Malta has passed new legislation which extends hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time in the country's history.
The bill, which was approved in parliament last night, was first proposed during a protest following the attack of two young lesbians earlier this year.
The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) has welcomed the new bill, saying it sent a 'strong message' to society that crimes against LGBT people are 'unacceptable and will incur tougher penalties'.
Speaking about the violent homophobic asssaults which rocked Malta in January and February 2012, a spokesman for the group said: 'The courage of these young people to report the crime played an important role in providing the required impetus to move forward with this legislative proposal which had been on MGRM's agenda for a number of years.
'The next step is ensuring that police are adequately trained in dealing with such crimes and in actively reaching out to the LGBT community to ensure that victims feel safe to come forward and report such incidents. Adequate data collection is also essential.'
A second bill which will extend the remit of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality to also cover sexual orientation and gender identity is expected to be passed this week.
It will allow the Commission to act as mediator and to investigate allegations of discrimination in employment.