Monday, 2 July 2012

Malta Star: Even minorities are human beings
Saturday, 30 Jun 2012 by Evarist Bartolo

Last year, together with other 84 countries, Malta signed a United Nations’ Human Rights Council joint declaration calling for an end to violence, criminal sanctions and human rights violations against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This reinforces the 2008 UN General Assembly Statement which for the first time inserted sexual orientation and gender identity in the UN interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishing that human rights apply equally to each human being. Anyone who comes in touch with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in Malta knows that there is still a lot to be done to protect them from persecution and discrimination.

They are still likely to face poverty, bullying, unemployment and even commit suicide more than the rest of society. They still do not enjoy full human rights in Malta. If their partners lie dying in hospital they still cannot ask for compassionate leave to go and stay with them. If the flat they rent with their partner is registered in the name of the partner who dies, the remaining partner has no right at all to stay in the same flat. They are still persecuted in prison. So although over the years, things have improved for this minority, at the institutional level a lot remains to be done to give these persons full human rights.

It is good that the Maltese government is among the 85 who signed this statement endorsing the stand that human rights apply to all human beings but we still have to wait and see whether this is a new step in the right direction or simply going along with the other EU member states and signing a general declaration without then transposing its values and principles into local laws. Government still deprives lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people of full human rights. When in parliament Labour suggested that the rent law should include changes that give rights to homosexual and trans partners to protect them from being thrown out when their partner died, government declined and was appalled at us for making this suggestion. When we asked for the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to include safeguarding the rights of this minority, government said it is still too early to protect these persons from discrimination. When a transgender person tried to get her rights to marry in court and the judge ruled in her favour and in line with the European Court of Human Rights, government appealed against the sentence. Last December, on behalf of the Malta Gay Rights’ Movement I presented a private member’s bill about gender identity to extend human rights to transgender persons, but still there is no sign that it is going to be made into law.

Gay rights’ movements around the world have called on governments to embrace the contents of this declaration not simply by signing it but also by incorporating them in national policies and national law. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association has welcomed this statement of the UN Human Rights Council as a sign of the growing international, cross-regional consensus around the need to protect people persecuted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Also to engage in a truly universal application of human rights: “The strength of this Statement makes the defence of discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual, trans and intersex people on the basis of a mistaken sense of “tradition” or “natural order” more untenable than ever. Homophobia and transphobia are more and more acknowledged for what they truly are: the last crumbling pillars of a patriarchal order which belong with other dark pages of our past, like slavery and the Inquisition.”

Advancing the rights of this minority is an advance for our society as a whole. Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was right when he said six years ago: "It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone's triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty… A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.”

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