Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Times: Human rights and the Council of Europe

13.6.10 by Noel Buttigieg Scicluna, St Julian's
Thomas Hammarberg, a Swedish human rights activist, will visit Malta late in June to report on the situation in our country. Mr Hammarberg was head of the Olof Palme Institute (named after the late Swedish Socialist leader) and is currently the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights.
Having served as ambassador to both the Council of Europe and most recently also to Sweden, I wish to make the following observations:
Malta's first concern at the Council of Europe is the crucifix case. The Maltese government, supported by the opposition, has intervened to back Italy's appeal against the European Court of Human Rights' ruling that the crucifix's presence in public schools violates human rights.
Mr Hammarberg should know that the crucifix is an expression of Malta's identity and a matter of national consensus. Its place in public places is not negotiable.
Secondly, in his reports on Ireland and Poland (www.coe.int), Mr Hammarberg seems to have subtly promoted his agenda by quoting with approval those NGOs favouring abortion, but ignoring those opposing it.
In July 2009, Swedish left-wing MP Birgitta Ohlsson called publicly on the EU to pressure Malta, Ireland and Poland to liberalise their abortion laws.
Mr Hammarberg probably knows abortion is unanimously condemned by the House of Representatives. To my mind, no amount of pressure can change that.
Thirdly, regarding illegal immigrants, The Sunday Times (March 21) featured a report: 'Sweden orders deportation of 550 immigrants back to Malta'. Later, Cecilia Malmstrom, Swedish EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, pressed MEPs to approve new Frontex rules that would oblige Malta to accept all illegal immigrants found in the central Mediterranean.
On April 30 she came to Malta and pressured the Maltese government unsuccessfully to accept the new rules which would damage Malta's interests.
Instead, I would like to invite Mr Hammarberg to be positive and be a good ambassador of his country on our behalf. Sweden has a generous asylum system and accepts many refugees and illegal immigrants. Nyamko Sabuni, Sweden's Equality Minister, was a refugee from Burundi.
Maltese authorities should ask Mr Hammarberg to mobilise his Nordic contacts to promote burden-sharing. Malta's Refugee Commissioner and the directors of the open and detention centres could prepare files of illegal immigrants with Scandinavian connections (e.g. family members living there, knowledge of Nordic languages and customs, special skills).
Planned properly, Mr Hammarberg's visit could be rewarding for all those Africans stranded in Malta who dream of a new and better life in Nordic countries.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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