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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Malta

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Malta, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
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. Executive power is vested in a President who appoints as Prime Minister the leader of the party that gains a plurality of seats in the quinquennial elections for the unicameral legislature. The two major political parties reflect widely divergent political views. The Nationalist Party, which was brought back to power in 1987 after 16 years of Labor Party rule, won reelection in 1992 with a three seat majority in Parliament.

Law enforcement and internal security are the responsibility of the Malta police under the command of a civilian commissioner. The Minister of Home Affairs and Social Development has jurisdiction over the police. Specially trained riot police form part of the regular police force. There were no allegations of human rights abuses by the police force during the year.

The Maltese economy is a mixture of state-owned and privately owned industry. Tourism and light manufacturing industry are the largest contributors to the economy. Foreign investment is actively promoted. The Government is attempting to develop Malta as a container transshipment point, as a center for offshore business and ship registration, and as a regional air transport center.

The Maltese Government is strongly committed to human rights. Constitutional protection for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual is upheld by an independent judiciary.


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 instances of political disappearance.

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

The Constitution prohibits inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. These prohibitions are generally respected in practice. Several prison disturbances in 1993 resulted in a formal government inquiry into prison conditions. The inquiry report noted deteriorated conditions and proposed future remedial action. In response, the Government acknowledged the need for prison improvement and program reform and launched a facilities rehabilitation project and introduced educational programs. Although these initial efforts were largely superficial, attempts at more meaningful change are under consideration. While prisons are old and lack other than essential facilities, prison conditions are not such as would inordinately threaten life or health.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention is provided for in the Constitution and generally respected in practice. The police may, on the basis of reasonable suspicion, arrest a person for questioning. Within 48 hours, persons so arrested must be brought before the court and charged or released. They have no right to legal counsel during this 48-hour period. Persons incarcerated pending trial are granted access to counsel, and periodic hearings are mandatory. Provision for bail exists.

Political exile is prohibited by law. No cases of exile were reported.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution requires a fair public trial before an impartial court. Defendants have the right to counsel of their choice, including court-appointed counsel at public expense, if necessary. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, may confront witnesses and present evidence, and have a right of appeal. The courts' jurisdiction is limited in certain areas. Lay tribunals (e.g., the Industrial Tribunal and the Inheritance Partition Tribunal) have exclusive authority over certain judicial functions. Defendants before these tribunals may be represented by attorneys.

There are no political prisoners.

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

Privacy of the home is protected in the Constitution and generally respected in practice. Police officers of the rank of inspector and above may issue search warrants without a court order. Electronic surveillance is prohibited by law.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of expression in speech and press is protected by the Constitution and generally respected in practice. An exception is the 1987 constitutional amendment that bans foreign participation in local politics (e.g., guest foreign speakers sponsored by a political party) during the period prior to an election. Maltese libel law is largely modeled on British libel law. The dynamics of a small society result in some self-censorship, particularly on nonpolitical matters. Both major political parties either own or are affiliated with major daily newspapers and radio stations and openly criticize the other in the media and in public.

The 1991 Broadcast Law established pluralism in the broadcast media. Two government-owned stations, a Maltese/Libyan regional short-wave station, and eight private radio stations associated with political parties, the Roman Catholic Church and commercial interests, operated in 1993. In addition to the government-owned television broadcasting system, a commercial cable television company, which began operations in 1992, offers diverse broadcast options, including Italian, British, French, German, and American channels. In 1993 the Broadcasting Act was amended to allow holders of radio licenses to hold television licenses also. Some commercial interests, as well as one of the two major political parties, have since submitted applications for two available television licenses.

Eleven newspapers – three daily, seven weekly and one fortnightly – freely express diverse views. They are associated with political parties, labor unions, and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as with commercial interests.

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 of political parties or groups of citizens.

Membership and participation in political parties are voluntary. However, strong societal (e.g., family or employment) pressure exists for affiliation with particular parties. A worker may not be fired for refusal to join a particular political party or be refused a job if not a party member.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution protects the freedom to practice the religion of one's choice and this is respected. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism; small groups freely practice other religions. There are no laws prohibiting evangelizing or proselytizing. Government subsidies are granted only to Roman Catholic schools. Students enrolled in government schools have the option at any stage to decline instruction in the Roman Catholic faith.

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

Movement within the country, foreign travel, and emigration are generally not restricted, but civil rights groups, including the Association of Men's Rights, continue to criticize the "Impediments of Departure," a court action which may prohibit a person from departing the country for such offenses as nonpayment of debts or nonsupport of an estranged wife or children. Maltese emigrants who have acquired the citizenship of another country and have resided abroad for a minimum of 6 years may hold dual citizenship. Maltese born abroad must renounce their foreign citizenship by age 18 if they wish to retain Maltese citizenship.

Several hundred persons of various nationalities, many of them Iraqis, sought refuge in Malta in 1992, and the influx continued in 1993 to a level of approximately 700. Although foreign nationals seeking refugee status are not permitted to remain permanently in Malta, they often are granted employment permits (or undertake illegal employment) while awaiting resettlement in a third country. The Emigrants' Commission, which was established in 1987 as the local representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), provides assistance and counseling for refugees while awaiting UNHCR review of their cases.

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

Malta is a parliamentary democracy in which the incumbent Nationalist Party and the opposition Malta Labor Party are important forces in daily life. Elections in which all parties participate freely are held every 5 years, with universal suffrage for those 18 years of age or over. In the 1992 election, 96 percent of the electorate voted.

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

Several human rights organizations and persons interested in promoting and protecting human rights operate freely. The Government, strongly committed to human rights, places no restrictions on investigations by international human rights groups.

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


All Maltese citizens have a legal right of access to housing, employment, and education on a nondiscriminatory basis. However, tradition and local culture have often separated women's rights from the overall concern for human rights, and enforcement of equal rights laws has been passive. Due to economic necessity and changing social patterns, women constitute a growing portion of the work force. Most women remain in traditional "women's jobs" such as sales clerks, secretaries, bank tellers, teachers, or nurses, or achieve success in family-owned businesses or selected professions (i.e., medicine). Women generally earn less than their male counterparts. In August Parliament passed legislation granting women equality in matters of family law. Similarly, a 1991 constitutional amendment which became effective in July 1993, commits the Government to promote equal economic, social, cultural, civic, and political rights for all persons regardless of sex and to undertake appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination between the sexes. Remnants of discriminatory language within existing laws are undergoing revision.

Victims of sexual discrimination have redress before the criminal courts. However, as no sexual discrimination cases have been argued before the courts, the actual limits of police or court support for such cases has not been tested. A pending case raises the question of a daughter's right to assume her father's union shipyard job after his death, a privilege previously accorded the eldest son.

Recent changes in the law appear to have had little effect on day-to-day life as many cultural patterns that appear discriminatory remain in place by general consensus. Women's primary accepted roles remain those of wife and mother. Cultural pressure reinforces these roles. Women continue to be underrepresented in management, government, and politics. Family violence against women and children has received increased attention, which has led in turn to an increased number of reported cases. A special police unit and several voluntary organizations provide support in cases of domestic violence. A government emergency fund and subsidized shelter for battered women offers assistance for verbally and physically abused women.

Trafficking in prostitution is a serious offense under Maltese law; traffickers are subject to heavy penalties. Rape and violent indecent assault likewise carry heavy penalties under the law. The law does not distinguish between rape inside and outside marriage.

Divorce is not legal in Malta.


The rights of children and their role in society have generally been viewed within the larger context of family law. The Government has preferred to remain neutral in such matters. However, legislation aimed at guaranteeing and protecting children's rights is under consideration. As public awareness has increased, so has the number of reported cases of child abuse. However, there is no indication that the actual number of cases has increased, but rather the number reported.

People with Disabilities

Numerous pieces of legislation exist to protect the rights of the disabled, including the 1969 Employment of Disabled Persons Act which ensures employment opportunities for the disabled. The 1992 Structure Plan set forth policies requiring accessibility to buildings and public transport. Basic educational and training programs for persons with physical or mental disabilities are available.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Labor rights are traditionally well protected in Malta. Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike, a right respected in practice. Only uniformed personnel of the armed forces and police are prohibited from striking. In 1993 there were 24 registered trade unions, representing about 50 percent of the work force. Although all unions are independent of political parties, the largest union, the General Workers' Union, is perceived as having a close association with the Malta Labor Party. During the year there were 10 strikes which resulted in the loss of 2,480 work days. The major strike was in public transport (bus service) with a loss of 1,300 workdays. Other strikes were centered on the banking, cargo handling (ports), and public works industries. Under the Industrial Relations Act of 1976, the responsible minister may refer disputes to the Industrial Tribunal for binding settlement. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts objected again in 1993 to the provision that permits compulsory arbitration at the request of only one of the parties, but local labor and employers appear to have no objection to it. No disputes were referred to the Industrial Tribunal in 1993. In practice, a striking union can ignore an unfavorable decision by continuing the strike on other grounds.

There is no prohibition on unions affiliating internationally.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are free, in law and practice, to organize and bargain collectively. While most wages are negotiated between unions and employers, the Government in 1990 mandated a substantial nationwide wage increase after reaching agreement with the unions and employers. In December 1990 the Government, trade unions, and employers signed a comprehensive agreement regulating industrial relations and income policy. Cost-of-living increases are now established in accordance with government statistics based on the retail price index as calculated by a tripartite independent committee. During the agreement's 3-year term, which was due to expire in December, the Malta Council for Economic Development informs the partners semiannually of the projected changes in the price index. The projections served as a basis for negotiating collective agreements. According to the Industrial Relations Act, an employer may not take action against any employee for participation or membership in a trade union. Complaints may be addressed through a court of law or an industrial tribunal composed of one representative each of the employer, union, and government. As most disputes are resolved directly between the parties involved, few are brought before the court or tribunal. However, for the few which have been, both methods of negotiation proved effective. Complaints of discrimination may also be lodged with the Commission Against Injustices. Workers fired solely for union activities must be reinstated. An October 1993 Employment Commission decision awarded two Malta drydocks workers substantial compensation for having been routinely denied overtime opportunities because of their political beliefs. All workers, both union and nonunion, are protected from discrimination, although it has not been necessary for the Government to enforce the matter actively.

Malta has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited by the Constitution and does not exist. Any claimed violations could be submitted for adjudication to the Constitutional Court.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children younger than 16 years may not legally be employed. The law is generally respected, although instances of employment of underage children as domestics, restaurant kitchen help, and vendors during summer months occur. The Department of Labor, which is responsible for enforcement of the law, does so effectively. Due to economic necessity and the family nature of many businesses, enforcement of summer employment of underage youth is occasionally lax.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage, $103 (40.33 Malta liri) per week, which is generally enforced, provides a decent standard of living for a worker and family when government subsidies for housing, health care, and free education are added. In addition to the minimum wage, employers are required to pay an annual bonus of approximately $295 (116 Malta liri), half payable in March and half in September. The Government pays a worker a marriage bonus of approximately $2.55 (1.00 Malta liri) weekly and an annual child assistance payment for each child under 16 years of age beginning at approximately $500 (195 Malta liri) for the first child, $390 (153.40 Malta liri) for the second child, and $260 (101.40 Malta liri) for each additional child. The average Maltese family is commonly viewed as a working husband, wife and two children.

Hours of work are regulated by wage council orders for various trades. For most sectors the standard is 40 hours per week, but in some trades the standard before overtime is paid is 43 or 45 hours per week. Government labor regulations prescribe daily rest periods of 1 hour. The annual paid vacation mandated by law is currently 22 working days. In general, these laws and regulations are effectively enforced by the Department of Labor.

Despite several years' discussion, the government-proposed establishment of an authority for workers' health, safety, and welfare still has not occurred. Enforcement of occupational health and safety standards, the responsibility of the Department of Labor, has been lax. Reports of an increasing number of industrial accidents in 1993 add credence to the concerns of some that existing laws may be outdated and inadequate to protect workers effectively.

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