Lawrence Gonzi asks justice minister to seek consultation on hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
Tuesday 7 February 2012 - 14:27 by Miriam Dalli
Including sexual orientation in hate crimes was a 2008 electoral promise.
Updated at 3:01pm, adds reaction by MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja.
The Prime Minister announced this afternoon in an impromptu press conference that the government will be legislating against hate crimes motivated by homophobia.
Lawrence Gonzi said he has asked minister for justice Chris Said to initiate a review and strengthening of current laws, and make the necessary consultation to take the necessary legal steps.
A bill to amend various acts in the Criminal Code, presented in parliament last year, already proposes adding homophobia to the extenuating circumstances for any crime, and increases the gravity of such a hate crime to two degrees. The hate crimes in the Criminal Code were last updated in 2009, to include xenophobia as a hate crime.
But the Malta Gay Rights Movement recently met Chris Said to discuss additions to the criminal code amendments.
Lawrence Gonzi's announcement today comes on the heels of two attacks on gay women that highlighted the absence of proper legislation against such crimes. He took no questions from the press during the five-minute press conference.
Yesterday, gay activist Cyrus Engerer, a former PN local councillor, also said one of the PN's electoral promises in 2008 was to include sexual orientation as part of the remit for the national equality agency, the NCPE.
Lawrence Gonzi today said the recent attacks - one on a gay couple in Hamrun, and the other on a gay woman at a bus stop by an off-duty bus driver - were very preoccupying and 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.
In comments to MaltaToday, MGRM coordinator Gabi Calleja said the fact there was this call for concern by the prime minister was a positive development.
"The government has been silent on these matters while other NGOs have been vocal about discrimination against gay people," Calleja said.
Asked what sort of action she expected from the prime minister's call against discrimination, Calleja said that apart from legal changes there was a need for better education in schools that recognised the reality of same-sex relationships, and for government to recognise same-sex couples in its policy.
Human Rights First, an American advocacy organization based in Washington, went as far as to symbolically 'fail' Malta in a mock report card, intended to measure the adequacy of national legislation when it comes protecting vulnerable minorities.
The card notes that Maltese legislation stops short of recognising hate crimes (regardless of motive) as a specific category of offence; and that while religion, race and disability are all listed as aggravating factors in specific common crimes, there is no mention whatsoever of sexual orientation.
[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on Malta Today's website.]