Amal Clooney hits back at Cherie Blair as Maldives legal battle escalates

The pair of international human rights lawyers have clashed repeatedly

Paul Gallagher
Friday 25 September 2015 12:20
Mrs Clooney is acting pro-bono for the former president Mohamed Nasheed
Mrs Clooney is acting pro-bono for the former president Mohamed Nasheed

Amal Clooney has hit back at Cherie Blair in the latest round of their increasingly bitter legal battle over the Maldives government and its treatment of the island’s former ousted leader.

The pair of international human rights lawyers have clashed repeatedly since Mrs Blair began acting for the autocratic government that helped organise the overthrow and prosecution of the country’s first democratically-elected leader.

Mrs Clooney is acting pro-bono for the former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was jailed was jailed for 13 years in March over controversial terrorism charges in a trial Amnesty International described as a “travesty of justice”.

Mrs Clooney and her legal team have called for sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans to be imposed on senior officials of the Indian Ocean state.

Mrs Blair began acts for the Maldives' autocratic government (AFP)

Omnia Strategy, the London and Washington-based consultancy Mrs Blair founded and chairs, has been advising President Abdulla Yameen’s government on “democracy consolidation”. The value of the contract, signed in June, is not known.

Earlier this month Mrs Blair said Mrs Clooney’s call for sanctions was “inappropriate and unjustified”.

The former Prime Minister’s wife said: “Sanctions are imposed in exceptional circumstances to force compliance with international law, where there is a threat to peace, or where they are imposed in response to a specific policy. They ought not be used when dealing with a single case.”

Mrs Blair also said the use of such sanctions threatened the economic stability of the Maldives.

Mrs Clooney rubbished Mrs Blair’s claims. “Such suggestions are entirely misplaced,” she said in a joint statement with her co-counsel Ben Emmerson QC and Jared Genser. “On the contrary, there are precedents from all around the world of targeted sanctions being imposed in cases similar to President Nasheed’s, where state authorities violated an individual’s human rights by subjecting him to a politically-motivated prosecution, an unfair trial and an unjustifiable sentence.

“Such sanctions can be imposed by a single state or by an international organization and – far from affecting the entire population or the economy of the Maldives as a whole – they can be targeted to specific individuals directly responsible for the relevant human rights violations.”

Mrs Clooney’s legal team said targeted sanctions can be appropriate even to address individual cases of human rights violations where a government persists in flouting its obligations under international law.

They argued precedents have been set: the United States imposed travel bans and the freezing of assets on 18 Russian officials involved in the malicious prosecution of the lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was unfairly denied bail and remanded for an extensive period in custody, where he ultimately died.

“Similarly, the European Union ordered the freezing of funds belonging to several named Iranian and Belarusian officials for their role in human rights violations: individual judges were sanctioned for issuing disproportionate sentences following unfair trials that violated the basic rights of the accused, as were the prosecutors and government officials involved in such proceedings,” they said.

The team recently returned from the Maldives and Sri Lanka where they met President Nasheed and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister to press their case. A breakthrough was thought to have emerged recently following months of negotiations between the Maldivian Government and Mr Nasheed’s party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), whereby Government officials undertook to release high-profile political prisoners, including President Nasheed, and review criminal charges against around 1,700 people who have been targeted for their political activities. David Cameron has also called for the release of Mr Nasheed and all political prisoners in the Maldives.

Mrs Clooney and her team claim the Maldives government made an official announcement that Mr Nasheed’s sentence had been commuted to house arrest. She said: “President Yameen and his Government now pretend that this deal was never reached, and that clemency is not an option.”

She described Mr Nasheed’s continued imprisonment as a “travesty of justice” and said the Maldives government has studiously avoided mention of the U-turn in its recent statements.

Omnia Strategy dispute whether the government made any official announcement concerning a commuted sentence and said the government has consistently maintained that the transfer to house arrest was strictly a temporary measure.

A spokesman for the firm said: “The case of Sergei Magnitsky cited in their statement concerns an individual who was beaten to death following his disclosure of large scale Russian state corruption. He was arrested, tortured in police custody and denied any medical assistance resulting in his death. To compare the two cases is simply illogical. Further, the legal team have cited Belarus and Iran, the specifics of the issue are again wholly different to that alleged in the case of former President Nasheed.”

Mrs Clooney and her legal team have until 14 December to appeal this month’s High Court judgment, which they said “shamefully rubber-stamped the trial court’s findings without even hearing argument on the merits”.

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