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Maldives: “No democracy is possible without fair and independent justice,” UN rights expert

GENEVA (19 March 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, warned today of a seriously deteriorating situation in the independence of the justice system in the Maldives since she visited the country in 2013.

Ms. Knaul’s remarks come as former Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment on terrorism charges for the alleged detention of a criminal court judge in 2012.

“I am extremely concerned about the lack of respect for the most basic principles of fair trial and due process during Mr. Nasheed’s criminal proceedings,” the expert said. “I urge the authorities to seriously consider the recommendations I put forward in my 2013 report,* and provide guarantees that his appeal process will respect the most stringent fair trial and due process guarantees.”

The Special Rapporteur further called on the Maldivian authorities to allow the public, including international observers who were arbitrarily denied access to the court during the first instance process, to attend the appeal hearings.

“The series of due process violations that were reported to me since Mr. Nasheed’s arrest on 22 February is simply unacceptable in any democratic society,” the human rights expert stated.

The Special Rapporteur also expressed deep concerned about allegations of lack of impartiality by both the Prosecutor-General and two judges of the three-member bench. It seems that all of them had provided witness statements during the investigation into the alleged charges against Mr. Nasheed back in 2012, which would amount to a clear conflict of interests.

Mr. Nasheed’s defense team was reportedly prevented from attending his first hearing and was not granted adequate time for the preparation of his defense, nor did they have access to all the evidence presented by the prosecution. When the defense team later resigned, the trial proceeded without allowing him to seek new legal representation. The defense was also banned from cross-examining prosecution witnesses and presenting defense witnesses, in clear violation of the principle of equality of arms.

“Mr. Nasheed’s trial was not only a clear violation of the Maldives’ international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it also made a mockery of the State’s own Constitution,” the expert deplored. “The speed of the proceedings combined with the lack of fairness in the procedures lead me to believe the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”

“The fact that one former president is being tried on serious terrorism-related charges for one alleged offence when his predecessor has not had to answer for any of the serious human rights violations documented during his term is also troubling for a country whose Constitution enshrines the independence and impartiality of the justice system as a prerequisite for democracy and the rule of law,” the expert concluded.

(*) See the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 report on the Maldives:  http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/23/43/Add.3 

Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.
Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/IndependenceJudiciary.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Maldives: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MVIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Amanda Flores (+41 22 917 9186 / aflores@ohchr.org) or write to srindependencejl@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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