Diplomacy Politics

Maldives legal teams ‘decimated’ after mass lawyer suspension, says UN expert

Legal teams have been decimated and trials could end up paralysed because of the mass suspension of lawyers in the Maldives, a United Nations rights expert said Monday.

The comments from the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, follow the suspension triggered by scores of lawyers calling for judicial reform.

Garcia-Sayan noted that those suspended could represent one-third of the lawyers in private practice in the Maldives, and more than half of those licensed to practice before the country’s criminal court.

“This alarming mass suspension clearly did not abide by international standards regulating disciplinary proceedings against lawyers and protecting their independence, and I strongly condemn it,” he said.

“Not only are the grounds for suspension dubious, but the lawyers have so far not been granted a fair hearing and they have no avenue for appeal.”

The suspension has been criticised by the international community, including the European Union and the British ambassador to the Maldives.

Last week the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Maldivian authorities to reform the judiciary, release political prisoners, and to guarantee the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

But the government hit back in a strongly worded statement against the body’s “baseless allegations”.

Senior lawmakers from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives met diplomats and international groups in Switzerland last week, with parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan telling Sun Online the delegation “worked on sharing the current situation of Maldives and clarifying the misinformation spread by the opposition in the international community regarding Maldives”.

Accompanied by the Maldives permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, the PPM politicians addressed concerns over the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from parliament by soldiers and police and the reintroduction of the death penalty.

The delegation met the UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussain, senior officials from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Switzerland’s assistant secretary of state for Asia and the Pacific.

The UN human rights chief had strongly criticised the reversal of democratic gains since the imprisonment of opposition leaders in early 2015, most recently at the Human Rights Council’s last session in early September, prompting the Maldives to call for “a more balanced view of the democratic reality of the country”.

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