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High Commissioner’s mission to Italy, 10-11 March 2010

Final Press conference

Opening Statement

11 March 2010

ROMA – This is my first visit to Italy as High Commissioner for Human Rights. I was initially invited by the President of the Human Rights Committee of the Senate, Senator Marcenaro, and I appreciate the fact that during the course of the visit, in addition to addressing the Senate, and delivering a speech at the Lateran University, I have also been able to meet individually with a number of senior Government officials.

These included the Minister of Justice, Mr. Alfano; the Minister of Interior, Mr. Maroni; the Under Secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Letta; the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Fini; and finally, just a few minutes ago, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Frattini.

I also had a very interesting and open discussion with Italian and international non-governmental organizations.

Earlier today, I visited two Roma camps on the outskirts of Rome, in Via Candoni and Via Marchetti, as well to the Identification and Expulsion Centre in Ponte Galeria. These visits have given me a glimpse of some of the realities related to two of the principal issues that have been raised during my discussions with the Government, namely the situation of minorities and of migrants and asylum-seekers in Italy today.

During the course of my meetings, I had the opportunity to discuss a number of other issues, including freedom of the press and the need to establish a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights in Italy. I also discussed Italian initiatives at the international level, aimed at abolishing the death penalty, improving the situation of children in armed conflict and reducing violence against women. I have congratulated Italy on the role it has played in dealing with these very important issues, which affect the lives of so many men, women and children around the world.

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it is of course my duty to help states deal with gaps and shortcomings in their domestic human rights systems. As a result, I have raised a number of issues that have been of concern both to myself, as High Commissioner, and to numerous organizations and individuals here in Italy, as well as to other states. The latter raised many of the same issues when Italy’s human rights record was reviewed last month in Geneva by its fellow states under the Human Rights Council new system known as the Universal Periodic Review.

The main concerns regarding migrants, which I relayed to the ministers I have met during this visit, are as follows:

· The policy of push-backs at sea. While there are no examples of this practice that we are aware of in the last few months, the policy itself has not been revoked.
· Many of the provisions in the ‘Security Package’ – especially the criminalization of migration by making illegal entry and stay a criminal offense, and by making the establishment of ‘irregularity’ an aggravating circumstance for ordinary criminal offences.
· As a result, women, children and men -- who, under international law, have not committed any crime -- are sometimes spending more time in detention that genuine convicted criminals.

I have also expressed considerable concern at the authorities’ policy of treating migrants and the Roma as, above all, a security problem rather than one of social inclusion.

On the subject of the Roma, I have raised the issues of fundamental human rights, such as access to health care and education, especially for those Roma living in informal Roma settlements, and the excessive resort to repressive measures such as police surveillance and forced evictions.

I have also expressed alarm at the often extraordinarily negative portrayal of both migrants and Roma in some parts of the media, and by some politicians and other authorities. I was particularly shocked to learn of a survey of 5,684 TV news stories that dealt with immigration. Only 26 of these stories did not link immigration with a specific criminal event or security issues. This is a quite stunning statistic.

I am a firm believer in freedom of speech – but vilification and deliberate negative stereotyping of any group of people is unacceptable and dangerous. I urge Italy’s politicians, media and public officials not only to avoid this type of rhetoric themselves, but also to publicly campaign against such behaviour by others. Turning a blind eye is not a solution – it simply compounds the problem.

The Minister of the Interior said to me yesterday that the Government is concerned for people as human beings, regardless of their legal status or the colour of their skin. Naturally, I was glad to hear him make this comment which indeed reflects the universal human rights principles that all people are born equal and are entitled to the same rights.

The third main message I have conveyed during my visit here is the importance of establishing a National Human Rights Institution. Serious discussions aimed at establishing such an institution in Italy began in the year 2000. Yet, ten years later, you still don’t have one. A fully independent National Human Rights Institution, with a strong protection mandate established in line with the industry standard known as the Paris Principles, could do a great deal to help the Government and people of Italy in their efforts to sort out some of the problems I mentioned earlier.

I understand that there could be developments on this front within the next few months. Such an institution – if indeed established in full accordance with the Paris Principles – could be of great benefit to Italy.

My office is looking forward to continuing, both in Geneva and in Brussels, the constructive dialogue we have begun here.