For human rights protection, Italy needs a clear break with past practices

Strasbourg, 09/7/2012 - "The Italian government has been giving signs of a shift in policy, which suggests that there may be an opportunity to finally stop and reverse the erosion of human rights standards in the country. What Italy needs now is for these signs to be transformed into concrete, unambiguous policies and actions" said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after a four-day visit to Rome between 3 and 6 July.

During his visit, the Commissioner focused on the human rights of Roma and Sinti and on the human rights of migrants, including asylum seekers. "I have also decided to address the functioning of the judiciary in Italy and the length of court proceedings, one of the longest-standing human rights problems in Europe and a major concern for the European Court of Human Rights" said the Commissioner.

As regards Roma and Sinti, the Commissioner welcomed the recent adoption in Italy of the first national strategy for the integration of Roma, adding that he was very pleased to see that the Roma and Sinti themselves had been consulted and involved in its development: "This strategy, which distances itself from the very harmful approach of the "Nomad emergency", has to be implemented consistently" said the Commissioner. "It is therefore difficult to understand actions which appear to contradict the spirit of the strategy, such as the attempt to overturn the Council of State ruling declaring the ‘Nomad emergency' unlawful, or the continuing construction of a segregated camp near Rome". The Commissioner said that the good co-operation established between municipal authorities and Roma and Sinti in some cities should become the rule and be built upon to ensure that forced evictions into isolated camps are relegated to the past.

The Commissioner also welcomed the intention expressed by the authorities to resolve the plight of stateless Roma from former Yugoslavia, some of whom he met when visiting the camps of Salone and Salviati II. He expressed the hope that intentions would soon be translated into concrete actions.

Concerning migrants, the Commissioner welcomed recent declarations at the highest political level that the "push-back" policy will no longer be applied, in the light of the Hirsi Jamaa judgment of the Strasbourg Court. While appreciating the efforts throughout the country to accommodate persons arriving from North Africa in the first half of 2011, the Commissioner recommended that the system of reception centres be unified, guaranteeing an adequate level of protection everywhere, and capable of responding to fluctuating migratory flows. The Commissioner also pointed out that once officially recognized, refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection do not receive the crucial support they need to integrate into Italian society, and are therefore forced to live in destitute conditions. The Commissioner said "I personally witnessed the intolerable circumstances faced by 800 such persons, struggling to survive in an abandoned building in Rome. This is unacceptable in a country like Italy".

Referring to his visit to an identification and expulsion centre (CIE) in Ponte Galeria, where migrants are held while procedures for their identification are being carried out, the Commissioner also expressed deep concern about the conditions of detention in such institutions. He stressed that "many arrive in these facilities after serving a prison sentence. It must be possible to proceed with their identification while they are still in prison".

On the subject of the length of proceedings, the Commissioner underlined the complexity of this problem, which is detrimental not only to Italian citizens and the Italian economy, but also to the European system of human rights protection. He acknowledged the significant efforts to address this problem, but stressed that "it will not be resolved unless all interested parties contribute to the solution, including the Ministry of Justice, the High Council of the Judiciary, as well as judges, prosecutors and lawyers". The Commissioner considered as particularly promising the approach favouring active case management by judges, as promoted by Council of Europe bodies: "The effectiveness of this practice was proven by the very positive results obtained in certain courts, such as the First Instance Court of Turin. At a time of economic crisis, this approach has the undeniable advantage of not requiring additional resources".

The Commissioner's report on his visit to Italy is forthcoming.