Europe rights commissioner urges change in ‘severe’ Italian policies on minorities

Europe rights commissioner urges change in ‘severe’ Italian policies on minorities

[JURIST] Council of Europe (COE) Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg [official profile] Tuesday urged Italy to change immigration and preemptive crime policies that he says marginalize the country's Roma and Sinti minorities [JURIST news archive]. Hammarberg memorandum [text; press release] was issued following visit to the country during which he reported harsh conditions in Roma camps and heard accounts of harsh treatment of the groups by police. He said that in addition to the harm caused by the policies themselves, openly anti-Roma governmental statements reinforced popular xenophobic sentiment against the group and immigrants in general:

The hostile environment to non-dominant, vulnerable social groups has recently been fostered by statements of certain national and local political figures as well as by a number of mass media in the country. In meetings with the Commissioner representatives of important NGOs deplored an almost total lack of rejection of xenophobic statements by senior politicians. Representatives of Roma and Sinti felt that such lack of reaction, combined with the “security package”, had further encouraged violence and hate speech against their communities. They expressed a fairly dramatic need for protection.

The Commissioner is seriously concerned about the adoption or preparation by the government of severe legislation which is aimed at ensuring “public security” and imposing a firmer control over immigration, including of EU citizens, and over the presence and movement of Roma and Sinti populations. … While stronger action against individual criminal offenders may be required, including enhanced international judicial cooperation, the swift adoption of broad packages of the sort currently implemented or considered in Italy entails a clear risk of linking insecurity to specific groups of population and of generating confusion between offenders and foreigners. Such risk should be carefully avoided, if one is not to further feed xenophobic tendencies.

Hammarberg recognized government actions that had been taken to protect the rights of the groups, but said that they were ineffective solutions to a problem that required sweeping reforms, such as those the COE recommended in resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2008 [texts]. AP has more.

Hammarberg has criticized recent security measures taken by various European governments, saying they infringe on rights the countries have agreed to uphold. Last week, Hammarberg called on COE states to critically examine human rights [JURIST report] in their own countries. In a June BBC interview, he warned [JURIST report] that the proposed UK anti-terror legislation allowing law enforcement authorities to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days [JURIST report] should not be passed as it could set a bad precedent for detention laws in other countries.