead of ensuring that the judges met the required standards befitting an independent judiciary, had lowered the standards to ensure all existing judges were qualified to sit on the bench for life, plunging the whole judicial system into chaos.
Due to the JSC’s decision to lower the standards, judges accused and in some cases convicted of criminal wrongdoing had been reinstated, he contended.
Fahmy further contested that every citizen of the country was entitled to the right to get a fair hearing and that not even the Supreme Court could undermine such a fundamental right.
He noted that the judiciary disregards any remark made that highlight its own flaws, dismissing them as attempts to tarnish the image of the judiciary and lower its image among the public.
Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla raised doubts over the legitimacy of the current membership of the JSC, highlighting that current Attorney General Aishath Bisham – who by virtue of her position is also a member of JSC – is yet to be endorsed by the parliament.
Local media alleged that Aishath Bisham had taken part in the vote taken during the JSC meeting in which it decided to indefinitely suspend the Chief Judge of High Court over a complaint filed a year ago.
Abdul Raheem Abdulla also questioned the legitimacy of the position of Civil Service Commission (CSC) President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, who was removed from his post by parliament reinstated after the Supreme Court overturned parliament’s decision.
In March, the Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Mohamed Fahmy Hassan would receive two punishments for the same crime if he was convicted at court following his dismissal by parliament (double jeopardy).
The doubts surrounding the legality of these people sitting in the JSC posed questions over how just a decision by JSC could be, Abdulla Abdul Raheem said.
He further contended that the JSC had been overpowered by political influence both internal and external, however maintained that no one should meddle with the affairs of the court.
JP’s own leader, resort tycoon and MP Gasim Ibrahim, also sits on the commission.
However, tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam’s Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) MP Ahmed ‘Aims’ Amir spoke in favour of JSC, stating that he saluted the commission for completing the appointment of judges within the time frame required by the constitution.
Amir claimed that the two parties had agreed with the appointment of the permanent Supreme Court bench, but were now criticising the bench because it did not work to their pleasure.
Government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Parliamentary Group Leader, Ahmed Mausoom, said Special Rapporteur Knaul had asked to resolve the issues through dialog between the authorities, and noted that her recommendations included amending the constitution.
Other recommendations, Mausoom said, included changing the composition of the JSC, and calling on political parties to work on creating awareness among the public of the laws of the country and its constitution, and speeding up the legislative process.
Opposition MDP Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader MP Ali Waheed meanwhile accused the JSC Chair Justice Adam Mohamed of being a “gang leader”, and said the only way to reform the judiciary was through direct action by the people.
Another MDP MP, Abdul Ghafoor Moosa, claimed that presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Abdulla Yameen, and JP MP Gasim Ibrahim were key conspirators behind the sabotage of the judiciary.
Following Knaul’s report, the government of President Waheed responded with a statement that “international actors should not undermine national jurisdiction and the court system of any country”.
The statement was issued on May 28 via Permanent Representative at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, who further said that the Maldivian delegation, in light of the report, “wishes to discuss specific matters contained in the report with the Rapporteur”.
At the same time the statement “welcomed” the UN Rapporteur’s report and “fully acknowledge[s] that the various challenges she has identified and raised in her report are in fact the residue challenges present in a system in the midst of democratic consolidation.The Maldives judicial system continues to be hampered by structural deficiencies and resource constraints in addressing the difficult challenges facing the country in general.”