Terna v Italy (third-party intervention, pending)

07 May 2019


The case concerns a Romani child in Italy who, since 2010, has been looked after by her grandmother. There is not much publicly available information about the case. This makes sense, since the case is about a child and it is important to protect the child’s privacy. When the European Court publishes its full judgment in the case, more information will probably become available. 

What is now publicly known is that the authorities took the child away from her grandmother in 2016. The authorities not only took her into care; they also prevented her grandmother from having contact with her. The child’s guardian in the public care system told a judge that there should be no visits with her grandmother, because the child is Romani and there was therefore a risk that she would be kidnapped by members of her community. We also know that on 11 October 2016 there was a ruling saying that the child should have contact with her grandmother. But social services never organised any contact sessions, and the courts never responded to complaints the child’s grandmother made about this.

The ERRC’s Intervention

The ERRC was not involved in the case before it reached the European Court of Human Rights. When we learned about the case, we asked the European Court to let us “intervene” as a “third party”. A third-party intervener is someone who is not already involved in the case and who makes written submissions to help the European Court come to the right judgment. The European Court granted us permission to intervene in the case and we submitted our third-party intervention – a ten-page written document.  

We urged the Court to use the term “antigypsyism” to describe the specific forms of discrimination Roma face. We said antigypsyism in Italy was rife and gave examples of far-reaching discriminatory policies and hate speech at the highest levels of the State. We cited a definition for the term “institutional racism” and went on to describe institutional antigypsyism in the system for taking children into care in Italy. This phenomenon stemmed from centuries-old stereotypes about Roma, including the vicious stereotype that Roma are likely to kidnap children. We cited data showing vastly disproportionate numbers of Romani children in care and being freed for adoption in Italy. This was linked to racial stereotypes harboured by actors in the care system. The problem was not limited to Italy, but showed up in many European countries (such as Hungary, Serbia, and the United Kingdom). Treating a single incident of racial discrimination in the care system as isolated would be a mistake. We also urged the European Court to name racial stereotypes clearly when they appear in cases and condemn them as such. Lastly, we urged the Court to rely on the notion of “harassment” as a form of discrimination when dealing with racial stereotypes, and to shift the burden of proof onto Respondent Governments in cases like this one; in other words, we said it should be for Italy to prove that there was no discrimination.

The Court’s statement of facts (in French) can be found here.

The ERRC’s third-party intervention is also available in English and French.


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