U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Malta

Malta is a constitutional republic and parliamentary democracy. The head 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. 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, and it provides residents with a moderate to high standard of living. The Government generally respected human rights 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. Cultural and religious patterns reinforce the homogeneity of society. 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 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 is normally granted.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is independent of the executive and legislative branches. The Chief Justice and nine judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. There is a civil court, a commercial court, and a criminal court. In the latter, the presiding judge sits with a jury of nine. The Court of Appeal hears appeals from decisions of the civil and commercial courts. The Court of Criminal Appeal hears appeals from judgments of conviction by the criminal court. The highest court, the Constitutional Court, hears appeals in cases involving violations of human rights, interpretation of the Constitution, and the validity of laws. It also has jurisdiction in cases concerning disputed parliamentary elections and electoral corrupt practices. There are also inferior courts presided over by a magistrate. 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.

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. A monthly, five daily, and three weekly newspapers express diverse views. Six television stations (3 government-owned, 1 governing party-owned, 1 opposition party-owned, and 1 commercial), a commercial cable network, and 19 private radio stations also 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 grants subsidies only to Roman Catholic schools. Students in government schools may opt 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. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It did not force the return of any refugees to a country where they feared persecution. Since 1992 the Government has granted temporary refugee status to over 1,000 persons pending their relocation abroad. Iraqis represent the majority of the approximately 500 first asylum refugees still in Malta. However, the Government did not grant permanent refugee status or accept anyone for resettlement. 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 1998 election, 96 percent of the electorate voted. Women are underrepresented in government and politics. However, as a result of the 1996 general elections, the number of women elected to Parliament rose from two to four, and the first woman was appointed to be speaker of Parliament. In the September 1998 general elections four women also were elected to Parliament, and for only the second time in the nation's history, a woman was appointed to a ministerial post. The ParliamentarySecretariat for Women's Rights within the Office of the Prime Minister was abolished by the new Nationalist Party. Women's issues are now covered by a Department of Women's Rights, under the Minister of Social Policy. The Social Policy Minister is a prominent member of the Government and is the Secretary General of the Nationalist Party. The new Government has endorsed the policy of positive action but has abandoned the requirement that 30 percent of nominations to government boards and committees be reserved for women. Instead, the Government has taken steps to include more women in the management and policy development structures, thus increasing female representation over the 30 percent threshold.

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 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 sex. The Government respects this prohibition. Women There is no widespread pattern of family violence against women, but continuing reports of such incidents have made plain that the problem exists. 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 a shelter. 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 the year to review existing family legislation and to propose amendments dealing with domestic violence. 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 more rewarding 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. The Government's Parliamentary Secretariat for Women's Rights actively addresses women's issues. Legislation enacted in 1993 granted women equality in matters of family law, and a 1991 constitutional amendment committed the Government to promoting equal rights for all persons regardless of sex. Redress in the courts for sexual discrimination is available. The Government's agenda on gender abandoned the concept of introducing gender-based quotas in the civil service. An internal study and proposal to increase the representation of women in the public sector is under consideration by the Commonwealth Secretariat. Children The Government has expressed concern for children's rights and welfare but addresses those concerns within the context of family law. Although sensitive to children's rights, Parliament has failed to pass specific legislation to protect children's rights and is not actively considering such legislation. However, a commission is reviewing family law and has recommended a reform of family courts and counsel for children. 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. People With Disabilities The 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. Overall government and private sector efforts to advance the status of disabled persons have been uneven.

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 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 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. No 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 a tripartite (union-employer-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. 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 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 it is lenient in cases of summer employment of underage youths in businesses run by their families.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage, $113 (44.13 Maltese liri) per week plus $11 (4.23 Maltese liri) per week in mandatory bonuses paid quarterly, 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.

This 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.