Roma were subjected to serious attacks throughout the year, and there was little available information on effective investigations into these incidents. Forced evictions against Roma drove them deeper into poverty. Several people were given deportation orders and at least two people were deported to Tunisia where they were at risk of serious human rights violations. Italy still lacked comprehensive legislation for the protection of asylum-seekers. However, a more extensive set of rules, including some improvements in the asylum procedure, entered into force following the implementation of EU legislation. Investigations into allegations of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials were inadequate.
Racism and discrimination – Roma
Racially motivated attacks took place against Roma, who were unprotected by the authorities. Unlawful forced evictions continued, and special powers were granted to prefects to control Romani settlements.
Roma and Sinti were still not recognized as a national minority.
"...a Romani woman who was six months pregnant was kicked repeatedly in the back outside a bar in Rimini."
Attacks on Romani settlements
Romani communities were frequently attacked, and the authorities often failed to stop the violence.
In May, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its concern about “reported instances of hate speech, including statements targeting nationals and Roma, attributed to politicians.”
In July, a group of UN experts said they were “dismayed at the aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric used by political leaders, including Cabinet members, when referring to the Roma community” and stated that the “climate of anti-Roma sentiment has served to mobilize extremist groups, which have recently launched a series of attacks against Roma camps and individuals.”
- On 13 May, up to 100 people, reportedly armed with sticks and Molotov cocktails, set fire to parts of a Romani settlement in the suburb of Ponticelli in Naples. One Molotov cocktail was thrown at a trailer housing a number of children, who only just managed to escape being burnt alive. In total, around 800 Romani people were forced to flee the settlement. On the same day, several Romani people were also physically attacked in the surrounding area.
- On 6 June, a Romani woman who was six months pregnant was kicked repeatedly in the back outside a bar in Rimini.
- Other arson attacks were also reported during the year in Naples, Novara, Pisa, Rome and Venice.
Unlawful forced evictions of Romani communities continued throughout the year.
- In April, around 800 Roma were evicted from the settlement of Via Bovisasca in Milan. No alternative accommodation was provided and no provision was made for pregnant women, elderly people and children who were made homeless.
- In June, the settlement of Campo Boario in Rome, home to 130 Italian Roma, was destroyed by law enforcement officers. The community was moved to a temporary settlement in the Tor Vergata neighbourhood, where they lacked basic facilities such as water and electricity. In October, the community was moved to another temporary settlement in a car park a few kilometres away.
New legislation targeting Romani communities
On 26 May, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency targeting Romani communities in the regions of Lazio, Campania and Lombardia until May 2009. The prefects in these regions gained powers to carry out censuses of people living in settlements, carry out evictions, derogate from a series of national laws and fingerprint people, including children.
Following widespread criticism by human rights organizations, people have only been fingerprinted in exceptional situations, when no other means of identification were available.
Racially motivated attacks continued, including physical assaults, verbal abuse and the destruction of property. Both the EU Commissioner for Human Rights and the CERD commented that racist statements by politicians and the adoption of legislation targeting migrants contributed to a hostile environment against non-nationals. They urged the authorities to take action against hate speech and introduce more severe sentences for racially motivated crimes.
Migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ rights
Migrants and asylum-seekers without valid documentation, including pregnant women and families with children, were routinely detained upon arrival in detention centres before having the chance to apply for international protection. Migrants and asylum-seekers detained in some centres were not granted the right to appeal in court against the lawfulness or conditions of their detention.
- In Cassabile detention centre, asylum-seekers were detained for up to five weeks before being given the chance to apply for asylum.
There were reports of the deaths of migrants in detention centres due to delays in medical help.
- On 24 May, Hassan Nejl, a Moroccan national, died in the Turin Temporary Stay Centre after being taken ill. According to other detainees, he was not given prompt or adequate medical care. A judicial investigation was launched, but no results were available at the end of the year.
A decree adopted on 3 October suspended the deportation of asylum-seekers appealing against rejection of their asylum claim. The decree also gave local prefects the power to limit the movements of migrants and asylum-seekers to a specified area.
Several measures were adopted by municipal authorities against migrants. On 11 February, a court in Milan cancelled a circular issued by Milan City Council because of its discriminatory nature. The circular restricted kindergarten enrolment of the children of migrants without a residence permit.
The European Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention raised concerns after a set of legislative proposals known as the “security package” was adopted on 21 May to tackle irregular migration. One decree which was converted into Law 125/08 on 24 July ruled that if a migrant committed an offence, their irregular status would be added to the list of aggravated circumstances as set out in the Penal Code, which could result in the imposition of a more severe punishment.
Counter-terror and security
Italy failed to address human rights violations committed in the context of the US-led programme of renditions.
Complicity in renditions
- On 3 December, the trial of seven Italian nationals, primarily members of the Italian Military Security Service Agency, in connection with the abduction of Abu Omar was suspended again. (Abu Omar, an Egyptian refugee with Italian residency, was abducted in Milan in February 2003 and flown to Egypt where he was subsequently detained and reportedly tortured. He was released in February 2007 without charge.)
In November the Prime Minister declared that the use of evidence relating to contacts with the CIA would be a threat to state secrecy. The judge decided to suspend the trial as it was impossible to proceed given that the majority of the evidence related to contacts with the CIA. The suspension of the trial was pending a decision by the Constitutional Court in March 2009.
By the end of the year the Minister of Justice had not forwarded to the US authorities the extradition requests, issued by a Milan court, of 26 US citizens, including consular staff, CIA agents and an air force colonel.
Italy retained the so-called Pisanu Law, Law 155/05, which provides for expulsion orders of terrorist suspects. The expulsion can be ordered by the Minister of Interior or by a prefect when there is a presumption of terrorist connections. The Law does not provide for judicial confirmation or authorization of the expulsion decision and does not guarantee effective protection against forcible return to countries where there might be a risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
- On 28 February, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the 2006 decision by the Minister of Interior to deport Nassim Saadi to Tunisia, following his conviction in Italy for criminal conspiracy. Despite diplomatic assurances, he would have been at risk of human rights violations had he been returned to Tunisia.
- On 4 June, Sami Ben Khemais Essid, a Tunisian national, was deported to Tunisia under an expedited procedure for removal of those considered a risk to national security, despite a request by the European Court of Human Rights for Italy to suspend his transfer to Tunisia pending their review of the case.
- On 13 December, Mourad Trabelsi, a Tunisian national, was deported to Tunisia despite a request by the European Court of Human Rights to suspend his expulsion due to the risk of torture and other ill-treatment he would face in Tunisia. Neither Mourad Trabelsi’s family nor his lawyer knew of his whereabouts at the end of the year.
Torture and other ill-treatment
The authorities failed to include torture as a crime in its Criminal Code or to introduce an effective police accountability mechanism. There were continued allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, particularly towards migrants.
- The trial in the case of the death of Federico Aldrovandi continued. Federico Aldrovandi died on 25 September 2005 after being stopped by four police officers, who were subsequently accused of voluntary manslaughter. On 25 November, new evidence appeared suggesting Federico Aldrovandi’s death was caused by the method of restraint used by the police, which restricted his breathing and led to cardiorespiratory arrest.
- There were developments in the case of Aldo Bianzino, who died in October 2007 in prison in Perugia two days after his arrest. A medical check just after his arrest had revealed that he was in perfect health. An autopsy revealed a brain haemorrhage and ruptured liver. The Public Prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against unidentified people for manslaughter and against a prison guard for failing to come to Aldo Bianzino’s help. His family was convinced that he died because of ill-treatment while in detention. In February 2008, further forensic tests ordered by the Public Prosecutor concluded that he had died of natural causes – a brain aneurysm. The Public Prosecutor asked for the manslaughter case to be closed, which was opposed by Aldo Bianzino’s family. In October 2008, the judge ruled that the case should not be closed.
- On 29 September, Emmanuel Bonsu, a Ghanaian citizen, was arrested and reportedly beaten by municipal police officers in Parma, resulting in damage to his eye. He was released after four hours. Ten police officers were charged with kidnapping, ill-treatment and abuse of power, among other things.
Trials against demonstrators and law enforcement officials involved in the policing of the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001 continued.
- In January, the Ministry of Interior was ordered to pay €35,000 to M.P., a doctor who was severely beaten by law enforcement officers in Genoa in 2001.
- Fifteen people, including police officers, prison guards and doctors, were sentenced to prison terms of up to five years after being found guilty on 14 July of abuse of office and ill-treating protesters detained in Bolzaneto prison. In November, the judge admitted that he could only sentence the accused on lesser charges, since torture is not a criminal offence in the penal code. It was unlikely that any of those sentenced would actually serve time in prison because their offences would expire under Italy’s statute of limitations before the completion of the appeal process.
- Thirteen law enforcement officials were found guilty on 13 November of ill-treating protesters staying at the Armando Diaz School, defamation and planting evidence, among other charges. Those found guilty, along with the Ministry of Interior, would be responsible for paying reparations to the victims. The sentences handed down by the Italian court ranged from one month to four years’ imprisonment.
Amnesty International reportsItaly: the witch-hunt against Roma people must end (23 July 2008)
State of denial – Europe’s role in rendition and secret detention (24 June 2008)