Amendments to Criminal Code to protect gay victims of hate crimes will also include amendments to Press Act.
Friday 2 March 2012 - 14:14 by Miriam Dalli.
The hate crimes in the Criminal Code were last updated in 2009, to include xenophobia as a hate crime.
Updated with statements by aditus, MGRM and supporting NGOs.
Three weeks since Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced a review of hate crimes in the wake of the Hamrun assault on a gay couple, Justice Minister Chris Said today announced the Bill amending the Criminal Code that is to be presented in Parliament next Monday for its first reading.
Said said the bill amends the Criminal Code to introduce offences in relation to gender, as well as gender identity and sexual orientation, and to increase the punishment meted out on such offences.
"We want to send out a full message that we want a society that respects the dignity of the person irrespective of sexual orientation, gender or race," the minister said.
He added that his ministry had already met with members of the Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) who put forward proposals which have been approved by the Cabinet.
Following the amendment, 'violence or hatred' within the Criminal Code will now mean "violence or hatred against a person or against a group of person in Malta defined by reference to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion".
The bill also seeks to increase the gravity of such hate crimes by two degrees.
The bill will also amend the Press Act provisions on the publication of hate speech to include "gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion". Punishment will include up to three months imprisonment and a fine.
Reacting to two attacks on gay women in early February, the Prime Minister had described the attacks as preoccupying and which necessitated government action.
"We should be a society that respects persons, irrespective of their sexual orientation. I have always dedicated myself to the pursuit of this respect for people's dignity, and I am worried of certain attitudes taken by a section of society.
"We are sending a message to society in general, not to pass judgement of people, and that we expect the forces of law to enforce laws and eliminate all forms of discrimination," Gonzi said.
Aditus foundation director Neil Falzon said he was very happy about the new amendments broadening hate crimes legislation.
"The proposed amendments will extend current legislation to cover crimes based on homophobia, transphobia and other grounds such as disability. It's a clear statement condemning acts of violence committed out of discrimination against particularly vulnerable groups," Falzon said.
Falzon said aditus was particularly happy to see the inclusion of gender identity as a protected ground, "putting Malta at the forefront of recognising and tackling the difficult and often violent situations faced by transgender persons simply because they are perceived to be different."
The organisation also welcomed the extension of the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE), mandating it to formally deal with discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"This means that NCPE will now include these two important grounds in all of its activities, including research, awareness raising, advocacy and training. From the perspective of victims of discrimination, these measures guarantee a further source of redress against individuals and agencies discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"The possibility to seek effective redress for human rights violations is central to the very nature of human rights protection. We're looking forward to NCPE's involvement in these areas in order to better understand the extent of such discrimination in Malta and to devise strategies to combat it, together."
Falzon said the amendments were the result of on-going advocacy efforts by several organisations, and a strong sign of the important role played by nongovernmental organisations in the promotion of human rights in Malta. "We stand ready to support their implementation through training activities targeting governmental officials, police officers and other interested and relevant stakeholders."
The Malta Gay Rights Movement together with Integra Foundation, Drachma, LGBT Labour and We Are, welcomed the amendments. "This sends a strong message that bias-motivated crime is unacceptable in a society that aims to provide equal treatment to all its citizens and offers much needed protection to a wider range of vulnerable groups," MGRM Coordinator gabi Calleja said. "We hope that this will also be accompanied by appropriate training to the police force with respect to the identification of hate crimes, accompanying measures aimed at reaching out to potential victims and adequate data collection of such crimes."
"Such legislation has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of LGBT individuals. I hope that it will encourage individuals to come forward and seek assistance when they are victims of violence or discrimination".
Maria Pisani stated of Integra said that to bring about substantive change, legislative change must be accompanied by cultural change. "This requires education programmes and community awareness raising to change homophobic attitudes."
[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on Malta Today's website.]