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UN Experts Call on Italy to Uphold Human Rights in its response to immigration and in fighting mafia crimes and terrorism

ROME -- The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a group of independent experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council, completed today a two-week official visit to Italy. “We have enjoyed in all respects the fullest cooperation from the Italian Government and have been allowed to visit all places of detention we had requested and to interview in private detainees of our choice, without any restriction.”, they told journalists today in Rome.

The main reason for the Working Group’s visit to Italy, which included Rome, Naples, Milan and Eastern Sicily (Caltanissetta and Cassibile), was to obtain first hand information on the deprivation of freedom in centres for irregular migrants and asylum seekers.

“In many respects, the answer of the Italian authorities and of civil society to the massive influx of human beings escaping from situations of never ending war, persecution or desperate poverty in search of a better life is admirable”, said Mr. Garretón, a Chilean lawyer who was a member of the Working Group delegation.

The UN experts, however, highlighted “significant human rights concerns with regard to the centres in which migrants and asylum seekers are kept”, in particular with regard to the legal basis for the detention of those deprived of their freedom. The Working Group noted that in 2006 the Ministry of Interior had established a commission to study the matter, commonly referred to as the “De Mistura Commission” after the UN official appointed to head it. Its findings and recommendations remain to a large extent to be implemented.

At today’s press conference the UN experts also acknowledged the strength of due process guarantees and safeguards against arbitrary detention in Italy’s criminal justice system. They warned, however, that “the strength of the commitment of a government to human rights – among them due process guarantees – is really put to test when faced with a real or perceived emergency”.

According to the experts, the authorities were currently facing three such perceived emergencies: the fight against mafia crimes, an alleged alarming rise of common criminality by foreigners living in Italy without permit, and the post 11 September 2001 threat of international terrorism. In facing these emergencies they were having recourse to extraordinary measures involving deprivation of liberty, some of which raised concerns.

The Working Group noted, for instance, a recent amendment to the criminal code making the status of irregularly present foreigner an aggravating circumstance for any offence. “In other words, if an Italian citizen and an irregularly present foreigner steal a car together, the foreigner is to receive a significantly higher sentence than the Italian”, explained Mr. Abashidze, a professor of law at the University of Moscow and member of the Working Group delegation.

As is its practice, the Working Group paid particular attention to the situation of detainees belonging to vulnerable groups, among them not only immigrants, but also juvenile offenders and person living with a mental disability. “We are very impressed with Italy’s juvenile justice system”, said Mr. Abashidze, and added “Italy could serve as a model to many other countries in this respect.”

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