Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. Photo: Jonathan BorgCouncil of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Updated 10.30am - Added video

The lack of public debate about abortion in Malta has “taken aback” the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who hopes his short visit here will kick off a discussion.

“Malta has one of the most restrictive regimes in the Council of Europe in this area and it’s almost a taboo topic,” Nils Muižnieks said when asked about women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Speaking at the end of a four-day visit to Malta, Mr Muižnieks told this newspaper he was struck by the fact that there had been a wide-ranging public debate on the morning-after pill, but no such discussion about access to safe abortion care.

Women’s organisations were afraid of losing funding if they took a stand, and others were afraid of being labelled baby-killers, he added.

The commissioner hopes that his visit serves as a catalyst for discussion on this issue, which he said has a huge impact on several women’s rights.

During his visit, Mr Muižnieks also stressed upon the need to guarantee a conducive environment for media freedom. He told the Times of Malta that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia had sent shockwaves throughout society on the island.

“I was told that there is a huge effort under way to get to the bottom of it and this government has no interest in slowing down or hindering the investigation.”

When it was pointed out to him that civil society has asked for the removal of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General, he added: “I didn’t look at this in detail, but I did hear a lot of criticism about the initial response by the police… so clearly the prosecutorial and the police authorities need to do a better job at keeping everyone informed about the investigation.”

He also suggested that this was the right time to adopt a press and defamation law in line with international standards. One of the issues brought up during Mr Muižnieks’s visit was migration as he succeeded in including a visit to the Ħal Far open centre in his busy itinerary.

Malta has one of the most restrictive regimes in the Council of Europe in this area and it’s almost taboo

He pointed out that while the reception centres had improved over the years, there was still room for improvement, especially when it came to sanitation.

Referring to the integration policy, which Malta is soon to adopt, the commissioner said he was pleased that the authorities were finally thinking long-term and acknowledging that people were here to stay.

However, prejudices needed to be addressed, and this will require a systematic policy of integration.

An integration policy also called for other policy changes, such as the ban on family reunification for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection.

“You give this status to most Syrian refugees. The Syrian conflict is not going to end any time soon. In other words Syrians are here for a long time.

“How can a person integrate if they’re worried about the fate of their child or spouse elsewhere?” he asked.

On statelessness, he said Malta did not have a statelessness determination procedure and had not yet ratified the relevant conventions. This issue should be addressed in the context of reforming a migration policy, he added.

EU lawmakers step up pressure

European Union lawmakers are calling for stricter supervision of Malta’s application of the bloc’s rules on money laundering and basic rights.

In the wake of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, next week the European Parliament will vote on a resolution on the rule of law in Malta, with the text currently under discussion among political groupings.

Meanwhile, the conservative group has called on the European Union Commission to “urgently” step up its monitoring of Malta.

“We think that there are serious questions regarding the freedom of the media and the lack of law enforcement in Malta,” European People Party’s spokesman Daniel Koster said.

This was echoed by Lucian Gole-anu, press officer for the Liberals.

“There are many issues to be clarified and answers on several serious allegations of corruption and breach of anti-money laundering and banking supervision obligations that have not been investigated by the police in Malta,” he said.

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