2 March 2007
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, issued the following statement on 1 March:
“The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, conducted a visit to the Maldives from 25 February to 1 March 2007 at the invitation of the Government. He thanks the Government of the Maldives for the excellent cooperation they extended to him.
During his visit in the capital, Malé, the Special Rapporteur met with the President of the Maldives, Mr. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a number of Government ministers, judges from various levels of courts, the Attorney General, prosecutors, lawyers, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations. He travelled to Addu Atoll, in the south of the archipelago, to meet with judges of that region as well as civil society representatives. He also visited the Maafushi detention centre where he met with several detainees.
The Maldives is in the process of adopting fundamental constitutional and judicial reforms which are of key importance for the transition of the country towards democracy. The judiciary, which is presently under the control of the Executive, would under the reforms become independent. After a long time of isolation, the country has opened up due to tourism and foreign investments. This requires a modernization of society, including its institutions.
In this context, the Special Rapporteur would like to make the following preliminary observations:
1) The Constitution puts the judiciary under the control of the President: this seriously affects the independence of the judiciary.
2) There is a serious lack of trained judges and lawyers.
3) The right to defence is seriously affected: most of the detainees are tried without the assistance of a lawyer.
4) Preventive detention is the rule rather than the exception.
All sectors of Maldivian society are conscious of the need for reform. Judges themselves recognize the need for change and are seeking better conditions of service, including training, greater independence and better personal and professional security. The Government authorities are committed to a farreaching reform of the Constitution, and the various leading members of the opposition with whom the Special Rapporteur met are also convinced that there is no way these reforms can be delayed.
The Special Rapporteur, considering that the social and economic conditions to carry out the reforms are in place, presents the following preliminary recommendations:
1) The Special Rapporteur strongly encourages prompt adoption of the constitutional reforms and the urgent adoption of legislation which has already been submitted to Parliament, including the criminal code and the criminal procedure code. The adoption of an appropriate police bill is also of key importance to prevent current abuse cases. Constitutional and legislative reforms must conform to applicable international norms and principles.
2) He recommends that the constitutional reform consecrate the principle of real separation of powers. In this context, the independence of the judiciary should be guaranteed.
3) He recommends the establishment of an independent body that would be
responsible for appointing, promoting and disciplining judges.
4) He recommends that financial autonomy be given to the judiciary, for example as a fixed percentage of the GDP, which should be managed by the judiciary itself. This would also imply higher salaries for judges.
5) He urges that posts be secured for women as judges, contrary to the current practice which has been criticised by international human rights bodies.
6) Judges and prosecutors should be involved in police investigations in order to ensure respect for human rights.
7) The status of the Attorney-General should be enhanced and a separate post of prosecutor established.
8) Noting that drug consumption affects almost every family, he recommends the strengthening of prevention and rehabilitation programmes, since criminalization has proved unsuccessful.
In this context, it is essential that the reforms be completed within the specified time period. It is therefore necessary to create an appropriate climate in which all sectors can participate and that a formal text be drawn up in accordance with the wishes for change of all Maldivians.
The Special Rapporteur will present his report on the mission to the Maldives to the Human Rights Council in the spring of 2007.
For use of the information media; not an official record