Criticism mounts against Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judgment, which bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organizations, appears to weaken its ability to engage with the UN human rights system and is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” a UN rights chief has said.

The apex court on Tuesday declared a rights assessment submitted to the UN by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful, and issued a legally binding 11-point guideline.

The guideline requires the HRCM to communicate with foreign bodies through relevant government institutions, and warn against causing damage to the reputation of the Maldives.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement on Friday said it was “completely unacceptable” for the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on the commission’s engagement with international bodies.

“In this case, the Supreme Court appears to be yet again overreaching its mandate by playing a legislative role. Laws regulating the very important human rights monitoring and reporting work of civil society and independent institutions must be transparently adopted by legislative bodies following wide consultations and open debate, in line with international human rights and standards,” he said.

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

The charges relate 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 Maldivian judiciary.

The UPR studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states and is aimed at supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

The Maldives underwent a second inspection in May. Nations across the world criticized the Maldives over the politicization of the judiciary and raised concern over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of HRCM.

Zeid reminded the government that it had committed to ensuring the HRCM’s independence after the UPR. The foreign ministry had also committed to ensure that the HRCM and other civil society groups would be able to participate in international mechanisms without reprisals.

Noting that three new commissioners are to be appointed for August and September, Zeid said: “The appointments must be made through a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process, with the extensive involvement of civil society.

“New commissioners must be selected on the basis of their proven commitment to human rights, integrity and independence, not their political loyalties.”

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the wife of a current PPM MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the HRCM. The three are expected to gain parliamentary approval as the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a Geneva-based advocacy group, has said the Supreme Court’s ruling is a clear breach of the Maldives’ membership of the UN human rights council.

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

“For a member state of the UN Human Rights Council to retaliate against a national human rights institution for providing a report to the council is tantamount to contempt and is plainly incompatible with membership of that body,” ISHR Program Manager, Eleanor Openshaw.

The Asian Center for Human Rights has also called for Maldives to be suspended from the council over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

Zeid, in his statement also said: “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former president Nasheed.”

The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst have described the Supreme Court verdict “an act of reprisal” and urged the court to reconsider its verdict.

In March last year, the Supreme 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.


State Finance Minister requests Supreme Court review legitimacy of 11 opposition MPs

State Finance Minister Abbas Adil Riza has asked the Supreme Court to determine the legitimacy of 11 opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs he alleges are in breach of the constitution.

Citing clause 74 of the constitution, Abbas told Minivan News he had filed a case invoking the Supreme Court’s authority to decide on the legitimacy of the opposition MPs, claiming that there was evidence to support allegations they had breached it.

The nature of the 11 MP’s alleged offences remain unknown, with Abbas declining to detail the exact charges at time of press.

The MDP today said that it had not been informed of the case against the MPs, but stressed concern over what it called the “fundamental problems” with the independence of the country’s courts and legal watchdog, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

A number of international institutions including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Judiciary, Gabriela Knaul, and the UK’s Bar Human Rights Commission, have recently expressed concern about the politicisation of the JSC and the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court it created to overhear a trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Knaul herself also concluded as part of preliminary findings from an eight day fact-finding mission to the country this year that the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors including the courts themselves.

Judicial legitimacy

However, Abbas said he “did not regard” claims by UN Special Special Rapporteur Knaul or the MDP on the judiciary as legitimate, rejecting allegations of political bias in the country’s courts.

“Whenever the MDP has a trial go in their favour, the judiciary is legitimate. For rulings against them, it is bad,” he said. “Here in the Maldives, the constitution is our rule book.”

Abbas, who is also a spokesperson for President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP), added that as there was “clear evidence” the 11 MDP MPs mentioned in the case had breached the constitution, the Supreme Court was duty bound to investigate.

However, he said that the names and alleged misdemeanors of the 11 MPs would only be revealed during the course of the case.

According to Abbas, the case was hugely important for the country owing to a lack of “moral guidelines” outlining behaviour of MPs.

MDP response

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said he had not been informed of the case filed by Abbas at time of press, but guessed that those targeted would be MDP members who presently had cases filed against them either in the country’s courts or with the Maldives Police Service.

“Police right now have cases against against a third of the MDP’s MPs,” he said. “Eleven sounds like the number of MPs who have been charged for taking part in protests and things like that.”

Hamid added that the party was particularly concerned about the case concerning “fundamental problems” it held with the country’s judiciary – pointing specifically at the JSC’s failure to follow article 285 of the constitution regarding the reappointment and vetting of judges appointed by former President Gayoom. He added that the party was also concerned about the JSC’s composition and conduct.

Hamid added that as a member of parliament’s Independent Oversight Committee charged with investigating the nation’s judiciary, there would be a further conflict of interest should he himself be among the 11 MPs charged.

Hamid was arrested in November last year during a special operations carried out by police on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll.

Police at the time said they found large amounts of “suspected” drugs and alcohol upon searching the island with a court warrant.

Also among those arrested during the raid was MP Adbulla Jabir, formerly of the JP, who has since rejoined the MDP.

No confidence motion

Earlier on Monday, a no-confidence vote was suspended against Jumhoree Party (JP) MP and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s position on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

MP Gasim is to stand as a direct rival against former President Mohamed Nasheed in elections scheduled for later this year

The JSC itself appointed three judges to oversee the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed on charges that he illegally detained a senior judge during his presidency. All trials over the judge’s detention were suspended earlier this month pending a High Court ruling on the legitimacy of the bench of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court conducting Nasheed’s trial.


JSC member/presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim accuses UN Special Rapporteur of lying, joking

Leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP) and Parliament’s representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), MP Gasim Ibrahim, has accused UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul of lying and joking about the state of the Maldivian judiciary.

During her preliminary observations on the country’s judicial system, Gabriela Knaul expressed concern over the politicisation of JSC – the body constitutionally mandated to oversee the functioning of the judiciary.

Addressing a relatively small party gathering held in its headquarters in Male, Gasim – also the party’s presidential candidate – claimed that JSC had been acting within the boundaries of the law and that the process of the appointment of judges adhered to constitutional stipulations and the law.

“[Gabriela Knaul] claimed that the judges were not appointed transparently, I am sure that is an outright lie. She is lying, she did not even check any document at all nor did she listen to anybody. She is repeating something that was spoon-fed to her by someone else. I am someone who sits in JSC. She claimed there were no regulations or mechanism there. That is a big joke,” Gasim claimed.

“She wouldn’t tell bigger lie”

“We had made all the announcements through the media and we even clearly stated necessary criterion required as well as how the interviews will be carried out. We were acting on what we had announced. She couldn’t tell a bigger lie than that,” Gasim said.

Gasim claimed that the composition of  theJSC was decided after a strong debate between members of the assembly, and contended that “nobody can criticise its decisions, not even under international law”.

“That is why I am telling you all this. We the people should not believe the reports compiled by people who come like this without verifying it. This is an influence that has a different motive,” Gasim accused.

Gasim – who is also the Chairman of the Villa Group of companies that owns several resorts in the country – said that a UN representative had once come to Maldives and claimed it could never build a tourism industry.

“A person came like that in 1972. After much surveying, he claimed that the Maldives cannot host a viable tourism industry. Is that true today? But that is what was in the UN report. That is what is on the report by the World Bank. Does the Maldives not have a tourism industry now? He said we cannot; according to him we did not have electricity, water or a transport system but just a bunch of small islands. What would he know?” Gasim said.

Gasim also referred to the presidential elections.

“Is the US judiciary very good? What happened when [George W] Bush sought re-election? You would all know how that election went. Florida High Court ordered for a recount of the vote. When the issue came, Al Gore began winning and winning. Then the Republican Party, who was very upset with that, filed a case at the Federal High Court. The Federal High Court ordered not to count the votes and that President is Bush. Following that order, Al Gore admitted defeat and congratulated Bush on his re-election. This is something the world witnessed,” he told his supporters.

The incident to which Gasim Ibrahim referred took place in the US Presidential Elections 2000, in which George W Bush was running for office for the first time against then Vice President Al Gore. The election was called a victory for Bush after the US Supreme Court declared the ruling made by Florida Supreme Court requiring a state wide recount of votes was unconstitutional. Bush later ran for re-election against then Senator John Kerry in which he won the race by 286 to 251 electoral votes.


Knaul’s preliminary observations highlighted that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

Her comment was among a number of preliminary observations on the Maldives’ judiciary and wider legal ecosystem, following an eight day fact-finding mission.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed – who is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

She also criticised the appointment of judges presiding over the case against former President Mohamed Nasheed, alleging that the set up was made in an “arbitrary manner”.

“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.

Her key concerns included the politicisation of the JSC, flaws and inconsistencies over the independence of the judiciary and lack of transparency and accountability.

“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.

Knaul said she believed it best for such a body to be composed of retired or sitting judges. She added that it may be advisable for some representation of the legal profession or academics to be included.

However, she maintained that no political representation at all should be allowed in a commission such as the JSC.

“I believe that an appointment body acting independently from both the executive and 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,” Knaul added.

Judicial independence

Knaul stated that upon conclusion of her mission meetings, she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.

“The requirement of independence and impartiality does not aim at benefiting the judges themselves, but rather the court users, as part of their inalienable right to a fair trial,” Knaul stated, while emphasising the important role of integrity and accountability in judicial independence, and hence its role in the implementation of the rule of law.

Stating that it is vital to establish mechanisms of accountability for judges, prosecutors and court staff, Knaul said: “Such mechanisms must guarantee that the investigation of any actor in the judicial system safeguards the person’s right to a fair hearing. Investigations should be based on objective criteria, the process should respect the basic principles of a fair trial and an independent review of all decisions should be available.”

Transparency and accountability

“When selection criteria [of judges] used by such a body [as the JSC] are objective, clear, based on merit, transparent and well publicised, public understanding of the process and the basis for the appointment of judges increases, and the perception of unfair selection of appointments can be avoided,” Knaul said.

Knaul also spoke of the lack of transparency in the assignment of cases, 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 stated that while transparency is public administration is an obligatory requirement in a democracy, transparency remains a challenge for the Maldivian judiciary.

Furthermore, Knaul highlighted the absence of some fundamental legislation – including the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act – in the Maldives, adding that this posed huge challenges to upholding the rule of law.

Knaul was appointed to deliver recommendations on potential areas of reform to the Maldives’ legal system, at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in May, 2013.

Velezinee ruined the JSC: Gasim

Gasim meanwhile alleged that the JSC could not function properly due to then President Mohamed Nasheed’s appointee to the commission, Aishath Velezinee.

Velezinee was an outspoken critic and whistleblower on judicial inconsistencies and lapses. She has consistently maintained that the JSC is complicit in protecting judges appointed under the former 30 year autocracy, colluding with parliament to ensure legal impunity for senior supporters of the old regime. In January 2011 she was stabbed twice in the back in broad daylight.

“At first, the JSC were not able to carry out its duties because of a person called Aishath Velezinee who was appointed to the commission by [President] Nasheed of Canaryge’. She destroyed the whole place. The damage she inflicted on the JSC was so severe that we had to do so much work to bring the place back to order,” he claimed.

Gasim said judiciaries in all countries had problems and that this was not a different case in the Maldives. He also contended in all the countries have to be reformed.

“A person called Gabriela came and met us. She told us there are lots of issues that need to be corrected within the judiciary. Judiciaries in all countries should be reformed. Which country has a judiciary that does not need to be reformed?” Gasim asked.