ERRC editorial in L’Unita: The Routes of Roma

The strength of democracy in a country, perhaps, can be best measured by this society’s treatment of its vulnerable communities. No doubt that Roma is one of the most vulnerable groups in Europe and in Italy. So far, Italy failed this litmus test with its treatment of Roma in the country.
Italy declared Roma as a “menace to society” and began their high profile war against them in 2008. Authorities, armed with a presidential decree for a State of Emergency from the Berlusconi government, started a passionate hunting campaign against Roma. Under the State of Emergency, fundamental rights of Romani individuals were violated. They were counted, photographed, forcibly and relentlessly evicted, excluded from education, fingerprinted, segregated, harassed and expelled. Rights groups and victims were asking: What is next? Forcing Roma to wear an armband with a capital “R” in yellow?
16 November 2011 was marked as a turning point in this process. On this date, country’s highest administrative court declared the State of Emergency illegal. Human rights defenders as well as the victims of these actions have celebrated this decision. Is Italy changing? Will it start to see the “human” side of the Roma issue and stop seeing it just as a security issue?

The new government gave confusing signals. They stated that they have no intention to re-install Berlusconi’s dire State of Emergency, and they  developed a national strategy on Roma Integration for the European Commission, with a clear position against the system of camps. But at the same time they appealed the Council of State’s decision before the Court of Cassation. Furthermore, the government requested the Council of State to suspend the effects of its decision declaring the State of Emergency was illegal, pending the case being decided by the Court of Cassation.
Unfortunately, the Council of State did not stand firmly behind its own decision and accepted the government’s request for suspension (in part, at least).

Confused? Well, at least we are…

Yet, we are very clear on one point and no one should make any mistake in this: The State of Emergency is not back. The new decision only means that various contracts started under the State of Emergency can go ahead, which will certainly have a negative impact on the housing situation of Roma and Sinti living in formal and semi-formal camps. The Court of Cassation, the highest court in Italy, will still consider the substance of the original decision at a later date.

Now we ask the Italian authorities not to abuse this interim decision. They can prove that they are committed to human rights and democracy by implementing a transparent process, making all decisions in consultation with affected communities. They must make all contracts available to public. The Italian authorities have to concentrate their focus and energy on implementing integration strategies and addressing discrimination, rather than unnecessary security measures and continuing with ill-considered, segregated and short-term housing plans.

Once again, this is an opportunity for the government to prove its sincerity for democracy and human rights. Let’s keep in mind, when it is about testing the democracy in Italy, “all roads lead to Roma”.

This article was published in Italian newspaper L’Unita.

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