Italian Court Condemns Government's Roma Census as Discriminatory

A court in Rome has ordered the Italian government to pay compensation to an Italian citizen of Roma origin for forcing his participation in a discriminatory census and fingerprinting operation that targeted Italy’s Roma minority.  

The court also ordered the ministry to destroy all files containing personal data on the plaintiff, Elviz Salkanovic.

Salkanovic filed a legal complaint over his inclusion in a census and finger-printing operation launched in 2008 under emergency powers passed by the government of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The operation involved photographing, finger-printing and gathering personal information on members of Italy’s Roma and Sinti minority.

Salkanovic lived in a Roma encampment  known as Casilino 900 from 1989 until 2009 when the camp was bulldozed, leaving some 1,000 people homeless.  He was then required to participate in the census in order to secure public housing. Evidence shows that information gathered in the census has subsequently been used for additional purposes, including by immigration authorities and law enforcement.

According to the ruling by the Second Civil Chamber of the Court of Rome, the fingerprinting operation involved "a determination based on ethnic grounds” and resulted in a violation of the personal dignity of the plaintiff, and damage to his reputation.

The court ordered the Ministry of the Interior to destroy all documents containing his personal information. It instructed the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of the Interior to pay €8000 in compensation to Salkanovic.

The legal action was filed in June 2012, when the Open Society Justice Initiative together with Italian NGOs Associazione 21 Luglio and Associazion Studi Giuridici Sull’Immigrazione (ASGSI), on behalf of Mr. Salkanovic, sought a declaration that the Roma census violated Italian and EU antidiscrimination and data protection law.

The three groups welcomed the court ruling in Salkanovic’s favor. But they also called on the Ministry of the Interior to destroy all the data collected in the census operation.

The Italian government has stated in front of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination  (CERD) in 2012, that the relevant databases carrying personal information from the census have been deleted. Nonetheless, no measure ordering the deletion of such data has ever been issued by the Ministry of the Interior.

Carlo Stasolla, President of Associazione 21 Luglio said: “During Mr. Salkhanovic’s case it became clear that the Interior Ministry has not in fact deleted the information collected during this census. This ruling makes it clear that this must now happen.” 

Lorenzo Trucco, president of ASGI said: “Collecting the fingerprints of thousands of people, just because they belong to a specific ethnic group is discriminatory. We now have a definitive ruling that this is what happened during the so called “nomad” census.”

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “This ruling is important not just for Italy, but for all of Europe; it should remind those tempted to make scapegoats out of minority communities that racial discrimination is a breach of both international and European law.”   

According to the Ministry of the Interior, during the first year of the so-called emergency, 167 Roma camps were subject to census, and identity checks were performed on 12,346 people, more than 5,000 of them children.