The Women’s Rights Foundation has questioned why a domestic violence report against former assistant police commissioner Mario Tonna wasn’t pursued, as required by law.
Home affairs minister Michael Farrugia drew quite a bit of flak after he defended Tonna by describing him as “a hard-working officer who worked long hours for the benefit of the public” and by noting that his partner has retracted the accusations against him.
He later apologised for his comments and insisted he condemns all forms of domestic violence.
However, the Women’s Rights Foundation said domestic violence police reports are, by law, ex officio, meaning they police have a duty to investigate them even if the victim withdraws the report.
“We feel that as wrong as the Ministry’s reaction was in trying to justify his actions, it is even more worrying that both the police and the Ministry have no qualms in publicly stating that the report made against Assistant Commissioner has been withdrawn,” WRF director Lara Dimitrijevic said. “With the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act of 2006, the offence of domestic violence became ‘ex officio’ i.e. any report of domestic violence has to be prosecuted.”
“So one can imagine how perplexed we were to see that both the police and the ministry did not remotely hesitate to publicly declare that the victim withdrew her complaint, thus implying that no criminal action will ensue. This shows that even at the highest level of governance, there is no understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.”
Former assistant police commissioner Mario Tonna
The Womens’ Rights Foundation questioned whether Tonna’s resignation will become standard policy, noting that they have assisted other female survivors of domestic violence whose partners were police officers.
“Just recently, we have assisted clients to file complaints against their husbands who are policemen. The courage it took these women is something that we can never cease to admire and are truly humbled by it. Yet to date, we have not heard of their resignation or even suspension pending investigation by internal affairs and/or action of criminal proceedings. Of course not to mention that we have also come across declarations issued by the police stating that the victim is wilfully withdrawing her complaint and hence no criminal charge were issued.”
“When brought to the attention of the respective police officials, we were received with the reply ‘Dott mhux hi riedet thassar ir-rapport’ (‘Dr, she had wanted to withdraw the report herself’) … will not comment any further.”
Home affairs minister Michael Farrugia (right)
Citing reports by the Commission on Domestic Violence and Parliament’s social policy committee, the WRF noted that police treatment of domestic violence victims has long been flagged as a problem.
“We can scream all we want that we have ratified international treaties by which Malta has voluntarily committed itself to combat violence against women and domestic violence; we can boast that the police have expanded their services to deal with domestic violence (which services we are perplexed to hear since we are not aware of their existence at all and have been working in the field for quite a number of years now); that government has embarked on prevention and training programmes – nothing will change unless there is serious commitment and change of attitude by the ones that are meant to protect and the ones that are meant to legislate for it.”
“Disappointment does not begin to describe how wrong this injustice is to the very ones that need protection and support. So yes, we are angry and frustrated that in 2018 we have outright regressed with now having the very authorities that are meant to protect us to nonchalantly claim that complaint has been withdrawn and that’s apparently where the issue ends.”