The Maldives has accepted recommendations put forth at the UN Human Rights Council on reforming the judiciary to ensure impartiality and independence.
Of the 258 recommendations from UN member states at the Maldives’ Universal Period Review (UPR) in May, the government has now accepted 198 and rejected 60.
The judiciary came under fire during the UPR session on May 6 over “politicisation,” inadequate qualification of judges, and lack of conformity to international fair trial standards as well as the Supreme Court’s contempt of court cases against the Elections Commission and Human Rights Commission of Maldives.
The recommendations included reforming the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) process of selecting and appointing judges, reviewing the oversight body’s composition, and implementing recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in 2013.
The government had initially deferred a decision on 78 recommendations – including calls for judicial reform from numerous countries – pending “national level consultations.”
The council was informed of the decision to accept 67 and reject 11 earlier this month.
The government said it has published a five-year legislative agenda with the support of the UNDP for legal reform whilst the Supreme Court in August endorsed a “continuous education curriculum” for building capacity in the judiciary.
The government also rejected a recommendation from Germany to ratify the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, saying the country “lacks the necessary structures, procedures, and mechanisms to deal with people claiming refugee status in the Maldives”.
Spain’s recommendation to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was also rejected.
The UPR process involves a periodic examination of the human rights situation of all member states based on submissions from the state, the human rights body, and NGOs. A working group comprised of the 47 member states of the council conducts the review.
The Maldives’ first UPR review took place in 2010. The second cycle took place amidst heightened international scrutiny and political turmoil triggered by the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The 60 rejected recommendations included calls from the US, Norway, and Canada to release Nasheed and other “political prisoners.” Germany, UK, Denmark, and Australia had also expressed concern with the opposition leader’s trial on terrorism charges in March, which drew widespread criticism over apparent lack of due process.
Speaking at a plenary session held in Geneva on Thursday to consider and adopt the outcome of the UPR, Foreign Secretary Dr Ali Naseer Mohamed said most of the 60 recommendations that were rejected contradict Islamic principles, which “forms the basis of our constitution and all our laws.”
The recommendations included calls to abolish flogging and the death penalty. The current administration ended a six-decade moratorium on capital punishment last year.
The Maldives also rejected calls for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and freedom of religion as well as removing a requirement that prevents non-Muslims being appointed to the human rights watchdog.
“Any efforts to introduce practices contrary to Islamic values will not be entertained by the people of Maldives,” Naseer said, adding that non-Muslims are allowed to practice their faith in private.
The acceptance of 198 recommendations meanwhile shows the ambition of “a small nation with very limited resources,” Naseer said.
The government has developed “a comprehensive strategy” for implementing the recommendations, he said. A reconstituted UPR standing committee has taken a “results-based approach” and identified “measurable and verifiable benchmarks,” he added.
Despite challenges such as lack of expertise as well as technical and financial limitations, Naseer said the progress the Maldives has achieved in the past 10 years “is by any measure impressive.”
“It is therefore highly unfortunate that there are several forces both outside and within trying to reap the benefits of our political vulnerability,” he said.
“It is also unfortunate that our governance system that is only a decade old is often judged by the same yardstick used for countries that took centuries to establish.”
Naseer added that “change is only sustainable if only locally-owned, locally driven, and locally shaped” and that institutions need time and space to “grow organically”.
He also assured the government’s commitment to the UPR process and pledged to submit a mid-term report in 2017 on the progress of implementing the recommendations.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile put out a statement yesterday suggesting that the acceptance of 198 recommendations – which constituted serious concerns over the human rights situation in the Maldives – conflict with the rhetoric of government officials.
President Abdulla Yameen has repeatedly slammed “foreign interference” in domestic affairs and insisted that the judiciary is free from undue influence.
The rhetoric of government officials intended for domestic audiences “does not match at all” with statements made at international forums, the MDP said, which “shows this government’s lack of sincerity in improving the country’s human rights situation.”