South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The India Blooms on Dec. 23 ::

The removal of two Supreme Court justices in the Maldives by local authorities threatens the independence of the country’s judiciary and further compromises the rule of law, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers has warned.

“This decision seriously undermines the independence of the judiciary in the country and will have a chilling effect on the work of the judiciary at all levels,” Gabriela Knaul stressed in a news release issued on Monday.

“Since my visit to the Maldives in February 2013, I have been closely following a series of developments in the country that point at a serious deterioration of respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” she warned.

The removal of the two justices, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Judge Muthasim Adnan, was approved by the People’s Majlis, the Maldives’ legislative body, three days after the enactment of the First Amendment to the Judicature Act which reduced the number of Supreme Court judges from seven to five.

Knaul noted that the procedure for the removal was characterized by a “lack of transparency and due process” – a fact, she said, that rendered their dismissal concerning and “particularly unacceptable.”

“Article 154 of the Constitution of the Maldives itself states that a judge may be removed from office only if the Judicial Service Commission finds the person grossly incompetent, or guilty of gross misconduct,” she added, highlighting that international human rights standards on this issue were “clear.”

She called on the authorities of the Maldives to reconsider the removal of the justices and to engage in a “transparent, impartial and independent process” in line with its international human rights obligations.

The Supreme Court of the Maldives has come under scrutiny from UN rights officials in recent years. In 2013, former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for reforms to the judiciary to safeguard the rule of law following the Supreme Court’s repeated interventions in the presidential election process in the Maldives which, she said, were undermining the country’s democracy.

In that specific case, the Court had nullified the first round of the election on the basis of irregularities in the process, despite conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair.

And, in October 2014, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced deep concern about a criminal case initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against members of the country’s Human Rights Commission.