Since 2019, ABA ROLI has partnered with justice sector institutions in the Republic of Maldives to support access to justice and increase the efficiency and responsiveness of the justice sector. Following a government transition in 2019, the Republic of Maldives prioritized reforming the justice sector to improve transparency and accountability, responsiveness to citizens, and access to justice. To support these reforms, ABA ROLI has partnered with government institutions and non-governmental organizations to support judicial reform, legal profession development, access to justice, anti-corruption, and anti-money laundering.
Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Upholding Rule of Law, and Improving Access to Justice in the Maldives
Building on the results of previous programs in Maldives, in August 2020 ABA ROLI began the Strong and Inclusive Maldivian Democracy (SIMD) Program. In partnership with the USAID Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (USAID/CEPPS), ABA ROLI’s component of the SIMD Program works to increase the efficiency and responsiveness of the Maldivian justice sector. ABA ROLI implements SIMD in partnership with local organizations including the Bar Council of the Maldives, Public Interest Law Center, and governmental and independent institutions.
On November 19, 2022, a key milestone was reached in the Maldives as the first Maldives' Bar Exam was successfully administered by ABA ROLI and Bar Council of Maldives (BCM), as mandated under the Legal Profession Act (LPA). The bar exam is one of the two essential requirements outlined in the LPA for individuals seeking to become licensed lawyers and is considered a crucial step towards standardizing the legal profession in the Maldives. The data collected from the exam’s psychometric analysis, demonstrated that the first Maldives bar exam met international best practice standards, as evidenced by key statistical quality indicators for a new licensing exam.
In addition to its involvement in the bar examination, ABA ROLI plays a crucial part in strengthening BCM's core operations, assisting the institution in achieving financial autonomy and impartiality. This support includes strategic guidance and facilitating connections with sister bar associations and international forums.
The program has achieved significant milestones, including extending legal aid and representation to disadvantaged populations residing in remote areas of Maldives. ABA ROLI has dedicated itself to providing pro bono legal services to individuals from low-income backgrounds or marginalized communities and through this initiative, ABA ROLI has assisted a total of over 3900 individuals, ensuring access to legal support for those in need. Additionally, aligning with the National Strategic Action Plan (NSAP) priority to strengthen judicial accountability and integrity, ABA ROLI conducted a comprehensive Situational Analysis of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace for the Maldivian Judicial Staff, which proposes recommendations to the Maldives Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for enhancing employment conditions and promoting gender equality. Furthermore, ABA ROLI collaborates with the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) and the Judicial Academy (JA) to enhance training programs for judges and court personnel, improve court management practices, and increase public access to court-related information.
To strengthen the anti-corruption efforts of the country, ABA ROLI provided training in financial investigative skills to investigators from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). Through the SIMD program, ABA ROLI also organized workshops on MEL and extended support to develop a Case Management System (CMS) for the ACC. These initiatives have been instrumental in empowering the Maldives' ACC, equipping them to implement additional measures that streamline the complaint evaluation process and effectively reduce the backlog of cases.
Protecting Migrant Workers' Rights through Legal Aid and Advocacy
The Defending Fundamental Rights of Migrant Workers program in Maldives works to strengthen migrant workers’ ability to advocate for their fundamental rights by conducting strategic litigation to enforce constitutional protections for freedom of association, assembly, and expression for foreign workers; advocating for legislative and policy reform to protect migrant workers’ rights; providing legal aid, psychosocial and medical services for migrant workers who have suffered rights violations and other abuses. ABA ROLI implements the FFF program in partnership with Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) and Mission for Migrant Workers in the Maldives (MMWM).
Strengthen the Ability of Financial Institutions in South Asia to Effectively Counteract and Prevent Money Laundering Activities
Since 2020, ABA ROLI has also implemented the South Asia Transnational Partnerships against Money Laundering (Stop ML) program in the Maldives, funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), Office of Global Policy and Programs (GPP). The primary objective of this program is to foster collaborations between public sector supervisors/regulators and private sector financial institutions, as well as designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs). By implementing a risk-based approach, the program aims to identify emerging money-laundering threats, enhance the detection of suspicious activities and transactions, and ultimately disrupt the access of criminal groups to the funds they utilize for transnational crimes.
From 2019-2020, ABA ROLI implemented three programs: the USAID/CEPPS Maldives Executive Transition Support Rapid Response Program, with the goal of supporting judicial reforms that reflect international norms and best practices; the USAID Human Rights Support Mechanism program to train journalists, CSOs, and lawyers on trial monitoring and litigation; and the Technical Assistance to the Judicial Service Commission Project, to support the judicial oversight body. Through these programs, ABA ROLI supported the startup of the newly-created Bar Council of the Maldives in the creation of its bylaws, regulations, and institutional and governance structure; developed criteria and processes for judicial appointments and nominations; provided advice and assistance for the development of a merit-based judicial performance evaluation system; and trained Executive Branch officials on strategic communications related to justice sector reform priorities.