Maldives: arrest of judges and suspension of human rights a full attack on the rule of law, says the ICJ

by | Feb 6, 2018 | News

The ICJ today condemned the Maldivian Government’s assault on the Supreme Court and its judges and the suspension of human rights protections under the state of emergency.

“President Yameen and his Government have dealt a grave blow to the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in the Maldives,” said Ian Seiderman, ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

“The actions by the government are a wildly unjustifiable and disproportionate response to the decision of the Supreme Court”, he added.

On 5 February, the Maldivian Government declared a 15-day state of emergency under Article 253 of the Constitution, suspending a range of human rights protections.

The declaration of emergency followed a Supreme Court judgment on 1 February that ordered the release of at least nine members of opposition parties, who were in detention on a number of charges.

The Government, however, refused to implement the Supreme Court’s judgment, which resulted in the outbreak of protests in the country.

The national defense forces also reportedly entered the premises of the Supreme Court and arrested at least two senior judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed.

“Summarily suspending basic rights protections and arresting judges whose decisions the President disagrees with is itself a display of sweeping lawlessness in the country,” Seiderman said.

According to the President’s office, the state of emergency was imposed because the Supreme Court order resulted in “disruption of the functions of the executive power, disruption of the functions of the state institutions…and infringement of national security and public interest.”

According to an unofficial translation of the emergency decree received by the ICJ, the constitutionally and internationally protected rights that have been suspended in part or in full during the state of emergency include, among others, the right to liberty; the right to freedom of assembly; the right to privacy; and the right to obtain remedy from the courts.

Basic safeguards surrounding arrest, detention, search and seizures have also been suspended.

In addition, laws providing certain immunities to judges and the right of judges to be informed if any action is taken against them have also been suspended.

“The complete suspension of constitutional protections for human rights such as the right to liberty and right to free assembly goes far beyond anything that could be justified by the alleged grounds cited by the government,” Seiderman added.

The ICJ notes that international law strictly regulates attempts by governments to suspend or otherwise derogate from human rights on the grounds of emergency.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Maldives is a State Party, expressly permits derogations only for certain human rights, and then only ‘in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation’.

Measures of derogation may only be taken to the extent necessary to meet a specific threat to the life of the nation.

“Maldivian authorities have not even come close to explaining how the current situation constitutes a threat to the ‘life of the nation’, the high threshold set by international law for the derogation of rights in times of emergency,” Seiderman said.

The ICJ urges the Government to immediately lift the state of emergency, release judges of the Supreme Court, implement the ruling of the Supreme Court and ensure the independence of the judiciary.


Ian Seiderman, ICJ Legal and Policy Director, T: +41 22 979 38 37 ; e:

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for South Asia (London), t: +447889565691; e:

Additional information

Under international standards, including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.

This means that there shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process and judges shall be free to decide cases without any restrictions, pressures, threats or interferences.

In August 2015, following a joint fact-finding mission to the Maldives, the ICJ and South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) documented the breakdown of the rule of law and human rights in the Maldives in a 35-page report, Justice Adrift: Rule of Law and the Political Crisis in the Maldives.

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