Roberto Iseni was born in Italy to parents from the former Yugoslavia, lived in danger of criminal sanctions and expulsion for years because he missed a 12-month window to apply for Italian citizenship following his 18th birthday, as dictated by Italian law. Iseni, who is hearing- and speech-impaired and lived in a state home for the disabled, was never advised that he could acquire Italian nationality. As a result, although Italy is the only country he has ever known, faced potential expulsion as an undocumented person. The Open Society Justice Initiative acting as a third party intervener, asked the Tribunal of Milan to grant Iseni Italian citizenship, restore his right to apply for citizenship, or officially declare him a stateless person with a right to eventually apply for citizenship. In 2012, an Italian appeals court recognized Mr. Iseni as stateless. He then applied for Italian citizenship, a judicial process, following a change in the law allowing flexibility for the one-year deadline. In September 2015, the civil court in Rome granted him citizenship, on the grounds that he would otherwise have been stateless.
Roberto Iseni was born in Italy in 1987 to parents who were citizens of the former Yugoslavia. Suffering from hearing and speech impairment, he has lived in community homes for the disabled since the age of 16. Italy is the only country he has ever lived in, and Italian is his native and only language. Before Iseni turned 18, he had a regular residence permit and was not removable because of his minor age.
According to Italian law, application for citizenship and a passport must be made within 12 months after a person’s 18th birthday. Unfortunately, Iseni’s caretakers at the state-sponsored home for the disabled where he lived at the time failed to inform him of this requirement. As a result, when he tried to renew his residence permit in 2005, he was refused, and by the time his social assistant consulted a lawyer, the deadline to apply for citizenship had passed.
Iseni’s situation is precarious: as an undocumented person over the age of 18, he is no longer entitled to the social services he needs for his disability and he cannot continue to stay in the community home where he has lived and worked for the last several years. Iseni’s undocumented status also puts him in danger of criminal sanctions and a potential expulsion from Italy, the only country he has ever known. The legal limbo in which he finds himself is typical of many Roma children born in Italy of parents who fled the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Unable to obtain Italian citizenship, they find themselves stateless in their country of habitual residence, not eligible for citizenship in the countries of the former Yugoslavia while facing an arduous administrative naturalization process in Italy.
In October 2009, Iseni filed a request to be declared stateless with the Milan Tribunal. The acquisition of stateless status would entitle Iseni to some minimum protections under Italian law, including a renewable residence permit, access to social services, and an opportunity to apply for citizenship at a later date. In view of Iseni’s connection to Italy, his disability and the failure of the state caretakers to look after his legal needs, the Justice Initiative sought to intervene in the proceedings, to ask the Milan Tribunal to grant Iseni Italian citizenship or to loosen the strict application of the 12-month requirement and allow him to apply for citizenship again.
The Justice Initiative, represented by the Unione Forense per la Tutela dei Diritti dell’Uomo, submitted a brief ad adiuvandum to the Milan Tribunal arguing that the continuing denial of access to citizenship is unlawful and discriminatory. In December 2011, the Milan Tribunal rejected Iseni’s statelessness application and refused to consider the Justice Initiative’s brief. The Justice Initiative continued to support Mr. Iseni in appealing this decision, and ultimately he was recognized as a stateless person by an appellate court. The Justice Initiative also supported a separate judicial application for Italian citizenship in which Mr. Iseni was represented by Italian lawyers working for Unione Forense per la Tutela dei Diritti Umani (UFTDU) in Rome and Mr. Livio Neri in Milan. The application was successful and Mr. Iseni acquired Italian citizenship in September 2015.
Denial of access to nationality. Iseni was entitled to apply for and acquire Italian citizenship under international, European and Italian law. The Italian authorities failed to protect Iseni’s right not to be arbitrarily denied access to a nationality and failed to observe the obligation to avoid the creation of statelessness, in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on Nationality, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The right to a nationality. The Italian authorities failed to respect Iseni’s right to acquire a nationality from birth and before reaching the age of majority, guaranteed by Articles 7 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Italy in 1991, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The right not to suffer discrimination. The deprivation of Iseni’s right to acquire Italian citizenship is discriminatory because the authorities failed to treat him differently on account of his disability and his vulnerable status as both a member of the Roma minority and a stateless person, in violation of Article 14 of the European Convention, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Grant of citizenship. Under international human rights law, Italy must provide an effective remedy for violations of applicable rights. Here, the only remedy that does not violate international legal standards accepted by Italy would be for Iseni to be declared an Italian citizen. Alternatively, Iseni should be granted the right to apply for Italian citizenship outside the 12-month deadline.
Grant of stateless status. Unless and until the Italian authorities determine that an immediate grant of citizenship is appropriate, Iseni should be granted stateless status, as he is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law.
October, 6, 2009. Case filed with the Ordinary Tribunal of Milan.
July 13, 2011. Justice Initiative requested to intervene in the proceedings and filed a brief ad adiuvandum for the Tribunal’s consideration.
December 20, 2011. Milan Tribunal issues decision denying stateless status and rejecting ad adiuvandum submission.
2013. Civil Court of Milan recognizes Iseni’s statelessness status.
September 2015. Rome ordinary court recognizes Iseni as an Italian citizen from birth.
The first instance court in Italy granted Iseni Italian citizenship in September 2015. The court granted Iseni citizenship by birth on the territory on the grounds that he would otherwise have been stateless.