ERRC letter to the Italian Prime Minister

11 July 2000

On May 30, 2000, the ERRC sent a letter to Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato to express concern about abusive raids by authorities on Romani settlements which took place in the early morning hours of May 28, 2000. During the raids, authorities destroyed property and dwellings belonging to Roma, evicted Roma from a number of locations, used abusive language, and reportedly expelled at least one Romani family from the country. In its letter, the ERRC urged Prime Minister Amato to take a clear stand in condemning abusive police behaviour and racist acts against Roma. The ERRC additionally urged thorough investigation into allegations that officers exceeded their legally sanctioned powers during the May 28 raids, and punishment of officers guilty of abuse. The ERRC additionally called on Prime Minister Amato to ensure that possessions impounded be restored to Roma forthwith, and destroyed property be compensated. The text of the ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Prime Minister Amato,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is deeply concerned about recent abusive raids by authorities on Romani settlements in Italy.

According to on-site monitoring by the ERRC, eyewitness testimony provided to the ERRC and to the Italian non-governmental organisation ARCI, as well as media reports, in the early morning hours of May 28, 2000, more than 1000 municipal police officers, carabinieri (police reporting to the Ministry of Defence) and members of the military conducted raids on the municipal "camps for nomads" of Arco di Travertino, Muratella, Via Candoni-ATAC, La Rustica and Vasca Navale in Rome.

At the Via Candoni-ATAC camp, more than 200 municipal police officers and carabinieri arrived in riot gear, carrying rifles and truncheons, with military buses, two ambulances, four tow trucks and bulldozers. They entered the camp at approximately 2:15 AM and began ordering individuals out of their places of residence — camper vans and shacks. The 200 inhabitants were told by authorities to pack their belongings and that they would be transferred to another camp. Some camper vans were towed away with belongings inside, however. Romani inhabitants of the Via Candoni-ATAC camp were taken to the Muratella camp. One family, the T. family from Bosnia, was reportedly expelled from Italy with four children and sent to Bosnia, though no official had confirmed the expulsion as of May 29. Advisor for Nomad Affairs for the City of Rome Dr Luigi Lusi was present at the raid on the Via Candoni-ATAC camp and told the ERRC that "this is a simple and legal operation to give these people a better living space." When queried as to why the operation took place in the dead of night and without being announced, Dr Lusi told the ERRC, "when working with criminals, one has to move in secrecy, or else they will all escape."

Members of the non-governmental organisation ARCI and other observers arrived shortly after the raid began. According to their testimony, police used excessive force. During the raid, officers pushed one ERRC representative and used discriminatory and abusive language against Roma present. Officers refused to provide identification or to provide names and titles to the ERRC or to journalists present at the raid.

At the Vasca Navale camp, in response to a prior tip that the camp would be raided, all but three of the ninety inhabitants fled the scene before police arrival. The three inhabitants remaining were taken by police to the Muratella camp. Officers told them that camper vans in Vasca Navale would be impounded, but that inhabitants of the camp would be allowed to recover their belongings later. Instead, twenty vehicles were destroyed, four or five were impounded, all shacks were torn down and the camp was closed. City council member Mr Amedeo Piva later told members of the non-governmental organisation ARCI that the destruction of the camper vans had been a "mistake" and that they would be replaced.

At the Arco di Travertino camp, more that 100 municipal police officers and carabinieri arrived in riot gear and carrying rifles and truncheons, at approximately 1:30 AM. Officers arrived with a police bus, ambulance and two tow trucks. The Arco di Travertino camp is authorised by the city of Rome and is equipped with utilities and sanitary services. There were, at the time of the raid, forty inhabitants living in the camp. With the exception of one individual, all are either Italian citizens or have valid residence permits. Authorities announced that Romani inhabitants of the camp at Vasca Navale would be transferred to the Arco di Travertino camp and that the present inhabitants would be expelled from the camp. At approximately 10:30 AM Sunday, after a nine hour siege, the police evidently abandoned plans and left the premises.

During all of the raids, police closed roads in a one-mile radius around the camp areas. The operations took place during a strike by Italian journalists, precluding effective public scrutiny of the abusive raids. In a press release of Sunday May 28, 2000, the City of Rome's Advisor for Nomad Affairs Dr Luigi Lusi stated: "This initiative [was] co-ordinated by the City of Rome, all police forces and immigration services. Apart from dismantling illegal camps, [we] managed to evict dangerous criminals. We found objects in their possession worth more than 1 billion lira (approximately five million euros) and large and expensive cars." Dr Lusi did not elaborate further on the nature of the objects "found" or whether they had been impounded by authorities. He also did not elaborate as to the nature of charges against "dangerous criminals" or how the public had benefited from their eviction. Referring to unspecified individuals - and by inference all of the Roma concerned - Mr Lusi stated: "The City of Rome confirms their battle against criminality and delinquency. We have sent away the delinquents."

Honourable Prime Minister Amato, abusive raids and the violent disruption of the homes of Roma in the middle of the night stands in violation of Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, prohibiting inhuman and/or degrading treatment, and protecting the right to home and family life respectively. The ERRC is additionally concerned that the stigmatisation of groups of Roma as "delinquents" and "criminals", without clear specification as to the nature of criminal offenses, numbers of individuals charged with criminal acts, and without expressed decisions in specific criminal cases by courts of law, may violate international legal provisions to which Italy is a party including Articles 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and Articles 6 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The international community has repeatedly condemned abusive practice vis-á-vis Roma by Italian authorities. Most recently, the ERRC appealed to the office of your predecessor, Prime Minister D'Alema, on March 7, 2000, to condemn abusive behaviour by the Rome police and to provide remedy to Roma targeted in raids on the Tor de' Cenci and Via Carucci settlements. The ERRC received no response to the March 7 letter, and notes conspicuous silence on the part of Italian authorities in the face of a rising tide of abuses against Roma in Italy.

Honourable Prime Minister Amato, the ERRC urges you to take a clear stand in the early days of your tenure in office to condemn abusive police behavior and racist acts against Roma. The ERRC additionally urges your office to initiate thorough investigation into allegations that officers exceeded their legally sanctioned powers during the May 28 raids, and to punish strictly officers guilty of abuse. Possessions impounded should be restored to Roma forthwith, and destroyed property should be compensated.

We kindly request to be informed of the results of any such investigations and of any disciplinary and compensatory measures taken.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Prime Minister Mr Giuliano Amato
Fax: 39 066798648

Minister of Internal Affairs Mr Enzo Bianco
Fax: 39 046549534

Minister of Defence Honourable Professor Sergio Mattarella
Fax: 39 06 4885756

Foreign Minister Mr Lamberto Dini
Fax: 39 0636912092

Mayor of Rome Mr Franceso Rutelli
Fax: 39 06 67102175

Advisor Responsible for Nomad Affairs for the City of Rome Dr Luigi Lusi
Fax: 39 06 676 92 865

As of June 26, the ERRC had received no response from Italian authorities.

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