Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Malta Today: Hate crime amendments in parliamentary limbo four months on

International Gay-Lesbian Association's annual review shows little follow-up on major equality announcements.

5 May 2012 by Matthew Vella

[Click on the hyperlink above to watch the video.]

Government's rapid response in February to separate incidents targeting gay people has still not been backed up by any legal implementation, as parliament got bogged down by a political stalemate.

Criminal code amendments announced by the Prime Minister in February that add homophobia to the extenuating circumstances for any crime, are still not in force, ILGA-Europe's (International Gay-Lesbian Association) annual review for 2011 said.

The amendments also increase the gravity of such a hate crime by two degrees, and includes grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief or political or other opinion as extenuating circumstances.

The bills are currently tabled in the House, but votes throughout the year were postponed during the political stalemate inside the government bench, whose one-seat majority was threatened on certain political issues.

ILGA's annual review also highlights the fact that a draft Gender Identity Act tabled in parliament by Labour MP Evarist Bartolo has not yet been put on the parliament's agenda for discussion.

One of the most astounding revelations in the annual review is that the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) includes websites that are categorised as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) as part of the Adult Content Government Internet Package, and as a result are not freely available to all.

Other major announcements that so far have fallen short of implementation are the cohabitation bill, which will also include provisions for same-sex couples; widening the Equality Commission's remit to cover sexual orientation; and various other legal challenges to national law over gay and gender identity rights.

A case against Malta has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights after the Constitutional Court held that a marriage registrar who had refused to allow a transgender woman to marry, had correctly interpreted the law - but the court did not instruct the parliament to remedy the fact that Malta does not allow a woman's acquired gender to be fully recognised.

Lawrence Gonzi's announcement in February on the hate crime legislation came on the heels of two attacks on gay women that highlighted the absence of proper legislation against such crimes.

Lawrence Gonzi had 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 his statement marking 17 May's International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Council of Europe's secretary-general Thorbjørn Jagland has warned that discrimination and prejudice against LGBT people cannot be left unanswered.

"In the Council of Europe, we are responding through our institutions and through the establishment of an LGBT Unit within the Secretariat. The Council of Europe is now working with six countries – Albania, Montenegro, Italy, Serbia, Latvia and Poland – to put in place projects on this topic, and I encourage other countries to join this initiative.

"LGBT people still face intolerant attitudes and social barriers across most, if not all, Council of Europe member states. Recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights point at unjustified bans or administrative obstacles imposed on gay pride parades. They underline problems related to discrimination in granting social rights such as the right to employment.

"National authorities have a responsibility to ensure that their countries meet international commitments, including responding to negative steps taken at local or regional level. Political leaders also bear the responsibility to speak out immediately and strongly against any demonstrations or statements of intolerance or homophobia, especially those made by other politicians."

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