A local NGO platform has slammed the government over its lack of transparency and accountability, describing it a threat to human rights.
Instances that reveal the lack of integrity of some government representatives and the widespread abuses of political and administrative powers have raised deep worries among the NGOs in the group.
In its third annual report, the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (Phrom) flagged issues of bad governance, lack of transparency and accountability as the most serious concern for the general state of human rights in Malta.
The perception in the network of NGOs is that the weakening of democratic institutions, resulting from bad governance, will expose all Maltese people, and especially the most vulnerable groups, to greater insecurity when it comes to protecting their rights.
The annual report, launched today (see it in full by clicking the pdf below), groups the views of some 30 NGOs on the human rights developments and shortcomings in Malta in 2016.
This year’s edition, called Protecting Human Rights, Curbing the Rule of Power, shines a light on Panamagate, and related governance issues, as 2016’s most significant human rights development.
The information leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed an intricate web of offshore companies, fund transfers and other dealings involving Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, the report notes.
Phrom’s member organisations were “extremely critical of the involvement of these two public figures in such dealings but – more importantly – expressed very serious concerns at the manner in which the entire issue was dealt with by the competent authorities”.
Hot on the heels of Panamagate, however, came a positive step towards the strengthening of women’s rights.
Following a drawn-out advocacy campaign, largely led by the Women’s Rights Foundation, the morning-after pill became available in local pharmacies.
“We’re extremely happy to see the rights of women take centre stage, in a context where religious and sociocultural traditions tend to stifle discussion over this group of rights and prevent their fruition,” the authors said.
They added that the nature of the advocacy campaign was noteworthy, as it was entirely NGO-led and because it involved the strategic use of mixed tools, including media presence, a thematic march and court intervention.
Migration-related themes maintained their visibility, with “dramatic” events unfolding towards the end of 2016, when the Home Affairs Ministry abruptly announced the termination of the Temporary Humanitarian Protection N (THPN) immigration status.
As a consequence of this, over 1,000 migrants would have reverted to an undocumented status and the rights they enjoyed as THPN beneficiaries would have been lessened, the report says.
At the same time, a group of undocumented Malians were arrested and detained with a view to being deported.
In reaction to these decisions, a large and active advocacy coalition was formed demanding a revision of the THPN revocation decision and the release of the detained men.
We’re extremely happy to see women’s rights take centre stage
As with the morning-after pill campaign, the THPN campaign’s relative success was largely due to the combination of several advocacy elements that managed to exert considerable pressure on the ministry, leading it to release all the detainees and revise the THPN revocation decision, according to the report.
The report also highlights that inadequate policies or a lack thereof and a strong legal framework for issues that are considered top priorities represent the main pressing challenge for the Phrom member organisations.
Integration, homelessness, child protection, the environment and reproductive health are among the primary themes which require urgent attention from the government.
According to the NGOs, a lack of political will and determination is what is halting the progress of human-rights-oriented policies, especially within the area of migration and integration.
Phrom also looked into the extent and nature of dialogue and engagement with the government.
When compared to 2015 data, the replies given by Phrom’s members betray a general deterioration of their relationship with the government.
Overall, the surveyed NGOs felt they were generally less consulted and involved in the discussions of policies related to their areas of expertise, while their work was slightly less respected.
“For most civil society groups – especially those more active on migration-related issues – the relationship with the Home Affairs Ministry has been particularly difficult, if not hostile.
“[In addition to] being seen as a symptom of an unhealthy democratic system, the exclusion of the organisations from consultation processes risks under-mining the capacity of the government to develop and implement policies that take into account the fundamental expertise of NGOs and all interested stakeholders.”
Compared to the previous year’s responses, the NGOs reported an increase in expressions of hatred towards their activities, staff and volunteers, and an even higher increase was noted towards their beneficiaries.
Hate speech and hate crimes continue to be concerning priorities that need to be addressed adequately on both a legal and a cultural level, the report says.
Although no incidents of physical attacks have been reported, verbal violence and racial abuse by groups and individuals seem to be spreading worryingly on social media, particularly on Facebook, the report adds.
Top 8 human rights developments in 2016
▪ Panama Papers and governance issues
▪ Morning-after pill and women’s rights
▪ Revocation of Temporary Humanitarian Protection N (THPN) status
▪ Challenges faced by Muslims to find a place of worship
▪ Banning of conversion therapies
▪ Activists breaking into Manoel Island, environmental rights
▪ Two Facebook users found guilty of hate speech
Top 4 challenges
▪ Weak human rights legal or policy frameworks (30 per cent of members)
▪ Engaging stakeholders in human rights issues (26 per cent)
▪ Dialogue with government (19 per cent)
▪ Securing stable and regular funding (19 per cent)
World economic forum gender gap report
As of 2016, Malta was ranked 108 out of 144 countries when it came to the gender gap - a significant decrease since the county’s 2006 ranking of 71. Of particular interest is Malta’s rankings on political empowerment, with the ratio of women to men in Parliament being 13 to 87, while the ratio in ministerial positions stands at 7 to 93, placing the country at a ranking of 82 out of 144 countries.
What will Malta’s main human rights challenges be in 2017?
▪ Governance (18 per cent)
▪ Migration (15 per cent)
▪ Access to essential services, including sign language interpreters and the MAP (15 per cent)
First convictions for online hate speech
In November, two youths were fined €3,000 each for hate speech comments made on a Facebook post in March 2015. The post depicted a black man recovering in a Mater Dei hospital bed and the comments talked about burning the man or replacing the saline in his intravenous drip with hydrochloric acid.
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