UN Committee Rebukes Italy over Minority Discrimination

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has become the latest international human rights body to criticize Italy over its failure to adhere to international standards in the treatment of both ethnic minorities and migrants. A review last month delivered a series of strong rebukes to Italy over its treatment of Roma and Sinti minorities in particular, citing numerous violations of their rights, including forced evictions and segregation.

In its conclusions CERD set out more than 25 detailed recommendations for further action by the Italian government. Some of these had been raised in Italy’s last review by the committee in 2008, while others were new, highlighting how the use of emergency legislation by the previous Berlusconi government worsened an already precarious situation for minority communities. The committee’s strong response was welcomed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which had highlighted many of the issues in its joint submission to CERD with its Italian partner, l’Associazione Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione.

CERD’s review included criticism of the 2008 census, carried out under emergency laws, which specifically targeted Roma and Siniti communities, in a process that failed to obtain their free and informed consent for recording their names and taking their photographs and fingerprints. While the authorities kept the personal data acquired from the census for years, the government claimed during its dialogue with the committee that the data had now been destroyed. CERD instructed Italy to inform the communities concerned that the data had been destroyed and in strong terms reminded the government that identification of individuals as belonging to racial or ethnic groups is to be established on a voluntary and anonymous basis, and on the basis of self-identification.

The committee again rebuked Italy for its targeted evictions of Roma and Sinti, and its de facto segregation of these communities from the rest of the population in poorly equipped camps without access to the most basic facilities.

CERD called on Italy to provide effective remedies to Roma and Sinti for the negative impact of the emergency decrees, and to consult with these communities in the development of programs directed at them. It also raised concerns over the particularly vulnerable situation of stateless Roma and their children born in Italy but who have not been granted citizenship, urging that steps be taken to ensure their access to citizenship.

On migration, the committee criticized the poor conditions in migrant detention centers and urged Italy to bring them in line with international standards.

The committee was also concerned about Italy’s continued discrimination against non-citizens referring to the higher arrest rates and harsher sentencing of migrants as compared to Italians, as well as obstacles in accessing social services and discriminatory restrictions in the labor market that affected in particular non-EU foreign nationals. It urged the state to review its legislation.

The committee also called for stronger efforts to combat and punish both racist violence and pervasive hate speech directed at Roma, Sinti and non-citizens. These concerns reflect the recent findings of the Italian NGO Lunaria and a report from Human Rights Watch last year, which both tracked a steady growth in incidents of discrimination and racism in Italy

CERD urged Italy to make it easier for non-governmental groups to assist and represent victims of racial discrimination in judicial proceedings by reviewing its current NGO registration system. It also called on Italy to strengthen the independence of Italy’s national Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) to allow it to function as an effective watchdog.

Italy now has one year to demonstrate its genuine commitment to addressing the discrimination affecting Roma and Sinti communities. If it fails to respond adequately, it risks censure when the committee revisits the review findings. CERD’s rebuke follows similar criticism from the European Committee on Social Rights of the Council of Europe, as well as February’s ruling from the European Court of Human Rights, which found that Italy had breached international obligations by stopping a group of would-be migrants on the open seas and sending them back to Libya.

The current government led by Mario Monti, which should remain in power up to elections next year, must now renew its efforts to address these violations which have been a stain on Italy’s human rights record.

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