The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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‘Malta a true example for the respect of human rights… until Daphne’s murder’

Gabriel Schembri Monday, 18 December 2017, 07:52 Last update: about 8 years ago

Gabriel Schembri met BORIS DITTRICH in Valletta to discuss where the world, and Malta in particular, stands in championing human rights.

For the last 11 years, Boris Dittrich has led the Human Rights Watch's advocacy efforts on the rights of LGBT people around the world. His job entails meeting victims of homophobia and transphobia, and with government officials, Members of Parliament, and journalists in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe to push for progress on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Dittrich, who served as a Member of the Dutch Parliament for 12 years, has come to Malta for the second time. The first time he came to our tiny island, Dittrich met a lot of people to discuss the progress made in the LGBTIQ rights through, at the time, new legislation. This time, he came to Malta to address a keynote speech at a human rights conference which was held on Friday. The event was organised by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.


Malta’s reluctance to discuss abortion

Dittrich was quick to applaud Malta’s progress with regard to the introduction of new civil liberties. “I use Malta as an example on LGBTIQ rights when speaking in other conferences around the globe,” he said before moving on to another hot topic on the local agenda. “On other issues, however, I cannot use Malta as an example of progress,” he added.

Dittrich explained that despite the Maltese government’s efforts to improve and include further civil liberties, Malta is still lagging behind in reproductive rights for women. “For instance, abortion is still not accessible in Malta. This is really exceptional. Malta does not have abortion not even in cases when the mother’s life is in danger. So, on this aspect of human rights, Malta is certainly not in the lead.”

“To not even consider a debate on the introduction of abortion is unacceptable, at least from the perspective of the Human Rights Watch. Why doesn’t society want to discuss the possibility of introducing abortion in the case when the woman is raped or in danger of dying?” he asked


Minorities do not fall in the populists’ radar

Human rights are not only taken for granted, Dittrich said, but suffer even more with the rise of populism across the globe. “Populists try to divide society between good and bad, the elite and poor. They claim that they want to defend the rights of the majority, which is good. But they often exclude minorities in their radars.”

“Usually human rights are there to defend minorities and populism tends to ignore these,” he added.


Malta championed human rights… before Daphne was murdered

Like everyone else under the sun, Dittrich has heard about the tragic death of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in a car bomb explosion in October. He said that, understandably, this death has tarnished Malta’s reputation.

“I mention Malta as an example of huge progress in LGBTIQ rights. But ever since last October, I get the question – but is this not the country where that famous journalist was murdered?

“People ask me all the time. They want to know the story behind this tragic event. I would say that after this assassination, people are looking at how the Maltese police force and the judiciary are dealing with this issue.”



Crisis is encountered all over the globe and Dittrich was asked why some international conflicts get more attention than others do and what role the media plays in all this. He mentioned the conflict in Yemen as an example, a war which has barely made the international headlines despite the horrendous atrocities committed on women and children in the area.

“The conflict in Yemen did not get that much media coverage, maybe because there wasn’t a direct interest in that particular country. If we compare it to North Korea, Syria and Libya, for instance, these three were given a lot of coverage. This is why we need to be presented with the facts. Unfortunately, politicians tend to use and choose certain facts for their propaganda. It has always been the case and continues to this day.” Dittrich said that there is also the issue with investigative journalism, highlighting the fact that investigative journalism is very expensive.


Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch plays an important role by providing the information and publicising tragic life stories affected by war. But some people, such as the victims of war in Yemen, feel that the international community has abandoned them. Dittrich argues that Human Rights Watch is about pushing forward recommendations to the respective governments. “We are a non-governmental organisation and we take no money from any government; even if we are sometimes offered money, we don’t accept it.

“When we have our reports and research done through interviews on location, we present a list of recommendations to address any human rights violation. But then it all depends on the country receiving those recommendations. We have sent a lot of recommendations to Russia on the issues concerning LGBTIQ but not much has changed.”

He mentioned, however, the issue with LGBTIQ persons in Chechnya. “Human Rights Watch approached country leaders to send a letter to Putin and the purge stopped. So there have been positive results.”


The way forward

Progress in various elements of human rights has been made. Since some years ago, up to three countries each year legislate for gay marriage. Dittrich said that this is not an end to discrimination but has been a huge step forward from some 10 years ago. “A lot more needs to be done even if we focus on LGBTIQ rights,” he added. “There is different development going on at the same time. People in other parts of the world are being killed for being different. This is what we aim to address.”


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