An effective investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia should be carried out by the government with the victim’s family and the public being kept informed about its progress, Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said.

Speaking at the end of a four-day visit to Malta, Mr Muižnieks stressed the need to guarantee a conducive environment for media freedom.

The upcoming discussion of a Bill on media and defamation provided an opportunity for this, particularly through the proposed lowering of pecuniary damages that could be imposed by courts and through allowing journalists to access all public interest-related information.

Concerned by the low participation of women in public life and their under-representation in decision-making positions in economic life, Commissioner Muižnieks encouraged the Maltese authorities to adopt a holistic approach based on gender equality.

“Fostering women’s participation is not just about developing child care services or introducing quotas; it also requires questioning men’s roles, including in family matters. A more balanced sharing of household duties and responsibilities needs to be promoted by a whole set of measures, starting from a more than one day-long paid paternity leave.”

He welcomed the authorisation in 2016 of the morning after pill without prescription and urged the authorities to ensure that the existing possibility for pharmacists to refuse to sell it on grounds of conscience did not compromise the effective accessibility of those means.

“The fact that the authorisation of emergency contraception resulted from a grass-roots campaign is a signal that Maltese society has evolved on these issues. However, I note that abortion remains a taboo issue not debated publicly” he added.

Underlining that Malta is among the most restrictive member states of the Council of Europe in this field, Commissioner Muižnieks called for a public debate on abortion and the infringements of women’s human rights resulting from its prohibition.

“Every individual or organisation should have the possibility to speak up in support of women’s rights without fearing stigma or negative repercussions”, he said. The Commissioner recommended decriminalising abortion and ensuring access to safe and legal abortion care.

He also visited migrants at Ħal Far where he observed that the reception conditions in the families’ unit were better than in the single men’s.

“In spite of notable ameliorations since my predecessor’s 2011 visit to Ħal Far, the living conditions in the single men’s unit, which consists of containers with poor sanitation facilities, need to be further improved.”

He noted that a number of refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection who would prefer to live in the community had no access to private housing, in spite of the fact that many of them worked, because of very high rents.

“There is a severe problem of access to housing, not only for migrants but also for low-income Maltese households, which needs to be urgently addressed by the government” he said.

As regards asylum procedures, Mr Muižnieks noted the high refugee status recognition rate but expressed concern about the frequent lack of legal motivation and consistency of the Refugee Appeal Boards’ decisions.

He said that most successful asylum seekers were granted subsidiary protection rather than refugee status. “This is particularly worrying because beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are not entitled to family reunification under Maltese law. Family reunification being an essential factor of integration, I urge the Maltese authorities to put an end to this form of unfair distinction.”

Welcoming the adoption of the first migrant integration strategy, the Commissioner invited the government to systematise its implementation. “Integration should not be optional; every migrant should have the possibility to benefit from this strategy,” said the Commissioner. In this context, he also encouraged the authorities to facilitate access to citizenship to long-term residents.

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