Malta must step up its fight against corruption and impunity, also bolstering human rights bodies, according to United Nations members states.

In a report published during a Human Rights Council session, delegations from UN members repeatedly called on the government to “strengthen its anti-corruption institutions, including the enforcement of anti-money laundering regulations”.

Freedom of speech too had to be strengthened, they argued, urging the government to “enhance the safeguards”.

The independence of the media was also flagged as an area the government had to work on to improve. The government was encouraged to “investigate fully” all cases of threats, harassment and violence against journalists and bring to justice direct perpetrators of such crimes and those inciting them.

A number of the delegations called on Malta to intensify efforts to set up a national human rights institution.

Read: Do more to protect journalists, Malta told

According to the report, some of the conclusions reached and recommendations made “enjoy the support of Malta” but though several other proposals were “examined” by the government, a response had yet to be provided to the UN council. The government has until March 22 to respond on such matters.

These included calls for Malta to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions in cases of corruption and financial crimes and recommendations to revise public service media laws.

The government had also still to reply to calls to adopt “effective measures” to guarantee the safety of journalists and the exercise of freedom of expressions.

The council was likewise awaiting a reply on calls for Malta to improve conditions in detention centres and on a recommendation that teenagers between 16 and 18 are tried by special juvenile courts.

There was also a call for an “independent and effective public inquiry” into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, on which the government had yet to respond. The Maltese government had examined other recommendations too but it did not support them. 

This included calls for the reform of laws on abortion with the aim of legalising it.

The government delegation, headed by Equality Minister Helena Dalli, had said it was “determined to accept as many recommendations as it was in a position to do in order to improve further the living standards and quality of life of its citizens”.

The UN reviews all member states by analysing what they did to fulfil their human rights obligations within the framework of the Human Rights Council’s work to address violations. 

Malta was last subject to such a review in 2013.

Press freedom organisations react 

In a reaction on Friday following the adoption of Malta’s review, a group of press freedom organisations noted that it was “deeply worrying” that the government “explicitly not accepted” the recommendations to guarantee an independent inquiry into the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia.

“The UPR process has done nothing to allay these concerns. If anything, it has exacerbated them,” the organisations said in a statement, adding that they welcomed statements by many UN member states raising “major concerns about the deterioration of freedom of expression in Malta”.

The four organisations - Article 19, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – also pointed out that “prominent subjects” of Ms Caruana Galizia’s reporting have not been placed under formal investigation or questioned.

“The lack of progress in the investigation into Ms Caruana Galizia’s murder is a truly disturbing indicator of impunity,” they went on.

The recommendations related to freedom of expression and information, association and assembly, which the government has now accepted, can only be seen as paying lip service to its obligations under international human rights law, the groups insisted.

“These recommendations can only be fully implemented if the government establishes without delay a public inquiry into whether Ms Caruana Galizia’s life could have been saved, a recommendation it has explicitly refused to accept. Without its immediate effect these promises will continue to ring hollow.”

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