One of the main reasons why I had joined the Labour Party back in my University days was that I strongly believed, as I do now more than ever, that all people have the right to realise their individual potential independently of what their social background is, who they love, how they look, what gender they have or whom they worship.
Since 2013 we have achieved strong economic progress and created wealth, jobs and careers in numbers and amounts which have been unparalleled in our history. Despite the tremendous successes, that is only one part of the job. A successful country should not only be strong in terms of economic prosperity but also one which puts equality as a top priority.
And that is what we did. We have identified contexts where inequality prevails and provided legal and other protections. Our successes in the LGBTIQ field and in female participation in employment are just the most well-known examples but there are others.
More, however, remains to be done as we all know. The moment we stop working will be the moment when inequalities will start creeping back in. More importantly than that, there are realities in our country that need to be tackled head-on. Racism is, undoubtedly, one of them.
That is why, some days ago, we launched Malta’s first Anti-Racism Strategy. I was pleased and honoured to have with me for the event my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Clayton Bartolo, the European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and special guests from Manchester United because sport is a grassroot human activity where diversity can flourish.
The event was held just a few days after the nation was shocked to hear that an injured migrant worker was dumped in the street instead of being taken for the medical care he needed. This made it a day to stand with victims everywhere. In a way, the strategy is a way of stating: enough.
The strategy is a good piece of work. In April 2020, a team of experts hailing from the Human Rights Directorate within my ministry as well as from civil society was set up and tasked with organising a public consultation process to identify the most urgent needs and the proposed solutions. Around this time a year ago, the public was consulted, meetings with stakeholders were held and the team received many interesting submissions.
Hate speech needs to be stamped out- Owen Bonnici
In the subsequent months, the strategy started to take shape. Measures were designed with the stakeholders identified for the purpose and local and foreign experts continued to be consulted and heard.
A point was made clear from the start. Democratic debate and even disagreement about topics like illegal immigration does not make one a racist. What is unacceptable, in this context, is hate speech.
Hate speech actually adds nothing to an argument but emotion, anger and, potentially, incitement to violence. And that is exactly why it needs to be stamped out. As we know from incidents here and everywhere, all it takes is for one person to act out the violent words in his or her head and you have a hate crime.
I want to strongly underline that hate speech and hate crimes do not just emerge from nowhere. On the contrary, they are born of a gradual indifference to tolerance, to unsupported rumours and innuendo, racial stereotypes and prejudices, leading down the slippery slope to the dehumanisation of the ‘other’.
This is why it is so critical to push back against even the slightest hint of racism and xenophobia. This is why zero tolerance to stereotyping and prejudices is essential. This is why, from infancy, an appreciation of the intercultural and diverse society we have become must be stressed in families and schools.
This strategy is now at the stage of implementation. I am satisfied that we have started addressing yet another challenge in our endeavours for full equality and that this will lead to us becoming a better society.