‘Biased shithole’ remark by Foreign Minister’s assistant noted in UN report

The incident where the Private Secretary of Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela verbally abused a human rights advocate, calling her a biased shithole“, at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC42) earlier this year, has been recorded in the Secretary General’s annual report on reprisals – a move welcomed by international press freedom organisations.

The Secretary General’s report highlights acts of “intimidation and reprisals” committed by Member States during the previous 12 months. 

“Acts of intimidation were reported to have taken place against Sarah Clarke, at the time working with PEN International, by Maltese high-level officials during a United Nations High-Level event in Marrakesh in December 2018. A public clarification and a private apology were later registered,” the report states.

Last December, Abela’s private secretary – Sandro Mangion – called Clarke abiased shitholeafter the Minister was pressed to address concerns related to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.

Ten leading organisations said in a letter to the Council on Thursday that the incident mentioned in the report was “part of a broader pattern of State-backed reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, and the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

Such reprisals were common against those calling for justice and an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination, according to the signatories that included ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, Reporters Without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists.

The organisations also called for monitoring of the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s assassination: “Since her brutal murder on 16 October, 2017, our organisations have been profoundly concerned by State failures in the investigation into the assassination and we have therefore backed the call for a public inquiry.”

“Without such a public inquiry, there will be impunity for those who ordered the assassination,” the organisations added. “As a result, journalists in Malta who are continuing Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigations into corruption at the highest levels of government, will remain at risk.”

They referred to the repeated destruction of the protest memorial in Valletta, the “ad hominem attacks” on Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, and the defamation suits that still pursued by public officials including the Prime Minister.

Despite a letter sent to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner to drop libel proceedings against Caruana Galizia, Muscat said on Thursday that he would only do so if her grieving family accepted the findings of the Egrant inquiry –  a report the family has not seen.

Caruana Galizia’s family answered: “When Joseph Muscat said, under oath in court, that he will drop his and his wife’s libel case against us if we accept the findings of the (Aaron) Bugeja report, we said will not concede to extortion by our public servants. Our position on not accepting blackmail will never change.”

It was on the demand for a public inquiry into the journalist’s assassination that Abela’s Private Secretary had lashed out. Clarke had approached the Minister and asked why he had failed to mention the assassination of Caruana Galizia during the UN human rights event in December 2018.

She stressed that if the Maltese government wanted to be considered legitimate and credible in relation to freedom of expression, an independent public inquiry should immediately be launched into the circumstances around Caruana Galizia’s death. Mangion retaliated by insulting her, saying she was ignorant of the facts.

According to the report, “a private apology” was given to Clarke six months later. It also notes the Maltese government’s reponse, that said Mangion’s behaviour was provoked by Clarke.

“The Maltese official’s reaction did not happen in isolation but was the direct result of what had transpired immediately before, when the official felt that the actions of Clarke preceding his comments were undue and inappropriate.”

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