GENEVA (30 October 2013) -- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed her deep concern Wednesday about “the dangerous drift in the democratic process” in the Maldives largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s repeated interventions in the presidential election process.
“I am alarmed that the Supreme Court of the Maldives is interfering excessively in the Presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives,” the High Commissioner said.
The Supreme Court nullified the first round of the Presidential Election of 7 September 2013 on the basis of irregularities in the process, despite the general conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair.
“The court also imposed on the Elections Commission an onerous set of guidelines for the conduct of the election, which will be difficult to satisfy,” Pillay said. It was on this basis that police prevented the Elections Commission from carrying out its plan to re-run the election on 19 October 2013.
There have been longstanding concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the Maldives, which both the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, addressed during official visits to the country in 2011 and 2013. The Commission of National Inquiry conducted by the Maldives after the political crisis in February 2012 also concluded that the judiciary requires fundamental reform.
“I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities,” the High Commissioner said. “Judges should act in accordance with the principles of impartiality, propriety, equality and due diligence, as reflected in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary, the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, and Maldives’ own judicial code of conduct.”
The High Commissioner observed that the Supreme Court had threatened to charge lawyers and media with contempt of court for challenging the court’s decisions. She also expressed concern about the Government’s threats to dissolve civil society organizations for criticizing the judiciary, and the reactivation of old cases to arrest opposition MPs or bar them from Parliament.
“The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate, and depriving litigants of the legal representation of their choice,” Pillay said. “The Government is also taking arbitrary action against its opponents to prevent their participation in parliamentary debates at this critical juncture.”
The High Commissioner also expressed alarm about death threats and other intimidation directed at members and staff of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and civil society actors, as well as an arson attack earlier this month on an opposition television station. She called on the authorities to investigate properly all such incidents and ensure full protection.
The Secretary-General has called for the election to take place.
"All parties should seize this opportunity to restore the credibility of the democratic process," Pillay said. “Whoever wins the election should embark on fundamental reforms to the judiciary to safeguard Maldives' progress in democracy and rule of law.”
To read the High Commissioner's statement from 2011, at the end of her official visit to the Maldives, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11641&LangID=E
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