ERRC: Police Harassment of Roma in Italy - ERRC Letter of Concern: Harassment of Roma by Italian Police

01 June 2004

On June 1, 2004, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Mr Giuseppe Pisanu, Italy's Minister of Interior, to express concern about reports about the harassment and abuse of Roma by law enforcement officials in Italy. The ERRC outlined three specific cases in which law enforcement officials picked up Romani beggars, including Romani children, drove them up to 15 kilometres out of the town in which they were picked up, and then left them to walk home. In one instance, officers reportedly impounded the shoes of a Romani child before leaving her to walk home barefoot. The ERRC letter also details other issues related to the harassment of Roma in Italy. The ERRC reminded Minister Pisanu that such actions may rise to the level of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and requested that a general investigation into the allegations be opened immediately, and that any and all persons responsible be brought swiftly to justice. The ERRC also requested that a general order condemning such behaviour, and outlining proper procedures and potential punishments in such cases be issued to all law enforcement agencies in Italy. The full text of the letter follows:

Honourable Minister Pisanu,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), a public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is concerned about reports of Romani beggars being harassed and subjected to abuse by law enforcement officials in Italy.

According to his testimony published on the Internet listserve Conares on May 18, 2004, D.E., a 16-year-old Romanian Romani male from Camp Profughi di Via Girelli in Brescia, was picked up by police on May 10, 2004. D.E. stated that two police officers, one male and one female, grabbed him by the arms and forced him into their vehicle number 55 without saying anything, and drove approximately 15 kilometres out of Brescia to a deserted area at the top of a mountain. According to D.E., the officers swore at him, then forced him out of the car. D.E. stated that the male officer ripped his pants while trying to pull them off of him, while the female officer watched and laughed. They then left him there to walk home.

Similarly, at Camp Boscomantico on the periphery of Verona, Mr B.N., a Romanian Romani man with whom the ERRC spoke on April 29, 2004, stated that his 5-month pregnant wife, Ms S.B., had several days earlier been dragged by two police officers into their vehicle after having been caught begging in the city centre. According to Mr B.N., instead of taking his wife to the police station as she requested, the officers drove 15 kilometres out of Verona in the direction opposite the camp and left Ms S.B. on the side of the road. Romani residents of the camp also informed the ERRC that during the previous week, A.M., a 14-year-old Romanian Romani girl, had similarly been picked up by police while begging in Verona. The officers drove A.M. several kilometres out of Verona in the direction opposite the camp to a deserted area and took her shoes from her. The officers then reportedly left A.M. to walk home barefoot.

Mr Lorenzo Monasta and Ms Francesca Ragalja, activists from the association Cesar K working with the Roma and Sinti community in Verona, reported to the ERRC that such instances were common in Verona and elsewhere in the country. In many cases, police also reportedly take from Roma money they have collected while begging.

Honourable Minister Pisanu, the ERRC is disturbed by reports of such harassment and abuse of Roma by law enforcement officials in Italy. Such actions fall outside the ambit of acceptable conduct by law enforcement officials and may rise to the level of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has made clear that, in evaluating claims of violation of Article 3, it will take into account a range of factors which bear on the vulnerability of the victim. In Ireland v. United Kingdom, the Court held that "[...] ill-treatment must attain a minimum level of severity if it is to fall within the scope of article 3. The assessment of this minimum is in the nature of things, relative; it depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the duration of the treatment, its physical or mental effects and in some cases, the sex, age, and state of health of the victim, etc." Therefore, the level of ill-treatment required to be "degrading" depends, in part, on the vulnerability of the victim to physical or emotional suffering. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights similarly states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." In its General Comment 20, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors states' compliance with the Covenant stated, "The prohibition in article 7 relates not only to acts that cause physical pain but also to acts that cause mental suffering to the victim."

In accordance with Article 5 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, "No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [...]." The commentary on this section states, "(c) The term 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment' has not been defined by the General Assembly but should be interpreted so as to extend the widest possible protection against abuses, whether physical or mental." Furthermore, the European Code of Police Ethics recommends, in its Guidelines for Police Action/Intervention, that, "Police personnel shall act with integrity and respect towards the public and with particular consideration for the situation of individuals belonging to especially vulnerable groups." Finally, Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention states, "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by the law [...]."

Minister Pisanu, the ERRC requests that a general investigation into the allegations of harassment and abuse by law enforcement officers be opened immediately and that any and all officers found responsible for such harassment and violations of human rights be brought swiftly to justice. We also request that a general order condemning such behaviour, and outlining proper procedures and potential punishments in such cases be issued to all law enforcement agencies in Italy. We kindly request to be informed of any and all actions undertaken by your office on this matter and to receive a copy of the general order issued to Italian law enforcement officials. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue further with you.

Sincerely,
Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urges to contact:

Mr Giuseppe Pisanu, Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior
Palazzo Viminale
via Agostino Depretis
00184 Rome, Italy
Fax: + 39-06-47-41717

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