Forced Exit: ERRC Legal Action in Italian Expulsion Case

10 July 2002

Esther Farkas1

"In March 2000, we were in Rome, Italy. At that time we had already lived for ten years in a big camp, on a great field, where we lived in two little houses. On March 3, many police officers came, at 2 o'clock in the morning. There were many policemen, masked and wearing dark glasses. They called out my name. They told me, 'Come with us to the bus for the police station.' I wanted to go back to the house to take some diapers for my sick daughter Alisa, but they did not let me. Before the deportation we did not receive any announcement that we would be deported, we did not know anything."

Ms Hadžira Sulejmanovic

Ms Sulejmanovic, her infant daughter Alisa, who suffers from Down's syndrome, and her husband Mr Pašo Sulejmanovic, were just one family among dozens forcibly expelled from Italy after first being detained in the Casilino 700 and the Tor de' Cenci camps outside of Rome, Italy on March 3, 2000.

The two camps where Romani refugees had made a home after escaping from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s were unauthorized camps where Roma lived in makeshift barracks, containers, and old trailers. According to research conducted by the ERRC, there was no running water, no electricity, and no adequate sewage system. In Casilino 700, about a dozen chemical toilets served some 1500 Roma.2

On March 3, 2000, at around 1 AM, according to eyewitness testimony provided to the ERRC, a squad of police and carabinieri entered the Casilino 700 camp. The officials detained approximately thirty Roma from the upper right zone of the camp, known to be the "Bosnian" area of the camp. The Roma were loaded into police buses and taken to Rome's main airport, Leonardo da Vinci, in the nearby suburb of Fiumicino. Upon arrival at the airport, the Roma were ushered through an alternate entrance so that, "for security purposes," the expulsion "would not attract public attention," according to Dr Luigi Lusi, the city of Rome's Advisor for Nomad Affairs.3 Thirty-six Roma from Tor de' Cenci and 20 Roma from Casilino 700 were then escorted by an approximately equal number of military police onto a private aircraft leased by the Ministry of Interior. They were then expelled to Bosnia.

According to ARCI, an Italian non-governmental organization, among the deported Roma there were pregnant women and children. Some of the latter reportedly had serious health conditions. For example, Alisa, the daughter of Ms Hadžira Sulejmanovic, suffers from Down's syndrome and a heart condition. One child was separated from his mother and expelled to Bosnia after the police refused to believe that the woman with whom he was detained was indeed his biological mother.

Following the incident, on March 7, 2000, the ERRC sent a letter to Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema to express concern at the group expulsion. In the letter, the ERRC urged Prime Minister D'Alema to provide the public with an explanation as to the legal grounds for the action and to condemn policies targeting Roma for group expulsion from Italy. The ERRC has never received a response to its letter from the Italian government, nor have there been any indications that the authorities have acted on the ERRC's recommendations.4

The collective expulsion of aliens is in contravention to Article 4 of Protocol 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights.5 Discriminatory treatment additionally violates international legal provisions to which Italy is a party including Article 2 and Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,6 Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,7 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.8

Because the victims of the deportation had no effective recourse to pursue domestically, Italian lawyer Mr Nicolo' Paoletti filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of six of the victims and their minor children on May 18, 2000. The ERRC prepared a legal research memorandum for Mr Paoletti to use in his argument. The application alleged violations of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life), Article 13 (right to an effective remedy), Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), Article 4 of Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens), and Article 1 of Protocol no. 7 (procedural safeguards relating to expulsion of aliens).

As a follow-up to the application, in February 2002, the ERRC travelled to Bosnia to examine the situation of the applicants after their expulsion. The ERRC found that in Bosnia, the returnees live in abject poverty and suffer from a lack of adequate housing, medical care, employment and educational opportunities. They live in impoverished shacks surrounded by piles of garbage, without electricity, water, sewage, or access to public transportation. To exacerbate the problem, publicly-owned utility companies in many areas continue to deny minority returnees access to services such as electricity, gas and telephones.9 In addition, the returnees do not have access to adequate medical care, due in part to the complexity of the insurance schemes in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. Facing particular danger is Alisa Sulejmanovic, daughter of applicants Pašo and Hadžira Sulejmanovic, who suffers from Down's syndrome and underwent open-heart surgery just prior to the expulsion. Transportation and infrastructure in Bosnia-Herzegovina is still in the post-war redevelopment stage and chronic illnesses such as Alisa's, which may not have been life-threatening when adequate medical care was available, have the potential to be fatal.

The Sulejmanović family and neighbours, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 2002.
Photo: Tim-Simon Rohardt

Also cause for concern is the frequent occurrence of violent crime in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. Attacks by Croatian nationalists against returning Roma have been documented in eastern Bosnia. The International Crisis Group (ICG) additionally reports that the local police in Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot yet be counted upon to enforce the law adequately. The police are reportedly inconsistent, under-qualified and primarily interested in protecting members of their own national group. In its May 10, 2002 report entitled Policing the Police in Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda, the ICG says of the local police, "The role of the police is not seen as being to 'serve and protect' everyone, but to serve and protect 'one's own kind', whether they be co-nationals, colleagues or political masters."10

In addition, the estimated one million landmines planted in the country during the 1992-1995 wars still remain a serious threat to returnees.11 In the period January 1, 2001 to the end of June 2001, 49 mine-related incidents were recorded, including 16 deaths.12 Most of the other victims will remain physically handicapped and psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives. Hadžira Sulejmanovic knows the hazards of landmines all too well. In February 2002, she told the ERRC, "We moved to a ruined house at Ilid in a building destroyed in the war. Around the house in the fields there were landmines. I did not dare let my children leave the house."

Troubling as well is the threat of violence faced by children of returnees. Pašo and Hadžira Sulejmanovic report that their daughter V.S. was kidnapped and raped in late December 2001. Her attackers were briefly arrested and the family lives in fear of their return. In an interview, V.S.'s father, Pašo Sulejmanovic, told the ERRC, "[The rapists] threatened us that if we sued them, they would kill us. Out of fear, V.S. did not dare sue them. She cried, she was completely ruined. It was all very difficult for us. We were afraid that the people who kidnapped her would throw a bomb at us."

Taking the report on the current status of the returnees into consideration, the ERRC prepared a supplemental submission on behalf of the applicants to provide additional information to the Court on the current status of the returnees. The Court has held that where substantial grounds exist for believing that the person concerned, if deported, faces a real risk of being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the receiving state, such forced deportation violates Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.13 In light of existing case law, the ERRC submitted its findings and the testimony of the applicants as additional facts for the Court's consideration.

After a hearing on March 14, 2002 the Court declared Sulejmanovic and others v. Italy admissible. A decision on the merits of the case is pending.

Endnotes:

  1. Based on prior ERRC submissions and findings of ERRC field research; Esther Farkas is a legal assistant at the ERRC.
  2. Information gathered by the ERRC, during a field research mission in January 1999. For further information on camp conditions, see ERRC Country Report Campland: Racial Segregation of Roma in Italy, October 2000. In October 2001, Casilino 700 was dismantled and its inhabitants dispersed or moved to two separate camps - Via Candoni and Via Salone. As of May 2002, Via Salone, on the southern periphery of Rome, had miserable living conditions. In Via Salone there are approximately 1200 inhabitants living with no electricity, no paved roads, dismal sanitary conditions and one water pump.
  3. Dr Luigi Lusi was interview by the European Roma Rights Center on March 8, 2000 in Rome.
  4. For full text of ERRC's letter to Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema see: ERRC Letter to Italian Prime Minister.
  5. Protocol 4, Article 4 states: "Collective expulsion of aliens is prohibited."
  6. Article 2 states: "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status [...]"
    Article 26 states: "All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status [...]"
  7. Article 2 states: "States Parties condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races [...]"
    Article 5 states: "In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law [...]"
  8. Article 14 states: "The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status."
  9. "Human Rights in the OSCE region: The Balkans, the Caucasus, Europe, Central Asia and North America" International Helsinki Federation Report 2001 (http://www.ihfhr.org/reports/ar01/Whole%20report/IHF_Rep.2001.pdf).
  10. International Crisis Group, Policing the police in Bosnia: A Further Reform Agenda, May 10, 2002, p.3.
  11. 2001 US State Department Human Rights Country Reports: Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  12. International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Report 2001, p. 73.
  13. See Cruz Varas and others v. Sweden, European Court of Human Rights, Judgement of 20 March 1991.

donate now

Challenge discrimination, promote equality

be informed

Receive our public announcements Receive our Roma Rights Journal

news portal

The latest Roma Rights news and content online

join us

Become a part of the ERRC's activist network in Europe