Maldives govt slams UK led joint statement, says 'unfairly judged'

Maldives government on Friday slammed the "unwarranted and unconstructive" the joint statement led by UK on behalf of as many as 40 countries insisting that the crisis-hit island nation was being "unfairly judged" against standards practiced by the developed world.

Over 40 countries have expressed ‘grave concern’ over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives, saying that it is ‘regrettable’ that the Maldives government ‘has chosen not to engage constructively with this body [UN] and its mechanisms’.

A joint statement narrated at the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, supported by a total of 41 countries, noted that 34 nations had, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2017, “underlined the importance of allowing activities by opposition parties and political leaders, and space for the expression of diverse political views”.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

After the original state of emergency expired, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

Responding to the statement, Dr Hala Hameed, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations Office in Geneva described the joint statement as "unwarranted and unconstructive" and further elaborated on the issue of corruption at the highest levels of the Supreme Court and that the declaration of February 1 was primarily because the top court bench was "beyond any measure of Constitutional accountability."

She underlined that the concerns regarding the Supreme Court was first raised in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who conducted a visit to the Maldives in 2013, and adding that at that time United Kingdom and the European Union, supported the conclusions of that report.

Further she made a reference to the OHCHR statement released on May 2015, and the Ambassador stated that it had then referred to the judiciary to be "politicized, inadequate and subject to external influence".

She also pointed out the factual inaccuracies in the joint statement in response to the assertion made on Maldives non-engagement with High Commissioner’s Office or the Council’s mechanisms.

In this regard, she stated that in the past four years alone, the Maldives had hosted six visits by the High Commissioner’s Office including a recent visit. Highlighting that ‘the most recent visit, by senior officials of the High Commissioner’s Office, less than three weeks ago – in fact, during the State of Emergency’.

She further added that the Maldives has also submitted no fewer than nine communications to the various mechanisms of this Council in the past three years alone and hosted a total of seven special procedures mandate holders, with discussions on-going for future visits of two Special Rapporteurs in 2018.

Acknowledging that much work is required for the Maldives to strengthen its democratic institutions, to enhance capacity and to foster a culture of respect for human dignity and liberty, she stated that ‘it would be completely unfair to judge the Maldives against the standards as envisaged by the United Kingdom and the European Union, and as practiced in those countries’.

President Yameen is facing mounting international pressure after exploiting the rights suspended under emergency state to crackdown hard on the opposition as police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, three lawmakers, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

The EU meanwhile has asked the Maldives to lift the state of emergency and warned 'targeted measures' if the situation does not improve.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's uncle Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.