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The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the Human Rights Council, Leandro Despouy, issued the following statement today:

Geneva, 13 July 2007: The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers welcomes the appointment of the first-ever women judges in the Maldives. Two women were appointed judges on 11 July, and a third one is due to be appointed next week. The Special Rapporteur visited the Maldives in February this year to provide advice to the Government on the judicial and constitutional reforms it has embarked upon. In a report he presented to the Human Rights Council last month (document A/HRC/4/25/Add.2), the Special Rapporteur emphasized the urgent need to end gender discrimination within the Maldivian judiciary and to promptly nominate women judges. In this context, the Special Rapporteur congratulates the Maldivian authorities for having promptly implemented this very important recommendation, which is part of the broader judicial reform. He invites them to continue along this path by appointing other women judges, in order to reach an appropriate gender balance within the judiciary, in accordance with international obligations to which the Maldives have subscribed.

Moreover, with regard to the constitutional reform, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the decision of the Special Majlis (constitutional assembly) to adopt the new Constitution of the Maldives by 30 November 2007. The decision was adopted with a vast majority of votes from both the ruling party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), and the main opposition party, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP). In his mission report, the Special Rapporteur emphasized the importance and urgency of the adoption of a new constitutional framework for the country, to allow it to make a successful transition towards a democratic system of governance, based on a separation of powers. The earlier deadline of May 31 2007 set by the Government was not met because of the inability of both parties to reach an agreement on various aspects of the draft constitution.

The Special Rapporteur believes that the adoption of a new Constitution is essential in order to guarantee to the Maldivian people the establishment of democratic institutions and the respect for human rights in their country. Moreover, the timely adoption of the new Constitution is a key prerequisite for the first ever multi-party elections of the country, planned for the end of 2008, to take place in an appropriate institutional and legal setting. The Special Rapporteur notes however with concern that the constitutional reform process has been held up again since last Sunday 8 July, and that the Special Majlis speaker indicated his intention not to resume the work of the body before ten days, although the Special Majlis had recently agreed to convene four times a week in order to meet the November deadline.

In this crucial point in time in the history of the country, the Special Rapporteur calls upon all members of the Special Majlis, and in particular the representatives of the two main political parties, urgently to resume their work and to spare no efforts, in a spirit of consensus, to reach the fundamental goal of adopting the new Constitution by the end of November.