UN Committee reviews Italy's compliance with international human rights standards

03 April 1999

Veronika Leila Szente

In March 1999, on the occasion of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)1 session in Geneva, during which Italy's policies and practices on racial discrimination came up for examination, the ERRC submitted written comments on the situation of Roma in Italy2.

The written comments submitted to the CERD document that Roma in Italy are the victims of police violence and pervasive racial discrimination in virtually all spheres of public life. In the submission, we argue that the Italian government has failed to comply with its obligations under the Convention to prohibit, punish and remedy racial discrimination against Roma. In particular, the submission highlights the following areas of concern:

As to Article 2 of the Convention (requiring States to bring to an end racial discrimination by all appropriate means, including legislation), legal prohibitions against racial discrimination in Italy remain of uncertain scope and do not provide effective remedies. Officials at all levels of government seem to lack awareness of - let alone determination to act on - their obligation to ensure the effective enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and regulations.

As to Article 3 (banning racial segregation), by developing a housing policy for Roma premised on the racist and incorrect characterisation of them as "nomads", the Italian government has fostered the segregation of Roma into inhuman and degrading "camps" to which no other segment of the population is confined.

As to Article 4 (obligating States to not permit public authorities or institutions to promote or incite racial discrimination), government authorities in Italy have failed to acknowledge and condemn widespread anti-Roma policies, practices and attitudes.

As to Article 5 (guaranteeing equality before the law), Roma are commonly subjected to unremedied, racially-motivated police violence, and are discriminated against with respect to a broad range of rights to which non-Roma in Italy are entitled, most egregiously and systematically, the rights to equal treatment before law enforcement authorities and the courts, freedom of residence within the country, housing, education, and access to public accommodations and services.

ERRC's concerns with regard to Italy's implementation of the Convention were illustrated with concrete cases providing evidence of recent and repeated violence and discrimination against Roma.

In view of the many areas of failure on the part of the Italian government to comply with its obligations under the Convention, the ERRC recommended that the Italian government should establish an office staffed with qualified personnel with responsibility for publicising anti-discrimination norms, and for investigating and prosecuting violations of anti-discrimination law; abolish racial segregation in housing and eliminate its attendant effects in other fields; discipline and prosecute police and others for racially-motivated violence and other crimes against Roma; and at the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.

ERRC representatives were present during the session dedicated to Italy, and made an oral presentation to CERD members on that country. The Committee members made extensive use of the information and concerns submitted by the ERRC, which are also reflected in the resulting CERD report on Italy, the so-called "Concluding Observations" issued on each country following its examination by the CERD. In his closing speech, the Committee's Country Rapporteur for Italy Mr Ion Diaconu stated that "the situation of Roma remains disturbing and full attention should be paid to this issue3".

In its Concluding Observations concerning Italy4, the CERD condemned racial segregation of Roma in housing. In particular, the Committee expressed concern "at the situation of many Roma who, ineligible for public housing5, live in camps outside major Italian cities", and stated that "in addition to a frequent lack of basic facilities, the housing of Roma in such camps leads not only to a physical segregation of the Roma community from Italian society, but a political, economic and cultural isolation as well".

The CERD further lamented "the continuation of incidents of racial intolerance, including attacks against foreigners [...] and against Roma, [...] which are sometimes not recognised by the authorities as having a racial motivation or are not prosecuted"; "reports of acts of violence and bad treatment by police and prison guards against foreigners and members of minorities in detention"; and "the apparent lack of appropriate training for law enforcement officials and other public officials regarding the provisions of the Convention". The Committee also expressed concern that in the draft law on minorities presently pending in the Italian Senate, "Roma [are] not considered as a minority and thus would not benefit from the protection offered by [the] law".

In view of these serious deficiencies, the Committee recommended that the Italian government undertake a number of measures, including the following:

  • "strengthen its efforts for preventing and prosecuting incidents of racial intolerance and discrimination against some foreigners and Roma people, as well as of bad treatment of foreigners and Roma in detention";
  • "give more attention to the situation of Roma in Italy, with the view to avoid any discrimination against them";
  • "include in its next report statistical data on the ethnic composition of the country," in particular "the percentage of Italian citizens of foreign origin and the number of non-citizens living in Italy6";
  • "include information on the implementation of article 6 of the Convention [concerning legal remedies for racial discrimination], including the number of cases dealt with by the relevant authorities and courts of justice";
  • "intensify[...] education and training of law enforcement officials" about racial tolerance and human rights, and
  • establish a national human rights commission to address concerns relating to minority issues and discrimination.

The next session of the CERD will take place in Geneva in the period August 2-20, 1999. Among the countries to be examined are Romania and Spain. As the above account suggests, Committee members welcome and often make use of information submitted by NGOs and other non-governmental sources. The ERRC encourages all interested parties, especially in the two countries concerned, to consider this opportunity, and invites those who would like further information to contact us.

Endnotes:

  1. The CERD is the United Nations Treaty Body which oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Committee, composed of 18 internationally recognised experts, meets twice a year in Geneva. The Convention, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1965 and entered into force in 1969, was ratified by Italy in 1976. States parties are to submit an initial report within one year after the entry into force of the Convention, and periodic reports every two years thereafter. The March session marked the first time since 1995 that the Committee reviewed a report submitted by the Italian government.
  2. “Written Comments of the European Roma Rights Center Concerning Italy, For Consideration by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at its 54th Session, 8-9 March, 1999” In the preparation of these written comments, the ERRC received substantial assistance from the Florence-based Association for the Defence of the Rights of Minorities (ADM), and other non-governmental organisations and individuals. The full text of the document is available on Internet at errc.org, or from the ERRC upon request.
  3. For the discussion on Italy, see e.g. United Nations Press Releases, “Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Concludes Review of Situation in Federal Republic of Yugoslavia — Committee Starts Consideration of Report of Italy”, HR/CERD/99/13, 8 March, 1999 and “Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Concludes Consideration of Report of Italy on Compliance with Convention,” HR/CERD/99/14, 9 March, 1999.
  4. United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “Concluding Observations — Italy,” CERD/C/54/Misc.32/Rev.3, Unedited version, issued 18 March, 1999.
  5. During the March 9, 1999 session on Italy, in response to questions raised by several Committee members concerning reports about racial segregation of Roma in housing, Professor Luigi Citarella, Secretary General of the Inter-ministerial Commission on Human Rights and member of the Italian delegation to the CERD, stated that everybody has the right to be put on a waiting list for public housing, but that “the only exception from this are the Gypsies, because they prefer to stay in their camps”.
  6. Most of the Roma currently in Italy are immigrants from the countries of former Yugoslavia. Of those, most have been residing in the country for over 10-15 years, but have no valid, long-term residence permits.

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