Maldives: Two Unconstitutional Acts


The Maldives, a small island-nation of 396,334, located 400 miles southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, was subjected to two unconstitutional acts as: 1) President Mohammed Nasheed arrested Judge Abdulla Mohamed, because he had found the detention of a government critic illegal; and as: 2) army and police officers, allegedly working for Vice-President Mohammed Hassan, responded by threatening to use firearms against Nasheed, if he refused to leave office, which he did.

In terms of legal traditions, the Maldives was governed by Dutch law for 231 years, from 1656, when the Netherlands took the islands, until 1887, when Britain seized control. English law was then used for the next 78 years, through independence in 1965.

After independence, one-party rule was imposed in 1968. One man dictated everything for 30 years, from 1978 through 2008. Upon the adoption of a democratic system in 2008, Nasheed took office, as the island’s first freely-elected leader.

From an American standpoint, with our written constitution, and respect for the rule-of-law and separation-of-powers, the act of jailing a judge, without due process, and forcing a President out, because he imprisoned the judge, are not the way to do things.

The problem is the people of the Maldives have no American-style tradition of an independent judiciary, or of using elections as a means of changing power, since they were governed by Dutch and British monarchs for 309 years.

We in the U.S. would never tolerate the jailing a judge by a President over a disagreement regarding a court ruling, nor should the Maldives. By the same token, we would not respond to a President’s illegal jailing of a judge, by threatening violence as a means of forcing him out of office. We would instead instigate impeachment proceedings, and would not remove him, until he was first given the due process of law.

Legal proceedings to formally impeach President Nasheed for jailing the judge should now be commenced, even though he is already out of office, so his removal is retroactively based on evidence, properly presented under the Maldives constitution. If for no other reason, it is not good for trade or tourism (their primary industry) to let stand the removal of leader by force.

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