Amnesty International Report 2006 - Malta
|Publication Date||23 May 2006|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2006 - Malta, 23 May 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/447ff7b1b.html [accessed 29 November 2015]|
Asylum-seekers continued to be detained in contravention of international law and subjected to procedures which fell short of international standards. Harsh conditions, ill-treatment and brutality by law enforcement officials were reported from detention centres holding asylum-seekers.
Asylum and immigration
The policy of mandatory detention for up to 18 months of irregular migrants continued throughout 2005. Although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated that no country should justify using detention as a form of deterrence against irregular migration, the Maltese government confirmed its commitment to continue this practice in a policy paper issued in January.
The government explored options for returning irregular migrants to Libya; the Libyan authorities claimed to have stopped 40,000 people migrating from their territory in 2005. During the year several dozen people drowned while trying to reach Malta by sea; untold numbers more were feared to have also been lost at sea.
On 13 January, individuals housed in the Hal-Safi Detention Centre held a demonstration to protest at the conditions at the centre, the length of their detention and the lack of information about the progress of their applications for refugee status and humanitarian protection. Eyewitnesses reported that soldiers attacked the peaceful protesters in a violent assault. Twenty-six people were taken to hospital, several with serious injuries. On 12 December, the Maltese Board of Inquiry published the results of its investigation into the events at the Hal-Safi Detention Centre. The inquiry found that members of the armed forces applied excessive force – "exaggerated and out of proportion in the circumstances" – in their attempts to force the protesters back into the detention centre. There were reports that members of the armed forces beat migrants after they had been subdued and were lying on the ground.
In November, the government enacted an amendment to Article 10 of the Refugees Act which would allow Malta to deport asylum-seekers while their appeal against the rejection of their application for asylum was still pending.
Prohibition on torture
On 25 August, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on Malta following a visit to the country in January 2004. The delegation was particularly concerned about certain physical conditions in detention facilities, such as a lack of appropriate heating and clothing for people detained at the centres. The temperature in the Hal-Safi Detention Centre was reported to drop as low as 6°C during winter nights.
The CPT delegation reported allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment of foreign nationals, including kicks, punches and blows with batons. The report noted that cases of self-mutilation, suicide attempts, hunger strikes, vandalism and violence were relatively common and that none of the detention facilities visited had its own health care staff. Medical members of the CPT's delegation observed that the situation had a detrimental impact on the physical and psychological state of health of the detainees.
In late 2005, the government passed the Domestic Violence Act (2005), which defines domestic violence as "any act of violence, even if only verbal, perpetrated by a household member upon another household member". The act contains some important protective measures, such as the inclusion of harassment, both physical and verbal, as a crime and terms providing for restraining orders physically restricting the perpetrator from the areas where the victim lives and works. However the bill excludes stalking as a crime. Under the provisions of the new bill, charges may be filed by anyone – not just the victim – but the victim may ask the court to dismiss the proceedings, leaving the door open for the abuser to put pressure on the victim to drop the charges.
The act contains provisions for a court to issue Treatment Orders requiring perpetrators of violence to undergo treatment for their behaviour. Prior to this, it was estimated that on average, less than 5 per cent of men responsible for abuse sought help voluntarily to correct their behaviour. The act also calls for the establishment of a Commission on Domestic Violence to give expert advice to the government about domestic violence issues.