Human rights concerns

A human rights report, just published by the Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta, draws a picture that is far from satisfactory.

Without in any way underestimating the significance of the positive elements, and away from the island’s successes on the economic front, there are enough concerns on the human rights front that ought to raise greater national awareness of the need to check the deterioration before it worsens. The fact that there is no such widespread awareness of the worrying aspects of the situation is, in itself, a national concern.

The Platform of Human Rights Organisations, set up in 2014, embraced 31 human rights NGOs at the time the report for last year was drawn up. Its views and its stand ought, therefore, to carry a great deal of weight in any assessment of the human rights situation. Besides giving an overview of the major human rights developments, it also highlights the challenges from the perspective of their diverse and far-ranging member organisations.

The report covers quite a number of topics, such as women’s reproductive rights, migration, mental health issues and even hate speech, a matter that is also raising deep concern today, particularly in the social media. However, it noted that, for the second year running, the spotlight was put on the perception of a continued downturn in good governance and transparency.

According to the report, issues of good governance and institutional accountability remained a primary concern for the majority of the surveyed civil society groups. This is how the report puts it: “The events related to the Panama Papers scandal, the corruption allegations involving members of the government and the then upcoming elections were cited by the majority of PHROM member organisations as the most worrying obstacles for the fulfillment of human rights in Malta.”

In this regard, it bears pointing out that such concern was not reflected in the result of the last general election, even though it figured prominently in the election campaign of the Nationalist Party. Ironically, the fact that the party in Opposition concentrated so much on corruption and good governance is today being given as one of the main reasons for its second successive electoral defeat.

In 2013, many believed Labour would make good governance a hallmark of its administration. However, it jettisoned its own principles and got mired in allegations of unaccountability and sleaze. The worst was yet to come: a Cabinet minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff were found to have opened companies in a tax haven.

Joseph Muscat’s mistake was that, instead of showing them the door, he protected them. He is now defending his decision to keep Konrad Mizzi in the Cabinet on grounds that he has been judged by the electorate, meaning that, once he has been re-elected, his sins of omission and/or commission have been forgotten.

Clearly, clean politics and accountability are not among Dr Muscat’s governing priorities. It is no wonder that the human rights report says that the key findings present a strong case for the need for immediate action by Maltese institutional bodies and civil society to fight back against a culture of complacency towards widespread violations of the fundamental elements of democracy and the rule of law.

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