Collective punishment for hunters? Inconceivable!

I mean, honestly: how much more 'absolutely, totally and in all other ways INCONCEIVABLE’, can you possibly get?

Qawra Point: the area has been designated as a nature reserve
Qawra Point: the area has been designated as a nature reserve

At the risk of being misinterpreted as ‘unkind’ (and I really do mean it in the nicest way possible, promise), there are moments when Malta’s hunting confraternity almost reminds me of Vizzini: the colourful Sicilian brigand from ‘The Princess Bride’.

Even if you’ve never watched that film – which would have been considered (ahem) ‘inconceivable’, until just a few years ago - you’d probably recognise the character just by his trademark one-liner (it’s actually more of a ‘one-worder’, but anyway):


That, in a nutshell, is Vizzini’s reaction to pretty much everything that happens, in the entire movie, that might in any way thwart his own nefarious, ‘princess-abduction’ plans.

And because the movie plants itself very firmly in the terrain of ‘children’s fairy-tale’ – where nefarious plans DO invariably get thwarted (and as a rule, in the most inconceivable of ways, too) – let’s just say that he ends up repeating that word… quite a lot.

Eventually, it falls to everyone’s favourite character from ‘The Princess Bride’ (no, not Wesley: Inigo Montoya, of ‘You-Killed-My-Father, Prepare-To-Die’ fame) to draw Vizzini’s attention to a small, but rather awkward detail:   

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…”

There, what did I tell you? Just like the FKNK: which also tends to repeat the same old catchphrase – oblivious to the expression’s actual meaning – with each and every single development that somehow runs counter to its own plans and expectations.

What expression, I hear you ask? Well… let’s see if you can spot it for yourselves, in this random selection of quotes: all lifted from press releases by either the FKNK, or the ‘Kaccaturi San Umbertu’ (KSU), over the past 17 years:

Exhibit 1: “FKNK secretary-general Daniel Xriha claimed the [designation of Qawra Point as a nature reserve] was “another form of illegal collective punishment against hunters” [which] “violates the regulation promulgated after the imposition of the last collective punishment in April 2015, which provides for the recommendation of the Ornis Committee to the minister, before the imposition of any collective punishment.” - September 23, 2022

(Small hint before proceeding: the catchphrase we’re looking for has already been used THREE TIMES, just in those two short sentences.)

Exhibit 2: In a statement, KSU said that: “collective punishment for over 10,000 hunters because six birds have been shot illegally is not only a counterproductive measure, but also offensive. […] Though KSU unreservedly condemns any hunting related illegal activity, […] we consider collective punishment measures as draconian in this day and age.” – September 2017

Exhibit 3: “Reacting to the government’s decision to abruptly close the Autumn season, FKNK president Joe Perici Calascione said that ‘no European country imposes collective punishment, and the federation is considering taking legal steps in a bid to bring to an end this ‘oppression’.” – April 2015

And lastly, Exhibit 4 (which also has the distinction of ‘killing two birds with one stone’): “The hunters’ federation (FKNK) said this evening that […] closing the hunting season because of abuse would amount to unjustified collective punishment. ‘On the 10th of May 2007, the Malta Government imposed such a collective punishment by abruptly and unjustly closing the hunting season,’ the federation said…” – September 2008

Yes indeed, folks: ‘collective punishment’. That is the injustice that Maltese hunters invariably complain about, every single time the government takes any form of decision they consider to be ‘against their own interests’ – regardless whether (as in the case of both 2007 and 2008) it was actually imposed by the European Commission, and not by the Maltese government…

… and, even more bizarrely, regardless whether or not this perceived ‘injustice’ even happened at all (in both Exhibit 2 and Exhibit 4, the term ‘collective punishment’ refers only to recommendations to close the hunting season – made by Birdlife Malta and CABS, respectively – which were not actually implemented, at the time).

But even on those rare occasions where any such decision WAS taken – and this week’s ‘designation of Qawra Point as a nature reserve’ is a perfect example – it is still a classic case of: “That word you keep using? I do not think it means what you think it means…”

So let’s do what both FKNK and KSU should really have done 17 years ago… and look those words up in a dictionary. The precise phrasing may, of course, vary here and there… but the definition will always revolve around the following points:

1) “Collective punishment is a form of SANCTION [my emphasis] imposed on persons or a group of persons in response to a crime committed by a member of the group.”

2) Such sanctions consist of “‘penalties of any kind inflicted on persons or entire groups of persons, in defiance of the most elementary principles of humanity, for acts that these persons have not committed.”

3)  Collective punishment is internationally recognised as a human rights violation, and also as a WAR CRIME [my emphasis, again].

Right: all that remains is to assess how much of that definition actually applies to any of the above complaints of ‘collective punishment against hunters’, over the past two decades or so.

Already, it can be seen that the answer can only be… ‘not very much’. For starters, because Maltese law clearly stipulates what the REAL sanctions/punishments for illegal hunting are; and as the FKNK knows only too well, they do NOT include such things as ‘closing the hunting season’ (as happened in 2007, 2008 and 2015); and even less, ‘designating Qawra Point as a nature reserve’ (as happened last Thursday).

No: the real legal sanctions for violating Malta’s hunting laws are limited mostly to the imposition of fines and/or (very rarely) prison sentences; as well as, occasionally, the (temporary or permanent) confiscation of hunting licences.

So if we were to take the hunting federation’s complaint literally: and assume that ALL Malta’s 10,000+ hunters are ‘collectively punished’, each and every time that any one of their number commits a single ‘hunting-related offence’…

… well, quite frankly, there wouldn’t be any Maltese hunters left out there at all by now, would there? For let’s face it: all 10,000+ of them would either have been ‘unjustly imprisoned and/or fined, for a crime they didn’t commit’; or else, they’d have had their hunting licences ‘collectively confiscated’ years (if not decades) ago….

Yet we can all see, with our own two eyes, that that is very emphatically NOT what tends to happen, in practice. Quite the contrary, in fact: not only has there never – not once, in the entire (seemingly never-ending) history of Maltese hunting-related offences - been a single, solitary case of ‘collective punishment’, targeting the hunting community as a whole… but in most instances, the actual perpetrator himself would not even be ‘individually punished’, either!

And we all also know exactly why it turns out that way, so very often. Mostly, it’s for the simple reason no Maltese government – since the mid-1990s, at any rate – has ever had the political will to confront (still less, ‘provoke’) the hunting lobby, by actually ‘enforcing its own laws’; but it’s also partly because (for much the same reason) the Maltese authorities are simply too under-staffed, and too ill-equipped, to properly monitor the daily activities of over 10,000 hunters, strewn across the entire islands…

Which of course, brings us to the most overwhelming reason why none of the above ‘exhibits’ (least of all, the most recent one) can possibly be interpreted as examples of ‘collective punishment’. It concerns the primary motivation behind all of those actions and decisions: which has never been to ‘punish hunters’; but always – in each and every single case - to ‘PROTECT BIRDS’.

And yes, granted: in most cases, the need for this protection would arise directly from the criminal activities of individual hunters, who repeatedly – and very often, with impunity – ‘break the law’, at every given opportunity. This is certainly true of Qawra Point, which we all know to be a notorious hot-spot for illegal hunting anyway…

… but we all also know (or should know, anyway) that this is not the only reason why hunting has now been banned from that particular site. There is, by my count, at least one other, highly valid reason to declare Qawra Point as a Nature Reserve (and guess what? It doesn’t even have anything to do with ‘birds’ at all)

It may have escaped the FKNK’s notice, over years, but… Maltese law also prohibits hunting from taking place ‘within 200 metres of a residential area’. And the small islet we are talking about here, just happens to be right on the threshold of one of the most densely populated ‘residential (and tourism) areas’ that Malta even has to offer.

Qawra, of all places… which – as can be confirmed just by driving past Salina Bay on the Coast Road, any day of the week – looms a LOT closer to that site, than the maximum distance allowed by law for hunting.

Effectively, then, hunting should never have been permitted on Qawra Point in the first place. So far from constituting a ‘collective punishment against hunters’… its long-overdue designation as a nature reserve actually rectifies an injustice that the rest of Malta’s non-hunting population (and even more so, its migratory bird-life) has been enduring, in silence, for decades.

And yet, and yet: not only do the hunters react by (as usual) ‘playing the victim card’; but they even claim to be victims of a WAR CRIME, no less…

I mean, honestly: how much more “absolutely, totally and in all other ways INCONCEIVABLE’, can you possibly get?