President asks UN for help to resolve political crisis

President Abdulla Yameen has invited a UN team to the Maldives to help resolve the Maldives’ political crisis triggered by the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

In a phone call with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday, President Yameen asked for help “to cool down” the Maldives’ political crisis. Ban welcomed the offer, a statement by the foreign ministry said.

Nasheed, who is serving a 13-year-jail term on terrorism charges, was transferred to house arrest on Sunday for health reasons. His house arrest was extended by eight weeks, hours after the opposition parties announced they would support a government-backed constitutional amendment to set new age-limits to the presidency.

The amendment passed today with overwhelming bipartisan support.

International pressure has been mounting on the government to release Nasheed and other jailed opposition leaders. Ex-defence ministers Mohamed Nazim and Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu were jailed in March.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla, the president of the Adhaalath Party, is in police custody until a trial on terrorism charges concludes. Two senior Jumhooree Party (JP) officials have fled the country days before terrorism charges were filed. JP leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim has been abroad since late-April in the wake of sanctions on his businesses.

President Yameen, however, told Ban there are no political prisoners in the Maldives. Jailed opposition politicians were convicted of criminal offences, he said.

He assured Ban that the government has opened doors for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to sit for talks without conditions, the foreign ministry statement said.

However, the President’s Office has previously ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release and rejected representatives put forth by MDP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party i.e. Nasheed and Imran, on the grounds that they are serving jail sentences or in police custody.

Discussions with Gasim’s JP, however, are ongoing.

President Yameen also told Ban he had rejected Nasheed’s appeal for clemency and asked the opposition leader to first exhaust all appeal processes.

Nasheed maintains the criminal court has blocked him from filing an appeal by failing to provide required court documents within the 10-day appeal period. Lawyers say the law is silent on late appeals and that there is now no mechanism to file an appeal.

The government, however, insists Nasheed can still appeal.

A New-Delhi based advocacy NGO, the Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR), has meanwhile reiterated a call on the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives in its ongoing session.

The NGO, which has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, on June 16 urged the UNHRC to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Maldives and to suspend the Maldives from the council.

The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.

The ACHR said President Yameen has taken more draconian measures since its June 16 statement. It noted the Supreme Court had ruled a Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) report to the UN unlawful and issued a 11-point guideline on the watchdog.

“The president of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Council ought to take necessary measures against such reprisals for cooperating with the United Nations human rights mechanisms,” the statement saud.

No other Supreme Court in the world has passed such restrictions on national human rights watchdogs for cooperating with the UN, the NGO said.

The ACHR also blamed government’s economic sanctions for Gasim’s announcement he will retire from politics and censured the government for hiring a UK based private law firm, chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-UK PM Tony Blair, to strengthen democracy consolidation.

“That the government of Maldives decided to hire a private law firm rather than seeking support of the United Nations for democratic reforms once again shows that President Yameen is not committed to democratic reform,” the ACHR said.


EC dismissals: Court decision condemned by international community, EC praised

The decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss members of the Elections Commission (EC) this week has been roundly condemned by the international community.

In statements released today, the US has said it “strongly objects” to the courts actions, and Canada has said that it was “deeply troubled” by the decision, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also expressed concern.

Meanwhile, all three statements have praised the work of the EC over recent months – the US noting that the EC has made “laudable efforts to hold multiple successful elections despite previous judicial interference.”

“The Maldives Election Commission has done an exceptional job under especially difficult circumstances in ensuring transparent, inclusive and credible electoral processes in the Maldives,” read the Canadian statement.

Similarly, the UN stated noted that Ban Ki-Moon “commends the Elections Commission for its professionalism and tireless efforts to ensure credible and transparent elections.”

The growing international criticism of the court’s decision comes alongside domestic accusations that the ruling has undermined the constitution and the independent institutions contained therein.

With less than two weeks remaining until the Majlis polls on March 22, the EU’s Maldives Elections Observer Mission has noted the significant “time pressure” which now weighs on the EC.

Following the dismissal of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz on Sunday (March 9), the EC is left without a constitutionally mandated quorum needed to hold meetings.

The government is currently taking applications for the vacant positions, after which the president is legally required to submit names to the Majlis for approval.

The Majlis yesterday wrote to both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General stating that the constitution granted the powers for appointments and dismissals of the EC to the legislature.

International critics

“The Court’s decision to censure all members of the commission for ‘disobeying and challenging’ previous Supreme Court judgements also raises questions regarding due process and judicial interference in the electoral process,” read today’s Canadian statement.

“An independent and effective election commission is an essential element in any genuine democracy, and undermining the commission and its ability to function again places the Maldives’ democratic transition in question.”

In a similar vein, the US statement suggested that the court’s decision represented an “unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”.

“The Supreme Court’s insistence on holding parliamentary elections on March 22 while imprisoning the very official responsible for holding those elections calls into serious question the government’s commitment to democracy,” said the US State Department.

Ban Ki-moon underlined the “importance of respect for the principle of separation of powers, the rule of law, and the independence of constitutionally established bodies.”

Today’s criticism comes after repeated warnings from the government to refrain from criticising the country’s courts.

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday noted that the tendency for “first world” countries to “interfere” in the internal matters of small countries was concerning, echoing comments recently made by the Maldives’ foreign minister at the UN Human Rights Council.

“We request our international partners to support us. We request you to contribute constructively in overcoming our challenges. We urge you not to undermine our judicial system,” said Dunya Maumoon the HRC’s 25th session last week.

Dunya yesterday also called upon the Commonwealth – a notable critic of the Maldives during the recent protracted presidential elections – to become a more “relevant” and “responsive” body.

The Commonwealth had not released any statements on the current EC case at the time of press.

The Maldives judiciary has been the subject of international criticism on a number of occasions in recent months.

The UN Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights has previously said it is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives”, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year accused the Supreme Court of “subverting the democratic process”.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul expressed concern over the judiciary in a 2013 report, while the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had in 2011 stated that the Maldivian courts were failing to serve the public impartially.