Government defends Supreme Court’s HRCM ruling

A Supreme Court judgment that bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organization without oversight “clearly stresses” the commission’s independence, the Maldivian foreign ministry has said.

The 11-point guideline issued by the apex court, in a ruling that also found the a human rights assessment submitted by the watchdog to the UN unlawful, simply prescribes how the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives should operate within the law, the ministry said.

UN rights experts, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and civil society groups have denounced the guideline as one that restricts the HRCM’s work and its right to share information freely with the UN.

But the foreign ministry said the guidelines “do no stipulate, in any specific terms, any restriction or limitation on the HRCM’s ability to submit reports to the UN or any other national or international organ in the future.”

The guideline was issued under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

Point 7 of the guideline orders the commission to ensure “full cooperation” from other state institutions, while point 8 says the HRCM must communicate with foreign bodies according to procedures set by the state and through the relevant state institution.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the verdict was “completely unacceptable.” The guideline is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst described the verdict as “an act of reprisal.”

The charges relate to a report the HRCM had submitted to the Universal Periodic Review, a process that studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states with the aim of supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

In the report, the HRCM had said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.

The apex court said the report was biased and undermined judicial independence and the Maldives constitution.

Defending the Supreme Court, the foreign ministry today said: “To suggest that the Supreme Court has, in this case, deliberately sought to curtail the activities of the HRCM, as a state institution appears to be a mischaracterization, in that the substance of the suomoto case is not concerned with the substance of the report prepared for the UPR, but issues concerning the compilation of that report.”

The Supreme Court judges, in fact, did take issue with the substance of the report, and also censured the HRCM for basing its assessment of the judiciary on reports written by Knaul, the International Commission of Jurists and advocacy group Transparency Maldives.

Then- Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, in September last year, suggested the HRCM should not cite Knaul as the judiciary had rejected her 2013 report on the judiciary.

The Supreme Court verdict, delivered eight months after the charges were first pressed, comes as the parliament prepares to appoint three new members to the HRCM as the five-year terms of three members are due to expire in August and September.

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former ruling party MP, the wife of a current ruling party MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the soon to be vacant seats.

The government has meanwhile hired a law firm owned by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to “strengthen the legislative framework of the government.” Omnia Strategy also specializes in public relations.


Supreme Court verdict against HRCM ‘an act of reprisal,’ says UN experts

The Supreme Court’s ruling which imposes several restrictions on the Maldives human rights watchdog “is an act of reprisal” and contravenes both the Maldives’ Constitution and its international human rights obligations, two UN rights experts have said.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled a report submitted by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to the UN in September last year as unlawful.

Judges set an 11-point guideline barring the commission from communicating with foreign bodies without oversight from “relevant state institutions.”

The guideline also orders the HRCM to ensure their activities are conducted with the full cooperation of other state institutions and that they “will not ruin the reputation of the Maldives.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision is purely and simply an act of reprisal against the Human Rights Commission for its legitimate cooperation with the UN human rights systems and its mechanisms,” said the UN special rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

Knaul and Forst have urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its verdict.

The Supreme Court had charged the HRCM with treason under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the court to prosecute and pass judgment.

The charges related to an HRCM report to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, in which the commission said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldives judiciary.

The UPR is a process that involves a review of the human rights records of all UN member states by other states, in order to improve the situation in all countries and address violations.

During a second hearing last year, the HRCM said its observations were based on reports by Knaul, the International Commission of Jurists and advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives.

Judges censured the commission then, saying the judiciary had rejected Knaul’s 2013 report as “invalid.”

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed on Tuesday said the HRCM report was biased and undermined judicial independence in the Maldives.

Knaul and Forst said the Supreme Court verdict “is an undue interference into the independent work of the commission and their right to share information freely with the UN.”

The verdict is at attempt to strip the HRCM of its independence and “severely limit its constitutional prerogative to promote, as well as monitor and assess observance of, human rights in the country,” they said.

The Supreme Court has contravened the Maldives constitution which enshrines the independence of the Human Rights Commission, they added.

“While the judiciary is to decide matters before it without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, or threats, it is bound by the powers granted by the Constitution and the laws and must function in full compliance with the state’s international human rights obligations.”

Knaul and Forst said the government has not responded to an October 2014 letter they had written regarding the charges.

“We deeply regret that the government of the Maldives has failed to respond to this letter and urge the government to respond to the questions addressed in a timely manner.”

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, civil society groups and lawyers have also condemned the Supreme Court’s ruling and said the court has infringed on the parliament’s mandate by “writing laws” for the HRCM.

In March last year, the court had sacked the Elections Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticized a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the court after it annulled the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-corruption watchdog was not authorized to suspend government contracts even if they suspected major corruption.

The president of the Anti – Corruption Commission at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption.