Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2014, 08:09 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Malta

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 25 February 2000
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Malta , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa708.html [accessed 18 September 2014]
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

Malta is a constitutional republic and parliamentary democracy. The chief of state (President) appoints as the 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 judiciary is independent.

A civilian commissioner, under the effective supervision of the Government, commands the police.

The economy is a mixture of state-owned and private industry, with tourism and light manufacturing as the largest sectors, and it provides residents with a moderate to high standard of living.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. An independent judiciary upholds the Constitution's protections for individual rights and freedoms. Domestic violence is a problem, and societal discrimination against women persists, but the Government has taken steps to address both issues.

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 other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. There were no reports that officials employ them.

Prison conditions meet minimal international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition. 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 normally is granted.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches. The Chief Justice and 16 judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister; judges serve until the age of 65, and magistrates serve until the age of 60.

The highest court, the Constitutional Court, interprets the Constitution and has original jurisdiction for cases involving human rights violations and allegations relating to electoral corruption charges. The two courts of appeal hear appeals from the civil court, court of magistrates, special tribunals, and from the criminal court, respectively. The criminal court, composed of a judge and nine jurors, hears criminal cases. The civil court first hall hears civil and commercial cases that exceed the magistrates' jurisdiction; the civil court second hall offers voluntary jurisdiction in civil matters. The court of magistrates has jurisdiction for civil claims of less than $1,000 (400 Maltese liri) and for lesser criminal offenses. The juvenile court hears cases involving persons under 16 years of age.

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, present evidence, and have the right of appeal.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution protects the privacy of the home and prohibits electronic surveillance. The Government respects these provisions. Police officers with the rank of inspector and above may issue search warrants based on perceived reasonable grounds for suspicion of wrongdoing. Reportedly only the Home Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister may issue warrants for telephone tapping, and then only in drug-related cases.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. However, the 1987 Foreign Interference Act bans foreign participation in local politics during the period leading up to elections. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

Diverse views are expressed in four daily newspapers, six weeklies, and five Sunday editions. A total of 6 television stations, a commercial cable network, and 18 radio stations function freely.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the Government respects this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The state-supported religion is Roman Catholicism. The Government and the Catholic Church participate in a foundation that finances Catholic schools. The Church transferred nonpastoral land to this foundation as part of the 1991 Ecclesiastical Entities Act. Students in government schools may decline instruction in 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 a legal obligation, such as the nonpayment of a debt or nonsupport of an estranged spouse.

The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since 1992 it has granted temporary refugee status and protection to over 1,000 persons. The Government admitted 107 Kosovar refugees from May until their August return to Kosovo. At year's end, the UNHCR considered 164 immigrants to be refugees and another 214 to be applicants. The Government grants temporary protective status to such persons pending their resettlement in third countries; it normally does not grant permanent refugee status to anyone or accept anyone for resettlement. A proposed law introduced in December would expand access to social services and employment for recognized refugees. The authorities expel or repatriate persons they deem to be economic migrants. However, the Government did not force the return of any persons to a country where they feared persecution.

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

Citizens exercise this right in multiparty elections held every 5 years by secret ballot on the basis of universal suffrage for those 18 years of age or over. In the 1998 election,96 percent of the electorate voted.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics. In the September 1998 elections, six women were elected to Parliament, three in each party, and one received a ministerial post. The Government has taken steps to include more women in civil service and other government positions.

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

Various human rights groups and persons operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views

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

The Constitution and law prohibit discrimination related to race, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, or sex. The Government respects this prohibition. Alleged victims of discrimination may apply directly to the Constitutional Court for relief, although few have done so recently.

Women

No widespread pattern of family violence against women is apparent, but continuing reports of such incidents make plain that the problem exists. During the first 9 months of 1999, 263 cases of domestic violence were reported, and 11 cases of rape were reported to the police. A special police unit and several voluntary organizations provide support to victims of domestic violence. For women who are threatened or physically abused, the Government also maintains an emergency fund and subsidizes shelter beds. During the year 111 women used the shelters.

The Government set up a hot line in 1996 to assist victims of abuse through counseling and through referrals to legal assistance and shelters. A committee was set up during 1998 to review existing family legislation and propose amendments dealing with domestic violence. Its proposals are being considered by the Ministry of Social Policy.

Prostitution is a serious offense under the law, and heavy penalties are reserved for organizers. Rape and violent indecent assault carry sentences of up to 10 years. The law treats spousal rape the same as any other rape. Divorce and abortion are not legal.

The Constitution provides that all citizens have access, on a nondiscriminatory basis, to housing, employment, and education. While women constitute a growing portion of the work force, they are underrepresented in management. Cultural and traditional employment patterns often direct them either into traditional "women's jobs" (such as sales clerk, secretary, bank teller, teacher, or nurse) or into better paying jobs in family-owned businesses or select professions (i.e., academia or medicine). Therefore, women generally earn less than their male counterparts, and many leave employment upon marriage.

Women's issues are handled by the Department of Women's Rights under the Minister of Social Policy. The Minister is a prominent member of the Government who is also Deputy Prime Minister and the Nationalist Party's deputy leader. Legislation enacted in 1993 granted women equality in matters of family law, and a 1991 constitutional amendment committed the government to promote equal rights for all persons regardless of sex. The Government has taken steps to ensure that legislation is gender neutral to the degree possible. Redress in the courts for sexual discrimination is available. The Government's policy on gender abandoned the concept of introducing gender-based quotas in the civil service. An internal study and a proposal to increase the representation of women in the public sector is under consideration by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Children

The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and health care. It provides compulsory, free, and universal education and free health care for children through age 16. The Government voices concern for children's rights and welfare but addresses those concerns within family law. The Government plans to adjust the law, as necessary, in view of its signature of the European Convention on the Exercise of Children's Rights in February.

There is no societal pattern of abuse of children. The number of reported cases of child abuse has grown as public awareness has increased, but it is not clear whether the number of incidents actually has increased. For the first 9 months of 1999, 545 cases of child abuse were reported.

People with Disabilities

The law provides for rights for 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. Overall government and private sector efforts to advance the status of disabled persons are uneven. As of 2000, private development project plans must include access for the disabled.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 2,000 men of Algerian or Tunisian origin are married to Maltese women. This community has a mosque and a separate school; an application is pending with the Government for a dedicated cemetery.

Owners of some bars and discos reportedly discourage or prohibit darker skinned persons from entering.

Section 6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to strike, and the Government respects these rights in practice. Only noncivilian personnel of the armed forces and police are prohibited from striking. There are 35 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 the Labor Party.

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 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. Three disputes were referred to the Tribunal during the year.

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. 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 the Industrial 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.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and enforces this prohibition effectively.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.). The law prohibits the employment of children younger than the age of 16. This injunction is generally respected, but some underage children are employed during summer months, especially as domestics, restaurant kitchen help, or vendors. The Department of Labor enforces the law effectively, but it is lenient in cases of summer employment of underage youths in businesses run by their families.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The weekly legal minimum wage is $108 (43.25 Maltese liri) for persons under age 17; $111 (44.47 Maltese liri) for 17-year-olds; and $118 (47.38 Maltese liri) for persons age 18 and over. Additionally, a mandatory bonus of $10.58 (4.23 Maltese liri) per week is paid. This minimum wage structure provides a decent standard of living for a worker and family with the addition of government subsidies for housing, health care, and free education. Wage Councils, composed of representatives of government, business, and unions, regulate work-hours; 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 a daily rest period, which is normally 1 hour. The law mandates an annual paid vacation of 4 workweeks plus 4 workdays. The Department of Labor effectively enforces these requirements.

Enforcement of the 1994 Occupational Health and Safety (Promotion) Act is uneven, and industrial accidents remain frequent. Workers may remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without jeopardy to their continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

No law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, although traffickers may be prosecuted under the Immigration Act for unlawful entry or unregulated status.

There were no reports that persons were trafficked in, to, or from the country.

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