Malta’s human rights commitments to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

Last November Malta’s human rights profile came under the spotlight after the United Nation’s Human Rights Council submitted its review on the country as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Council’s Working Group formulated a number of recommendations for Malta to observe in order to improve the implementation and enjoyment of human rights for all.

A number of Maltese NGOs including the Platform of Human Rights NGOs in Malta (PHROM), aditus foundation and the National Youth Council were also given the stage during the UPR’s pre-session to contribute a list of recommendations they deemed necessary for the country to implement. More about the session can be found here. The pre-session was organised by the NGO UPR-Info.

Malta has already supported a number of recommendations, summarised below.  Other recommendations have yet to receive support and Malta has until March 2019 to provide its final response to the recommendations.

So what measures has Malta already agreed to support?

Firstly, and most importantly, Malta has agreed to the creation of a National Human Rights Institution in conformity with the Paris Principles. This recommendation coincides with what we had suggested upon submission to the UPR during the pre-session. A National Human Rights Institution would function as an independent national body whose role consists of monitoring, promoting and protecting human rights.

The Paris Principles would mandate Malta ensures the newly created Institution is provided with adequate resources, powers of investigation and a broad mandate based upon universal human rights. This is a key and very much welcomed initiative as an official independent actor purporting to protect and promote human rights will play a significant role in Malta’s overall human rights arena.

Another recommendation Malta agrees to support regards the implementation of measures combatting racism and xenophobia. This includes specific measures in combatting racial discrimination in access to employment, housing and services; promoting a culture of respect and tolerance to migrants; adopting a comprehensive policy aimed at dismantling stereotypes; and implementing legal instruments against racially motivated hate crimes, including support for victims and punishment for those responsible.

Another recommendation Malta agrees to support regards the implementation of measures combatting racism and xenophobia. This includes specific measures in combatting racial discrimination in access to employment, housing and services; promoting a culture of respect and tolerance to migrants; adopting a comprehensive policy aimed at dismantling stereotypes; and implementing legal instruments against racially motivated hate crimes, including support for victims and punishment for those responsible.

These largely overlap with our own recommendations put forward, namely to increase the resources of the Malta Police Force to enable it to effectively deal with hate crimes and hate speech, and to organise national campaigns that condemn racism in all its forms – particularly institutionalised racism. These measures are pivotal in ensuring the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination are respected, particularly for minority groups most negatively affected.

Malta has also agreed to ramp up its efforts against money laundering and corruption.  This includes a commitment to fully comply with the European Union’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Finance Directive as well as strengthen its anti-corruption intuitions and fight against impunity.

We also put forward a recommendation upon this matter – advocating for a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, kick-backs, favouritism and nepotism. Given Malta’s consistent failures to appropriately supervise its financial institutions in accordance with the European Commission’s requests – such commitments are long overdue.

In this light, the freedom of expression, freedom of press and protection of journalists – particularly those working to uncover corruption and other matters of high public interest – also rank high in the UPR’s recommendations for Malta. Accordingly, Malta has agreed to support recommendations calling for the elimination of Title IV of the Criminal Code with a view of removing the media and defamation laws, whilst fully guaranteeing the freedom of expression.

Malta also agrees to protect and ensure the physical and legal protection of journalists and human rights defenders, especially those which concern the accountability of public officials and institutions.

Concurringly, the UPR working group have recommended a full comprehensive investigation into the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Recommendations concerning Malta’s judicial process were also made. The government have agreed to support recommendations to implement a targeted strategy in accelerating the judicial process and ensuring decisions are reached within a reasonable time-frame. They also support recommendations to amend provisions of the Criminal Code to ensure all persons detained by the police can effectively benefit from access to a lawyer throughout their police custody, including during any police questioning.

With regards to gender-based discrimination, Malta has accepted recommendations to promote gender equality in employment and provide concrete initiatives to ensure women’s full and equal participation in political and public life including participation in elected and appointed bodies.

In this light, Malta has also agreed to intensify efforts to combat violence against women, as well as improve the availability of sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning.

aditus Director, Neil Falzon, at the UPR Pre-Session organised by the NGO UPR-Info. Neil also represented the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta.

However, the UPR’s report indicates Malta will not be willing to accept the numerous recommendations put forward to decriminalize abortion – leaving itself as the only remaining EU Member State to have such a full ban in place. Moreover Malta has not yet indicated whether they will pursue the recommendations calling for the ratification of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The protection of migrants is another key issue which brought about many recommendations by the UPR Working Group and human rights NGO’s. These include strengthening its mechanisms to protect and promote the human rights of migrants and refugees in the country, inter alia ensuring respect for the rights of migrants in irregular situations in detention camps.

The recommendations we put forward call for an improvement in living conditions within both open centers and detention centers, in addition to making improvements to the detention’s decision-making procedures, with particular emphasis on ensuring information is provided in a language understood by the migrant.

However many of the recommendations put forward regarding refugees have not yet been accepted by Malta. It is hoped that in due course, such recommendations will be adopted – including assurances all cases of detention are subject to non-discriminatory judicial review and that refugees rescued at sea are promptly disembarked and given a genuine opportunity to seek asylum.

Notably, during the UPR pre-sessions a coalition of NGO’s in Malta including aditus submitted a review regarding statelessness matters specifically. This brought to light a number of shortfalls in Malta’s protection, prevention and reduction of statelessness.  Therefore a key recommendation presented includes accession and full implementation of the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions.  These recommendations were also iterated by the UPR working group, in addition to a recommendation to establish a national mechanism for identifying stateless persons, which Malta currently lacks.

Unfortunately, the ratification of the Statelessness Conventions has yet to be accepted by Malta.

The latest Universal Periodic Review of Malta has therefore highlighted many areas for improvement. Malta has agreed to support a great number of recommendations, and has until March 2019 to decide on many more.  

We sincerely hope Malta will take the necessary steps to realise these recommendations and hope to see a genuine commitment by the Government to uphold fundamental human rights.


This blogpost was written by Legal Intern Elysia Rezki, as part of a series of posts on Malta’s UPR process.

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