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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Malta

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Malta, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Malta is a constitutional republic and parliamentary democracy. The Head of State (President) appoints as Head of Government (Prime Minister) the leader of the party that gains a plurality of seats in the quinquennial elections for the unicameral legislature.

The police are commanded by a civilian commissioner under the effective supervision of the Government.

The economy is a mixture of state-owned and private industry, with tourism and light manufacturing as the largest sectors.

The Government is strongly committed to human rights. An independent judiciary upholds the Constitution's protections for individual rights and freedoms. However, societal discrimination against women remains widespread.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killing.

b. Disappearance

There were no known instances of political disappearance.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. There were no reports of violations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. There were no reports of violations. The police may arrest a person for questioning, on the basis of reasonable suspicion, but within 48 hours must either release the suspect or lodge charges. Arrested persons have no right to legal counsel during this 48-hour period. Persons incarcerated pending trial are granted access to counsel. Bail is normally granted.

The law prohibits political exile. No cases were reported.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent of the other branches.

The Constitution requires a fair public trial before an impartial court. Defendants have the right to counsel of their choice or (if they cannot pay the cost) to court-appointed counsel at public expense. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They may confront witnesses, and present evidence. They also have the right of appeal. There are no political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution protects privacy of the home and prohibits electronic surveillance. The Government respects these provisions. Search warrants are issued by police officers of the rank of inspector or above based on perceived reasonable grounds for suspicion of wrongdoing.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution protects freedom of speech and press, and the Government respects this. However, the 1987 Foreign Interference Act bans foreign participation in local politics, including speechmaking, during a period leading up to elections. Three daily, seven weekly, and one biweekly newspaper freely express diverse views.

Academic freedom is generally respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly. Police permits are routinely issued for political meetings and other public activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution protects freedom of religion, and the Government fully respects this. The state-supported religion is Roman Catholicism. The Government grants subsidies only to Roman Catholic schools. Students in government schools have the option to decline instruction in Roman Catholicism.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not arbitrarily restrict movement within the country, foreign travel, or emigration. A court order may prohibit the departure from the country of anyone who is the subject of a formal complaint alleging nonfulfillment of an obligation, such as nonpayment of a debt or nonsupport of an estranged spouse.

Since 1992 the Government has granted temporary refugee status to over 900 persons, pending their relocation abroad, and has provided assistance and counseling in cooperation with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Government expels or repatriates persons it deems to be economic refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercise this right in multiparty, secret-ballot elections held every 5 years on the basis of universal suffrage for those 18 years of age or over. In the 1992 election, 96 percent of the electorate voted.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Various human rights organizations and persons interested in promoting and protecting human rights operate freely. The Government also places no restrictions on investigations by international human rights groups.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on gender; they do not address other discriminatory factors.


The Constitution provides that all citizens have access, on a nondiscriminatory basis, to housing, employment, and education. However, the society traditionally does not treat women's rights as matters of human rights; reflecting this, the Government has been passive regarding women's rights.

Women constitute a growing portion of the work force, but most either remain in traditional "women's jobs" (such as sales clerk, secretary, bank teller, teacher, or nurse) or move into more rewarding jobs only in family-owned businesses or in a certain few professions (e.g., medicine). Women generally earn less than their male counterparts.

There is no widespread pattern of family violence against women, but a continuing increase in reports of such incidents has made plain that the problem is not negligible. A special police unit and several voluntary organizations provide assistance to victims of domestic violence. For women who are threatened or physically abused, the Government also maintains an emergency fund, and subsidizes a shelter,Available data show prosecutions of six rape cases in 1994. Rape carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The law treats spousal rape the same as other rape. Divorce and abortion are not legal in Malta.


The Government views the rights of children within the context of general family law. Specific legislation to protect children's rights has languished in the Parliament for the past 2 years. Meanwhile, the number of reported cases of child abuse has grown as public awareness has increased, but it is not clear whether the actual number of incidents has increased. Persons with DisabilitiesThe law protects the rights of the disabled. The 1969 Employment of Disabled Persons Act led to greater employment of disabled persons in government agencies. The 1992 Structures Act requires accessibility to public buildings for people with physical disabilities, but implementation has been slow.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike, and the Government respects this. Only noncivilian personnel of the armed forces and police are prohibited from striking. There are 24 registered trade unions, representing about 50 percent of the work force.

Although all unions are independent of political parties, the largest, the General Workers' Union, is generally regarded as having close informal ties with one party. There is no prohibition on unions affiliating internationally.

Under the Industrial Relations Act of 1976, the responsible minister may refer labor disputes either to the Industrial Tribunal (a government-appointed body consisting of representatives of government, employers, and employee groups) or to binding arbitration. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts objects to a provision of the Act that permits compulsory arbitration to be held at the request of only one of the parties, but neither unions nor employers appear to object to this provision. In practice, a striking union can ignore an unfavorable decision of the Tribunal by continuing the strike on other grounds. No disputes were referred to the Tribunal in 1994.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are free, in law and practice, to organize and bargain collectively. Unions and employers meet annually with government representatives to work out a comprehensive agreement regulating industrial relations and income policy.

Under the Industrial Relations Act, an employer may not take action against any employee for participation or membership in a trade union. Complaints may be pursued through a court of law, through a tripartite (union-employers-government) tribunal, or through the Commission Against Injustices (a government-appointed body composed of representatives of the Government and the opposition); but most disputes are resolved directly between the parties. Workers fired solely for union activities must be reinstated.

Malta has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution bans forced labor, and it does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 16. This is generally respected, but there is some employment of underage children during summer months, especially as domestics, restaurant kitchen help, or vendors. The Department of Labor enforces the law effectively, but is lenient in cases of summer employment of underage youth in businesses run by their families.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage, $103 (40.33 Malta liri) per week, affords a decent standard of living for a worker and family with the addition of government subsidies for housing, health care, and education. Wage Councils, composed of representatives of government, business and unions, regulate workhours; for most sectors the standard is 40 hours per week, but in some trades it is 43 or 45 hours per week.

Government regulations prescribe daily rest periods of 1 hour. The law mandates an annual paid vacation of 22 work days. The Department of Labor effectively enforces these requirements.

After several years of debate, and amid reports of an increasing number of industrial accidents, Parliament passed the Occupational Health and Safety (Promotion) Act in February 1994. The Act calls for the establishment of an agency to take over enforcement responsibility from the Department of Labor, which has been lax regarding these matters. A date for implementation has yet to be set.

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