The Malta Independent 29 September 2022, Thursday
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Daphne Foundation, Article 19 lament lack of ‘concrete action’ on public inquiry recommendations

Albert Galea Thursday, 28 July 2022, 12:01 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation and the international NGO Article 19 have lamented the lack of “concrete action” in implementing the recommendations set out in the public inquiry looking into the journalist’s murder.

However, they said that taking lessons from the public inquiry and how it was carried out could be the first step towards an effective investigative model to address failures in any jurisdiction across Europe.

Caruana Galizia’s murder was the first assassination of a journalist worldwide to be investigated through an independent Public Inquiry.

To mark one year since the damning findings were unveiled, Article 19 Europe and The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation on Thursday published a report that explores the efficacy of the Maltese Public Inquiry model assessing whether it stands up as good practice.

While the criminal proceedings initiated by the Maltese authorities solely focused on identifying those criminally responsible, the public inquiry took a broader approach and considered the circumstances of Daphne’s assassination, including the threats and vilification that she endured for speaking truth to power.

The public inquiry’s final report painted a bleak picture of entrenched impunity for both the journalist’s murder and for the crimes she exposed. It clearly stated that the Maltese government had created a culture of impunity that led to Daphne’s murder and thus must bear responsibility.

It also made a raft of recommendations to strengthen Malta’s criminal laws and to protect and improve the journalism sector. 

An analysis by The Malta Independent on Sunday last weekend showed that amendments to Malta’s criminal laws to reflect these recommendations were few and far between, and that the government has submitted a raft of proposals to a committee of media experts for their assessment – in line with the inquiry’s recommendations.

A similar analysis penned in the report lead to largely the same conclusions, pointing out that a public inquiry can only reach its full potential when its recommendations are actually implemented within a reasonable time.

“To this end, therefore, the campaign for justice does not end with the publication of the Board’s report,” the report reads.

The report in fact makes a number of recommendations to the government – most of which are a reiteration of what has been recommended already by the public inquiry board itself. 

Other recommendations include the formulation of a National Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists in close collaboration and consultation with journalists, media outlets and civil society.

They also make a number of recommendations for amendments to the government’s current proposals to amend the Constitution, stating that – for instance – the right to seek information should be included, as should a provision recognising journalism as one of the pillars of democracy.

The NGOs have also recommended that the European Union continues to scrutinise the implementation of the public inquiry recommendations, and should also continue to track and monitor national corruption investigations, in support of the work of the Council of Europe, with a view to supporting Maltese journalists in their work to uncover financial crime and corruption.

Meanwhile, they recommended that international civil society should continue to campaign for an enabling environment for journalists in Malta and to offer its expertise to the government to properly implement the public inquiry’s recommendations.

“Our research report, “Tackling Impunity: Lessons from the Public Inquiry into the Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia”, assesses the significance of the Maltese Public Inquiry in the fight for truth, accountability and justice for Daphne’s assassination and the vital role civil society and international organisations play in ensuring an independent investigation,” the NGOs said.

“In addition, the report identifies lessons that can be learned from the Public Inquiry process so far, summarises its key achievements, and makes recommendations to the Government of Malta, to European Union Institutions, and to international civil society,” they said.

The Daphne Foundation and Article 19 said that a mechanism to investigate the failures of state entities and state impunity that may have contributed towards the assassination of a journalist, may help to fill the gaps the criminal justice system leaves open, as the parallel mechanism provides for public scrutiny of the state administration and executive.

“In Daphne’s case an independent inquiry was deemed necessary given the reasonable concerns about the weaknesses of the rule of law in Malta, which were previously flagged up by European bodies, specifically with regard to the potential bias of state officials whose wrongdoing Daphne had repeatedly highlighted,” the groups said.

However, they noted that mechanisms such as a Public Inquiry can reach their full potential only when their recommendations are effectively implemented.

“Yet, a year since the publication of the Public Inquiry’s landmark findings, there has been hardly any concrete action or any legislation to provide an enabling environment for public interest journalism and to protect journalists,” they said.

The foundation and Article 19 said that while European countries “routinely declare their commitment to uphold and protect press freedom, attempts to curtail independent media as well as various threats and attacks against journalists – in particular those reporting on issues of public interest – are on the rise, with the most tragic cases being assassinations.”

They said that there are still at least 26 cases of impunity for the murder of journalists across Europe.

“The high level of impunity for crimes against journalists, including deadly attacks is indicative of a failing criminal justice system, and often of rule of law failure,” they said.

“There is a clear need for states to develop an investigative model to address the failures in their respective jurisdictions. “Tackling Impunity: Lessons from the Public Inquiry into the Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia” could be a first step in this process,” they concluded.

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