The repeated interventions of the Supreme Court in the presidential election process in the Maldives are undermining the country’s democracy, the United Nations human rights chief said today, calling on reforms to the judiciary to safeguard the rule of law.
“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,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The Supreme Court nullified the first round of the election held on 7 September on the basis of irregularities in the process, despite conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair.
The Court also imposed on the Elections Commission a set of guidelines for the conduct of the election which are 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 19 October.
“I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities,” Ms. Pillay 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.”
Ms. Pillay noted that the Supreme Court had also threatened to charge lawyers and media with contempt of court for challenging its decisions, and she expressed concern about the Government’s threats to dissolve civil society organizations for criticizing the judiciary.
“The Supreme Court appears set on undermining other independent institutions, stifling criticism and public debate, and depriving litigants of the legal representation of their choice,” she said. “The Government is also taking arbitrary action against its opponents to prevent their participation in parliamentary debates at this critical juncture.”
There have also been death threats and other forms of intimidations directed at members and staff of the country’s Human Rights Commission and civil society actors, including an arson attack earlier this month on an opposition television station.
The High Commissioner called on the authorities to investigate properly all such incidents and ensure full protection.
“All parties should seize this opportunity to restore the credibility of the democratic process,” Ms. Pillay said. “Whoever wins the election should embark on fundamental reforms to the judiciary to safeguard Maldives’ progress in democracy and rule of law.”