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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

6 May 2009 (afternoon)

For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Malta this afternoon, during which 31 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Monaco, following the review of the country on Monday, 4 May.

· Presenting the national report of Malta was PETER GRECH, Deputy Attorney General of Malta, who said in Malta the commitment to human rights was embedded in the fundamental values of Maltese society. The articulation of specific rights, together with protective provisions guaranteeing their enjoyment, has been progressively incorporated in Malta's constitutional development starting with the formulation of a first bill of rights as far back as 1802. The Independence Constitution of Malta of 1964 established Malta as a liberal parliamentary democracy. Malta has been a member of the Council of Europe since the 29th April 1965 and the enforcement of fundamental human rights in Malta has since been subject to the scrutiny and valuable guidance of the organs of that institution. Upon accession to the European Union in 2004 human rights protection in Malta was further strengthened by the acceptance of the jurisdiction of institutions of the European Union including the European Court of Justice. Over the last years a number of sector specific human rights institutions have been established in Malta aimed at safeguarding, inter alia, gender equality, and equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities and the rights of children. The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality was appointed in January 2004, in accordance with the "Equality for Men and Women Act". Malta had one of the lowest gender pay gaps worldwide. Moreover, the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities was initially set up as an administrative measure in 1987 and the Commission was given independent legal status in 2000 when the Maltese Parliament unanimously approved the "Equal Opportunities Act".

With respect to the protection of children, the Commissioner for Children was appointed by virtue of the Commissioner for Children Act enacted in December 2003, the head of delegation noted. Other Human Rights Institutions in Malta included the Employment Commission established by the Constitution to prevent political discrimination in matters of employment, the "National Employment Authority" established by the Employment and Training Services Act, which aimed at monitoring employment, investigating complaints and hearing appeals in matters relating to access to employment in general. Freedom of Expression in Malta was guaranteed by the Press Act and the Broadcasting Act which guaranteed a free press and free broadcasting media. Freedom of religion and of assembly and association was guaranteed by the Constitution, by the European Convention Act, by the Employment and Industrial Relations Act and by the Voluntary Organizations Act of 2007. Malta was party to a number of treaties concerned with human rights issues such as – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its Optional Protocols aimed at the abolition of the death penalty. It was recalled that the Maltese Parliament abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes in October 4, 1971 however capital punishment remained in force for certain crimes committed by member of the Armed Forces and in times of war.

The Maltese Government has, over the years, taken various legislative initiatives aimed at further safeguarding the implementation of particular human rights, Mr. Grech stated. Two important aspects of the Human Rights Structure in Malta were the fundamental Constitutional principle of the "Independence of the Judiciary" and the now Constitutionalised "Office of the Ombudsman". Adequate, sustainable and equitable social security provisions effectively contributed towards the social protection and inclusion of persons at risk of poverty and social exclusion. The vision for the future was to encourage and facilitate social inclusion and to continue to improve the quality of life for the people through better social welfare services and social care. Maltese Society has recognized the fact that inclusion is of benefit to all.

Without doubt, the major challenge faced by the Maltese islands was the endless influx of irregular immigrants arriving on its shores. The number of irregular immigrants arriving by boat in Malta between 1998 and 2008 tallied to over 12,000. Between January and mid-April 2009, 758 irregular immigrants have already landed in Malta. The endless flow of irregular immigrants arriving in Malta has stretched the financial and human resources of the island to its maximum capacity and it was obvious that a small country like Malta cannot continue to shoulder the situation which has now become untenable. The immigration centres available to host those arriving in Malta irregularly were now at full capacity and it has become extremely difficult to host further irregular immigrants. Malta received more asylum applications than any other State per capita, with over 6 per 1,000 inhabitants. Malta strongly felt that the international community should do more to assist countries of destination, in particular small island States like Malta, to alleviate the burden of irregular migration.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included efforts to respect and promote gender quality; the establishment of a National Commission for the Promotion of Equality; efforts to eliminate wage differences between men and women; the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Children; educational sessions on human rights for administrators and teachers; the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act; measures being taken to combat discrimination against migrants, including providing free medical care to them; general efforts to upgrade the State’s capacity to handle the growing influx of migrants and asylum seekers; and the broad consultations held with civil society in preparation of the national report for the UPR.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, how considerations of national security were applied so as not to override the right to non-refoulement; steps to ensure proper treatment of detained irregular migrants in full accordance with international obligations and respect for these individuals human rights; the multilateral and bilateral cooperation to address problems on irregular migration; resources granted to the two National Preventive Mechanisms under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, namely the Board of Visitors for Detained Persons and the Board of Visitors for the Prisons; and steps being considered to address concerns regarding legal provision against racist expression, racially-motivated offences and racial discrimination.

Other issues and questions pertained to the present situation with creating a national sexual education policy; plans to strengthen legal arrangement to combat any discrimination based on sexual identity; steps taken to further implement the recommendations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) that related to the rights of women and girls in the field of reproductive health; to continue its policy in defense of the right to life and in defense of the family; measures taken to combat human trafficking; the intentions of the State to review and withdraw reservations to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; whether Malta was considering to review legislation to prohibit abortions; information on meeting the special needs of disabled children; measures taken to align Malta’s legislation to prohibit corporal punishment; and steps taken regarding the training programmes on the protocol for armed forces staff and all relevant groups working with children, related to the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To explore alternative policies concerning asylum seekers and consider working with UNHCR for training its professionals that worked with asylum seekers; to consider updating domestic law in order to suppress the term "prohibit immigrants" and avoid legal consequences, particularly administrative detention, to all undocumented asylum seekers; to strengthen efforts to make the Maltese legal system for asylum seekers effectively accessible, prevent delays and administrative obstacles, and to guarantee to asylum seekers the necessary procedural safeguards in detention according to international standards; to continue efforts to ensure that those subject to administrative detention were provided free legal assistance; to improve detention conditions for irregular migrants by reducing overcrowding, separating men and women, and ensuring access to legal counsel; to consider alternatives to detention in the case of asylum seekers; to broaden the scope and application of legal and institutional reforms to address all forms of discriminatory treatment against irregular migrants and asylum seekers, with special focus on protecting the rights of vulnerable groups among them; and to accede to the Convention of the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families.

Additional recommendations included: To ensure that the National Preventive Mechanism was granted with the necessary resources to able to carry out its functions; to improve training programmes on human rights for the judiciary, law enforcement personnel and lawyers; to ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to strengthen efforts with regard to timely reporting to United Nations human rights treaty bodies; to continue the process of consultation with civil society in the follow-up to the UPR; to adopt all measures to ensure legislation were in accordance with its international obligations in the field of human rights; and to establish an independent and effective national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.

The Working Group recommended that Malta formulate a national policy on sexual education; take further measures to advance equality on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity; strengthen the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality; continue to run campaigns to underline the importance of women’s participation in political life; continue to work towards ensuring greater representation of women in high-level policy and decision-making institutions, especially in the national legislature and local government bodies; carefully consider the implementation of the CESCR recommendations on women’s reproductive health rights; take increased steps to prosecute traffickers and identify, assist and protect victims of trafficking; continue to strengthen the ongoing efforts to combat all sorts of violence against women; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and withdraw reservations to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Another set of recommendations included for Malta to consider raising the legal age of criminal responsibility; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; to prohibit any kind of corporal punishment of children; to strengthen measures in order to prevent and combat child abuse and ill-treatment; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; to strengthen the legal and institutional framework to combat racism and racial discrimination to ensure all legal provisions were fully applied and to ensure active monitoring of racism and racial discrimination; to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and to ensure effective access to health services, especially regarding reproductive and maternal health.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Brazil, France, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, India, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Egypt, Argentina, Burkina Faso, China, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Canada, Nicaragua and Bangladesh.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Finland, Algeria, Morocco, the United States, Turkey, the Holy See, Sweden, Palestine, Jordan, Maldives, the Czech Republic, Spain and Belgium.

· The 11-person delegation of Malta consisted of representatives of the Office of the Attorney General and the Permanent Mission of Malta to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Malta are Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Egypt.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Malta can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Monaco: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Monaco are Switzerland, China and Uruguay. Introducing the report DANTE MARTINELLI (Switzerland) said the members of the troika benefited from excellent cooperation with the State under review. It was noted that Monaco chose to accept a number of recommendations, and reject others, while others would be considered further and views thereon would be included in the report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 12th session. Representing the State under review, ROBERT FILLON, Permanent Representative of Monaco to the UN Office at Geneva, said his government welcomed the quality of the dialogue and ensured all States that their comments had been taken note of. Despite the crisis Monaco had been unswerving in its commitment to reaching the 0.7% ODA goal, it was noted. The debate which took place made it possible for people to understand the reality of Monaco. The specific achievements of Monaco in the area of human rights were decisive and significant. Among the recommendations reflected in the report, 17 were accepted by Monaco, three were not accepted and seven would require further study before Monaco took a decision on them.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Malta on Friday, 8 May.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by New Zealand  after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Belize. 

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