Maldives: UN law expert stresses need for ‘guaranteed’ judicial independence

2 March 2007 –

A United Nations legal expert has called for a completely independent judiciary in the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives, stressing also that an appropriate police bill is “key” in preventing abuses, while calling as well for improved drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes as criminalization has failed.

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy, stressed the importance of the ongoing constitutional and judicial reform process that are underway throughout his 5-day visit to the islands, during which he met with the President, ministers, judges, the Attorney General and others, including detainees.

“The Constitution puts the judiciary under the control of the President: this seriously affects the independence of the judiciary. There is a serious lack of trained judges and lawyers…most of the detainees are tried without the assistance of a lawyer,” he said in a statement on his return yesterday, adding that preventive detention is the rule rather than the exception.

Despite these problems, Mr. Despouy acknowledged that “all sectors” of Maldivian society are conscious of the need for reform, and he outlined eight preliminary recommendations, in advance of a full report on his visit that he will present to the Human Rights Council later this year.

In particular, he strongly encourages prompt adoption of the constitutional reforms and the urgent adoption of legislation which has already been submitted to Parliament, including the criminal code and the criminal procedure code. “The adoption of an appropriate police bill is also of key importance to prevent current abuse cases.”

Mr. Despouy also recommends that the constitutional reform “consecrate the principle of real separation of powers.” In this context, the independence of the judiciary should be guaranteed, he says, urging also that posts should be secured for women judges, as opposed to the current practice that has been criticized by human rights bodies.

Highlighting that drug consumption affects almost every family, he further recommends the “strengthening of prevention and rehabilitation programmes, since criminalization has proved unsuccessful.”

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

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