The United Nations human rights office has voiced deep concern about a criminal case initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against members of the country’s Human Rights Commission.
In a statement released today, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), noted that five members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives were now facing “serious criminal charges” following the submission of their written contribution to their country’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), presented to the UN Human Rights Council.
“We call on the Government to firmly defend the independence of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, in line with the commitments made during the first UPR of the Maldives in 2011,” said Ms. Shamdasani.
“The Government has a responsibility to ensure a safe operating space for the Commission and for civil society actors in the country, so that they are able to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms without fear of reprisals.”
It is not the first time the Supreme Court of the Maldives has come under rebuke from OHCHR. 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.
Ms. Shamdasani observed in her statement that despite the Supreme Court’s allegations, the Commission had operated in line with international principles governing national institutions adding that the Human Rights Council “specifically encourages the participation of national human rights institutions in the UPR process.” She further noted that High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein had also written directly to the Government of the Maldives to express his concerns.
According to OHCHR, the Review is “a unique process” involving a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. It is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, and provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.
The UPR of the Maldives is scheduled to be held between April and May 2015.