Maldives Supreme Court subverting democratic process: UN rights chief

Maldives Supreme Court subverting democratic process: UN rights chief

Maldives Supreme Court subverting democratic process: UN rights chief

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today criticised the Maldives' Supreme Court for repeatedly interfering in the presidential poll process, saying it has subverted democracy in the country.

"I am alarmed that the Supreme Court of the Maldives is interfering excessively in the presidential elections, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives," Pillay said in a statement.

The Supreme Court nullified the first round of the presidential election on September 7 after a candidate complained of irregularities in the balloting.

However, Pillay noted that the general conclusions by national and international observers were that the "election was free and fair".

She said: "The court also imposed on the Elections Commission an onerous set of guidelines for the conduct of the election, which will be difficult to satisfy.

"It was on this basis that police prevented the Elections Commission from carrying out its plan to re-run the election on October 19."

Several parties, including the Maldivian Democratic Party of former president Mohamed Nasheed, have condemned the blocking of the polls, which sparked protests in the country.

Pillay called for the election to be held, saying: "All parties should seize this opportunity to restore the credibility of the democratic process.

"Whoever wins the election should embark on fundamental reforms to the judiciary to safeguard Maldives' progress in democracy and rule of law."

Pillay said there were "longstanding concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the Maldives" and she and the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, had taken up these issues during visits to the country in 2011 and 2013. The Commission of National Inquiry conducted by the Maldives after the political crisis in February 2012, when Nasheed was ousted from office, also concluded that the judiciary requires "fundamental reform", she said.

"Judges should act in accordance with the principles of impartiality, propriety, equality and due diligence, as reflected in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of Judiciary, the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, and Maldives' own judicial code of conduct," she said.

Pillay noted that the Supreme Court had threatened to charge lawyers and media with contempt for challenging its decisions. She expressed concern about the Maldivian government's threats to dissolve civil society organisations for criticising the judiciary, and the reactivation of old cases to arrest opposition MPs or bar them from parliament.

"The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate...," Pillay said. "The Government is also taking arbitrary action against its opponents to prevent their participation in parliamentary debates at this critical juncture."

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