HRC40: Oral statement on the adoption of Malta’s UPR


ARTICLE 19, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) delivered the following joint oral statement to the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on the adoption of Malta’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

Thank you, Mr President,

Malta’s third review under the UPR has taken place amid increasing concerns over the situation of press freedom and broader freedom of expression in the country, in the lead-up to and aftermath of the October 2017 assassination of the country’s foremost investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The UPR process has done nothing to allay these concerns. If anything, it has exacerbated them. It is deeply worrying that the Government of Malta has explicitly not accepted the UPR recommendations to “guarantee that an independent and effective public inquiry into the killing of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is carried out” (Brazil); “the revision of legislation on public service media, including appointment procedures, in order to establish safeguards against political interference” (Germany) and to “continue to reform legislation on media in order to better protect journalists (France).”

Ongoing impunity for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia; the refusal to immediately conduct a public inquiry into whether her life could have been saved; reprisals against her family and human rights defenders calling for justice for her assassination both in Malta and before the United Nations; the continuous destruction of the protest memorial calling for justice for her assassination on the orders of the Minister of Justice; and ongoing posthumous libel cases against the deceased’s family, including by the Prime Minister of Malta, contribute to a disturbing pattern of behaviour by the Maltese authorities at international and national fora of intentionally ignoring and downplaying the importance of this case and its implications for press freedom in Malta.

The coalition welcomes the statements by many UN member states during the UPR who raised major concerns about the deterioration of freedom of expression in Malta in the context of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and highlighted the inadequacies of the Maltese authorities’ investigation into her killing. Prominent subjects of Caruana Galizia’s reporting, who may bear responsibility for her assassination, have not been placed under formal investigation or questioned. The lack of progress in the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder is a truly disturbing indicator of impunity.

At the time of her murder, Caruana Galizia was facing 47 civil and criminal libel suits from senior members of government and business people affiliated with the authorities. In 27 of those cases, the plaintiffs continue to pursue the suits against Caruana Galizia’s estate, effectively forcing her family to defend them. In its report, the Government of Malta proports to be working towards the elimination of SLAPP provisions. Yet these stated efforts have been ineffective and the threat of SLAPP lawsuits continues to be used against The Shift news portal – as recently as last week – in an attempt to silence public interest investigative reporting.

We reiterate our profound concerns that public officials – including members of the Office of the Prime Minister – continue to publicly smear Daphne Caruana Galizia. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, calling for justice in her case, have also been subjected to reprisals including physical and verbal abuse.

Furthermore, the unusually hostile stance of authorities in clearing the peaceful memorial in front of the Courts of Justice – which calls for those who ordered Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination to be brought to justice – hundreds of times has frightening implications for freedom of expression and association in Malta.

In this context, the recommendations related to freedom of expression and information, association and assembly, which the Government of Malta has today accepted, can only be seen as paying lip service to its obligations under international human rights law: these recommendations can only be fully implemented if the government establishes without delay a public inquiry into whether Caruana Galizia’s life could have been saved, a recommendation it has explicitly refused to accept. Without its immediate effect these promises will continue to ring hollow.