While welcoming the Maldives government’s revocation of the emergency yesterday, the arbitrary manner in which the emergency was first imposed and then suddenly revoked within the span of a week reflects a deeper erosion of the rule of law in the country, the ICJ said today.
On 10 November, a week after declaring a 30-day state of emergency, the Maldives lifted the emergency reportedly because authorities had arrested several people in connection with an alleged plot to “use dangerous weapons and explosives”, thereby neutralizing the purported national security threat cited as the grounds for the emergency.
Maldivian authorities have not provided any information as to who or how many individuals were arrested or the nature of the charges.
“The imposition of a state of emergency is not a political tool to be used willy-nilly as a matter of convenience to suspend human rights protections and suppress political opposition,” said Nikhil Narayan, ICJ’s South Asia Senior Legal Adviser.
“A state of emergency that suspends constitutional rights is not to be declared lightly,” he added. “It has serious implications for human rights and the rule of law in the country, and must only be invoked in the most extreme situations and in accordance with international law.”
International law expressly permits derogations of certain human rights only in times of public emergency which threatens ‘the life of the nation’.
“Declaring a 30-day emergency and then suddenly lifting it a week later only reinforces the serious concerns previously raised as to the legitimacy of the emergency in the first place, and speaks to the larger rule of law crisis in the country,” Narayan said.
The emergency decree issued by the Maldives government last week suspended several constitutional rights, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and reduced the constitutionally mandated period for the vice president to respond to impeachment charges from 14 to 7 days.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had planned a public anti-government demonstration for 6 November, two days prior to which the emergency was declared.
Meanwhile, the vice president was removed from his post the day after the emergency decree, 5 November, in a swift and seemingly arbitrary impeachment hearing.
“The circumstances surrounding events in the Maldives this past week clearly suggest that the government was using the emergency as a ploy to prevent the planned opposition rally and to eliminate the vice president as a political threat,” said Narayan.
The emergency also granted sweeping powers of search, arrest and detention without warrant to the police, who reportedly raided several buildings and arrested an unknown number of individuals under its emergency powers over the past week.
“The Maldives government cannot flout international law by invoking emergency powers as a means to deny the due process rights of the vice president and others arrested or detained for alleged crimes,” added Narayan. “The government must ensure that the individuals arrested during the emergency are afforded their full fair trial and due process rights in accordance with international law.”
The ICJ previously raised concerns that the alleged grounds for the emergency did not appear to establish a threat to the life of the as required by the high threshold set by international law, and could not in any event justify the complete suspension of constitutional rights.
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.
Nikhil Narayan, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser for South Asia, t: +977 9813187821 ; e: nikhil.narayan(a)icj.org