UN Human Rights chief criticises Maldives Supreme Court

Geneva, Oct 30 (IANS) UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay Wednesday criticised the Maldives Supreme Court for "excessively" interfering in the country's presidential election process.

"I am alarmed that the Supreme Court of the Maldives is interfering excessively in the presidential election, and in so doing is subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives," Pillay said in a statement.

The Maldives' Supreme Court had nullified the first round of the presidential election held Sep 7 on the basis of alleged irregularities in the process, despite the general conclusions by national and international observers that the election was free and fair.

"The court also imposed on the Elections Commission an onerous set of guidelines for the conduct of the election, which will be difficult to satisfy," Pillay said.

It was on this basis that police prevented the Elections Commission from carrying out its plan to re-run the election Oct 19.

The statement said that there have been long-standing concerns about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the Maldives, which both the high commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, addressed during official visits to the country in 2011 and 2013.

"I am normally the first to defend the independence of the judiciary, but this also carries responsibilities," the high commissioner 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," it said.

Pillay also observed that the Maldives Supreme Court had threatened to charge lawyers and media with contempt of court for challenging the court's decisions.

She also expressed concern about the government's threats to dissolve civil society organisations for criticising the judiciary and the reactivation of old cases to arrest opposition MPs or bar them from parliament.

"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," Pillay said.

"The government is also taking arbitrary action against its opponents to prevent their participation in parliamentary debates at this critical juncture.

"All parties should seize this opportunity to restore the credibility of the democratic process," Pillay said.

"Whoever wins the election should embark on fundamental reforms to the judiciary to safeguard Maldives' progress in democracy and rule of law," she added.

According to the Maldives constitution, a new president has to be sworn in by Nov 11.

If a president is not elected by Nov 11, then parliament will take over with the speaker temporarily overseeing power transition unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise.

The elections are now scheduled for Nov 9, and if there is no clear winner, a second round is slated for Nov 16.

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