“It is Italy’s and our common European responsibility to stop the ongoing human tragedy in the Mediterranean. It is high time to take collective action to end the loss of life at sea, including through responsibility sharing for adequate rescue capacity and relocation of those rescued”, said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, after a five-day visit to Italy focused on the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants and on women’s rights and gender equality.
“Italy must stop endangering the lives and safety of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by facilitating their interception and return to Libya, where they face widespread and grave violations of human rights. Any co-operation activities with third countries, including with Tunisia, must be conditional on comprehensive and effective human rights safeguards. In the absence of such safeguards, these activities only lead to more human suffering”.
The Commissioner also called on the Italian authorities to repeal policies and end practices which hinder NGOs’ search and rescue activities at sea. “It is crucial that NGOs can continue to carry out their life-saving work. The criminalisation of their activities goes against Italy’s obligations under international law”.
During her field visit to Lampedusa, the Commissioner noted the efforts of local authorities, international organisations, and civil society to meet the challenging situation in the hotspot and on the island. “Long-term planning at national level is necessary to ensure the sustainability of reception of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in dignified conditions across Italy. Tailored support should be provided to the authorities and inhabitants of Lampedusa, who continue to extend generous assistance to those arriving to the island, despite all difficulties”.
In Rome, the Commissioner visited the Casa Internazionale delle Donne, where she had an extensive exchange of views with women’s rights organisations and other civil society representatives. In her discussions with the authorities, the Commissioner stressed the urgency to overcome the tolerance towards violence and discrimination against women and girls often still prevailing in Italian society. “It is urgent to face the glaring rift between legal guarantees and the reality of gender-based violence and widespread inequalities suffered by women and girls”.
The Commissioner noted with deep concern the severe shortage of shelters for women victims of gender-based violence, in particular in certain regions, and the scarcity of funds allocated to support service providers. “Sufficient and reliable funding is necessary to ensure the availability, continuity and adequacy of support services throughout the territory. Co-ordination and monitoring of the implementation of measures to prevent and combat violence against women must also be strengthened”.
The Commissioner also urged the authorities to tackle existing regional disparities in the availability of sexual and reproductive health care services, including access to abortion care and contraception. “The government must ensure that access to these services is not undermined by refusals by health professionals to provide certain forms of healthcare on grounds of conscience, or by differences in regional policies in this field”.
In addition, the Commissioner urged the authorities to address women’s disadvantaged position in employment, including by improving the availability of childcare support to facilitate women’s re-entry in the labour market after childbirth.
The Commissioner took the opportunity to follow up on some issues related to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. She encouraged the Italian authorities to continue their efforts to protect journalists from intimidation, praising the work of the Coordination Centre for monitoring, analysis and exchange of information on intimidation of journalists.
The Commissioner also met the team of Ossigeno per l’Informazione. She emphasised the importance of their independent monitoring of attacks against journalists in Italy and the urgent need to fully decriminalise defamation, noting that vexatious lawsuits (SLAPPs) continue to hamper media freedom in the country. The Commissioner stressed that Ossigeno’s model constitutes an invaluable tool to document attacks against journalists, and it should be used across Europe. Together with the President of Ossigeno, Alberto Spampinato, the Commissioner paid homage to the memorial commemorating thirty Italian journalists killed because of their investigative work and 900 other victims of mafia.
Taking note of recent developments affecting the registration and birth certificates of children of same-sex couples, the Commissioner recalled that in all measures concerning children the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration.
During the visit, the Commissioner met with the Minister of Interior, Matteo Piantedosi, the Diplomatic Advisor of the President of the Council of Ministers, Ambassador Francesco Maria Talò, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health, Giovanni Leonardi, the Head of the Coordination Centre for monitoring, analysis and exchange of information on intimidation of journalists, Prefect Vittorio Rizzi, the Director of the National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR), Mattia Peradotto, and the Mayor of Lampedusa and Linosa, Filippo Mannino. She also met with international partners and members of civil society.
A report on the visit is forthcoming.