Serious implications of ruling against Maldives’ Human Rights Commission

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Supreme Court’s ruling against the Human Rights Commission of Maldives seriously undermines the independence and powers of the Commission. The APT is very concerned about the situation, which could also have implications for the Commission’s role as National Preventive Mechanism.

In September last year, the Supreme Court of the Maldives brought criminal charges against the National Human Rights Commission. This followed the Commission’s submission of a report to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

In its verdict, on 16 June 2015, the Supreme Court held that the Human Rights Commission’s submission to the UPR was “unlawful, biased and undermined judicial independence in the country”. The court ruling included an 11-point set of “guidelines”, which in practice means that the Commission need to seek approval from the government before communicating with international organisations.

The international community has reacted strongly to the judgement. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the court verdict “unacceptable”, and the role of the judiciary in the Maldives “deeply flawed”. He has urged the government to take legal steps to guarantee that the independence and integrity of the Human Rights Commission are not further compromised. The UN Special Rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, referred to the court verdict as “a complete disregard of the country’s international human rights obligations”.

Implications for the OPCAT mandate

The “11-point ruling” could have grave implications on the mandate and function of the Commission’s designated role as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The Supreme Court verdict impedes the right of the NPM to engage and communicate directly, and if necessary, confidentially, with the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. This contradicts the Maldives’ commitments as an OPCAT State party and could jeopardize the NPM’s work to effectively prevent torture and ill-treatment in the Maldives.

Therefore, the APT expects the government to persuade the Supreme Court to withdraw its restrictive guidelines imposed on the NPM and the National Human Rights Commission.

The current Commissioners’ terms are due to expire in August and September this year. According to media reports, the President has now nominated three new Commissioners. The APT would like to stress the importance of the functional and personal independence of the Commission and the NPM.