GENEVA (19 June 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today said that a Supreme Court judgement on the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives appeared to be “designed to severely undermine its ability to engage with the UN human rights system.”
“The Supreme Court judgement is yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” Zeid said. “National human rights institutions play a pivotal role in independently monitoring and protecting human rights and should be empowered to report on rights issues without fear.”
The Supreme Court on Tuesday handed down a verdict in a suo motu case initiated in September 2014 against five members of the Human Rights Commission, following the Commission’s submission of a written contribution to the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Maldives before the UN Human Rights Council. In its submission to the UN, the Commission had cited criticism of the Maldivian judicial system by the UN’s independent experts.
The Supreme Court verdict declared the Commission’s submission unlawful. Although no individual members of the Commission were personally penalised by the Court, the Court declared that the Commission must abide by a set of 11 very broad and ill-defined guidelines in carrying out its activities. One of the guidelines requires that any communication with international bodies must take place through relevant Government institutions.
The guidelines also require the Commission to work in a manner that “does not create divisions in society” and “will not affect the discipline, culture and traditions of the Maldivian people and will not affect peace and harmony”. They also warn against causing damage to the reputation of the Maldives.
The guidelines, which were read out orally by the Court on Tuesday and published yesterday, are legally binding and any breach could lead to prosecution.
“Imposing such extraordinary and broad restrictions on the Human Rights Commission, including on their engagement with international organisations, is completely unacceptable,” Zeid 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.”
“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 laws and standards.”
The High Commissioner recalled the commitment made by Maldivian authorities during the UPR session last month that they would ensure the independence of the Commission. They also stated during the UPR that they would ensure that the Commission and all civil society actors would be able to conduct their work, including participating in international mechanisms, without being subjected to reprisals.
Zeid urged the Government to take legal steps to ensure that the independence and integrity of the Human Rights Commission are not compromised. The Commission’s right to freely communicate with international human rights mechanisms should be firmly preserved in law and practice.
The High Commissioner noted that the current Commissioners’ terms are due to expire in August and September this year. The appointment process for new Commissioners would be a further test of the Government’s respect for the Commission’s independence, he said.
“The appointments must be made through a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process, with the extensive involvement of civil society,” he said. “New Commissioners must be selected on the basis of their proven commitment to human rights, integrity and independence, not their political loyalties.”
The Government of Maldives has a responsibility to open up space for civil society and human rights actors in the country, so that they are able to operate freely and without fear of reprisals, Zeid stressed.
Read also: Maldives: UN experts urge Supreme Court to reconsider decision against Maldivian Human Rights Commission: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16101&LangID=E
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