United Nations expresses concern about the treatment of Roma in Italy

22 March 1999

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) welcomes the Concluding Observations issued last week by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concerning the Italian government's policies and practices with regard to Roma. Upon release of the CERD's Concluding Observations concerning Italy, Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of ERRC, stated, "The Committee's conclusions underline the extent to which the Italian government's failure to combat racism and discrimination effectively has aroused the concern of the international community. The numerous shortcomings identified require urgent government action to bring Italy into compliance with international law concerning its treatment of racial and ethnic minorities, including Roma."

The CERD is a United Nations body charged with responsibility for overseeing compliance with the Convention. It was ratified by Italy in 1976. Composed of eighteen internationally-recognised experts, the CERD reviews state implementation of the Convention through a reporting procedure which obliges governments to submit reports on a periodic basis. The March session marks the first time since 1995 that the Committee has reviewed a report submitted by the Italian government.

In its Concluding Observations concerning Italy, 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 housing, 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 Italy;"
  • "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.

In March 1999, the ERRC submitted written comments concerning Italy to the CERD. 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. This document, together with the full text of the CERD's Concluding Observations, is available from the ERRC upon request.


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