Roundtable Meeting on Housing Segregation in Italy

11 May 2006

Combating Housing Segregation and Social Exclusion of Roma and Sinti in Italy

Rome

Summary of Main Conclusions

The roundtable "Combating Housing Segregation and Social Exclusion of Roma and Sinti in Italy" took place in Rome, organised by the European Roma Rights Centre and OsservAzione - Centre for Action Research against Roma and Sinti Discrimination. The meeting convened representatives of Council of Europe institutions, Italian authorities and activists from Roma and Sinti organizations, as well as other from organizations involved in support for Roma and Sinti in Italy.

In the opening address to the participants, Claude Cahn, Programmes Director of the ERRC, welcomed the decision of the European Committee on Social Rights on the matter of ERRC v. Italy. The decision, published in late April, found the Italian state in violation of Article 31 (the right to housing) together with Article E (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Social Charter as a result of policies and practices of racial segregation in the field of housing where Roma are concerned. In ruling on the matter, the Committee held unanimously that:

  • Insufficiency of camping sites for nomadic Roma constitutes a violation of Article 31(1) of the Revised Charter, taken together with Article E;
  • Forced eviction and other sanctions constitute a violation of Article 31(2) of the Revised Charter, taken together with Article E;
  • Lack of permanent dwellings constitutes a violation of Articles 31(1) and 31(3) of the Revised Charter, taken together with Article E.

At the May 8 roundtable meeting, summarising the Committee's deliberations on the Collective Complaint ERRC v. Italy, European Committee of Social Rights President Mr Jean-Michel Belorgey highlighted the following points:

  • With regard to the personal scope of the European Social Charter, the obligations of the States Parties flowing from the Charter may be applicable to individuals on the territory of the respective state regardless of their legal status. The fact of numerous Roma without lawful residence in Italy does not exempt the Italian state from providing the protections required by the Charter, because the Italian state bears responsibility for failure to legalise residence of individuals on its territory;
  • With regard to the obligations of states under the European Social Charter, states have the ultimate responsibility to ensure that these obligations are met regardless of the fact that due to the decentralized structure of government, local or regional or other authorities are responsible for carrying out particular functions;
  • With regard to collecting data, states obligations under the Charter require regular gathering of data, including data disaggregated by ethnicity or other grounds, pertaining to the situation of certain groups which face discrimination;

With regard to the prohibition of racial discrimination under the Charter, failure to undertake specific action to address the particular situation of Roma constitutes a breach of the state's obligations under the Charter.
Mr Henry Scicluna, Council of Europe Coordinator for Roma and Traveller Activities and Mr Adem Bejzak, President of the Amalipe Romanó, a Florence-based Romani association, stressed the importance of participation of Roma in designing and implementation of policies for the improvement of their situation. This position was reinforced by Professor Claudio Marta, the Italian representative of the Council of Europe's Group of Specialists on Roma (MGS-Rom), who stated that Roma and Sinti representatives should be able to review and comment on draft laws and policies before their adoption. Participants urged the establishment of a National Forum of Roma and Sinti and their advocates to coordinate local initiatives and assess the impact of laws and policies on Roma and Sinti communities in Italy.

Instances of violations of fundamental rights of Roma and Sinti in Italy by state and non-state actors, as well as of the failure of the Italian judicial system to provide victims with adequate redress, were presented by Nando Sigona and Lorenzo Monasta of OsservAzione, on the basis of a study carried out in several regions in Italy. The report "Imperfect Citizenship" (Edizioni Spartaco, 2006), including the results of the study, details cases of exclusion of Roma from citizenship; discriminatory refusal of legal residence to Roma by Italian authorities; police violence against Roma; and discrimination against Roma in the justice system. Available evidence demonstrates that policy and practice of Italian authorities is often informed by anti-Romani racism. The notion of "nomadism", imposed even on persons in Italy who are not nomadic, has predetermined a policy of segregation of Roma from mainstream society and blocked their integration. Pervasive stereotypes about Romani criminality, as Professor Alessandro Simoni of the EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights remarked, have resulted in denial of fundamental rights of Roma in the criminal justice system.

Looking at ways forward, participants discussed possibilities for cooperation between the recently established Italian anti-discrimination body UNAR and associations for the protection of the rights of Roma and Sinti. Antonio Guliani from UNAR discussed the provisions in the Italian law transposing the EU Race Equality Directive (Directive 43/2000), stressing the opportunities for advocates of the fundamental rights of Roma and Sinti flowing from the provision of locus standi in courts for civil organizations. Participants proposed that UNAR should initiate a broad consultation process for drafting a program to address the problems of racism and discrimination facing Roma and Sinti in Italy.

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