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Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to Italy, 1-5 June 2015

Italian version

Rome, 5 June 2015

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of Italy for its invitation to visit the country from 1 to 5 June 2015, and for its cooperation. We thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Inter-ministerial Committee on Human Rights and the local authorities in Milan and Catania, in particular, for their support. The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature and our findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2016.

During the visit, the Working Group assessed the situation of people of African descent living in Italy, including recent migrants from Africa, and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance that they face. We studied the official measures and mechanisms taken to prevent racial discrimination and protect victims of racism and hate crimes as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination. The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realising their fundamental rights.

As part of its fact-finding mission, the Working Group visited Rome, Milan and Catania, and met representatives of the Government, civil society, UNHCR and the Italian Red Cross. It also visited a centre for Sudanese refugees in Rome, witnessed the reception of new arrivals at the Catania port and visited the Mineo reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees. We would like to thank all the people who met with the Working Group and shared their views on the human rights situation of people of African descent and migrants in the country.

We welcome the steps taken by the Government to begin to address racial discrimination faced by people of African descent. Italy has ratified international and European human rights instruments which prohibit racial discrimination including the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Its Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms and laws prohibit discrimination on a number of grounds.

We were informed that a National Action Plan against racism and xenophobia has been developed and will soon be launched. There are also plans to implement the programme of activities for the
International Decade for people of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development 2015-2024.We learnt that the National Office against Discrimination (UNAR) has a number of initiatives to raise awareness and promote action to eliminate discrimination and inequality. It works closely with the Observatory for security against discrimination (OSCAD) to encourage reporting of hate crimes and ensure victims right to non-discrimination and equality. There are also plans to establish a National Working Group on interactive dialogue between Government and religious institutions.

We recognize the Italian efforts in relation to the migrants crisis and in particular the increase in search and rescue operations recently carried out which has saved thousands of lives. Whilst in Catania, the Working Group was informed that around 4,000 people had arrived in Sicily this week. In the context of the economic crisis, this humanitarian response is particularly commendable. We believe that finding effective long-term solutions depends on action and solidarity at the European and international level. The gravity of the situation demands urgent steps to be taken in particular by the European Union.

The Working Group also welcomes the law giving undocumented migrants access to hospitals for emergency health care and education without risk of being reported to the authorities.

We note the new efforts to assist with integration including the Handbook for Integration realized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies and the Direct Contact with Second Generations campaign, as well as the initiatives by the Ministry of Education for greater inclusivity of foreign students in the Italian school system.

We welcome the civil society initiatives to create a harmonious society through the promotion of inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding. We commend the work done by volunteers and organizations both in assisting new arrivals and promoting and protecting the human rights of people of African descent.

Despite the positive measures referred to above, the Working Group is concerned about the difference between the official discourse and legal framework to counter racism, and experiences of racial discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech, which points to the lack of effectiveness of the measures undertaken so far. We also studied intersectionality of the different forms of discrimination and heard experiences of racism based on skin colour, ethnicity, religion and sex.

The Working Group is concerned at the rise of xenophobia across Europe caused by political manipulation of people’s fears about the increase of migrants. In Italy, the Working Group has seen how people’s fears have been manipulated to promote a racist anti-immigrant agenda, disseminating false information and inciting hatred against people of African descent and other migrants. In this context, we are concerned that immunity has been used to shield parliamentarians who have made racist remarks.

No country is free of racism and Italy is not an exception. The Working Group is particularly concerned about incidents of racially motivated crime, hate speech, and incitement to hatred. Racial discrimination is also manifested in lack of access to justice and the failure to prosecute and provide a remedy. Correcting this unacceptable situation must also be done through education. The lack of knowledge of the history of the Italian slave trade, its colonial past, and of the cultures of Africa is contributing to modern day racism. There is also a fundamental concern about recognition of the existence of people of African descent in Italian society. Acquiring of Italian citizenship should not be regarded as cutting off ties with African culture.

The Working Group was informed that the Government does not collect disaggregated data on the basis of ethnicity. This results in an inability to recognize and address structural discrimination. We recommend that the Government conducts surveys based on self-identification of ethnic categories.

We heard about discrimination in access to health, housing, and employment. This existence of non-governmental organizations that provide health care to undocumented migrants indicates a gap in the context of the right to health. There are also variances among the regions in providing health services. In the Lombardy region, for instance, while emergency health care is given to undocumented migrants, longer term health care such as that for cancer, is not similarly available.

There appears to be discrimination in educational institutions against people of African descent. It was reported that some teachers and others working in educational institutions lack sufficient training to deal with racial discrimination and the multicultural nature of the society.

We also heard serious reports of exploitation of people of African descent by organized crime in such sectors as agriculture, construction, domestic help and labour intensive manufacturing.

Refugees, including those from Africa are not sufficiently integrated into Italian society. During the visit the WGEPAD visited a centre for Sudanese refugees created in 2004 and hosted by the Rome municipality. It has been self-managed by around 120 refugees or asylum seekers, some of whom have been living in the centre for ten years. We were informed that the residents received a formal written communication from Rome Municipality on 18 May 2015 which stated that they would have to leave the centre on 31 May 2015. This date has reportedly been postponed for another one or two months. We are concerned that the eviction notice did not contain any explanation; the time given to leave the centre was insufficient, and no alternatives were provided. This demonstrates a lack of an integration plan for refugees in Rome and more in general in Italy. The obligation of States to refrain from, and protect against, forced evictions arises from several international legal instruments that protect the human right to adequate housing and other related human rights.

In Mineo, we found that the protracted waiting time for review of the asylum seekers claims has devastating effects on their well-being.

Reportedly, 40% of detainees in pre-trial detention are Africans or people of African descent, while 10% in detention in general are Africans or people of African descent. Problems in accessing counsel and an interpreter have also been reported. The Working Group has heard reports of racial profiling and there is a greater risk of being asked to show identity documents if a person is of African descent.

The following recommendations are intended to assist Italy in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance:

A review of immunity laws and the manner by which they are interpreted is urgently needed so that immunity is not upheld in cases of racially motivated hate speech. We urge parliament to publicly condemn racist and xenophobic acts and the government to ensure accountability and an effective remedy to counter any tendency, especially by politicians, to stigmatize and negatively stereotype people of African descent or use racist propaganda for political purposes. Media sensitization on racial discrimination is also necessary.

We encourage the Government to develop disaggregated data on the basis of self-identification by Italians of African descent and Africans to ensure that all plans, projects and programmes address and protect the rights of people of African descent, based on better understanding of gaps. Data on representation should also be collected and disaggregated along ethnic lines. Representation of people of African descent should be increased in the judiciary, prosecution service, police, and prison officials, as well as in the mechanisms for refugee status determination and among immigration officials.

Data should be collected and analysed to assess racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Laws that prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement agencies should also be considered. Steps should be taken to ensure detainees' access to counsel and an interpreter.

We encourage the Government to ensure that National Action Plan against racism and xenophobia includes people of African descent as a specific group facing racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance, and appoint a focal point within UNAR.

We urge the government to establish the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in full compliance with the Paris principles, and in the interim take steps to make the UNAR independent.

We recommend the study of the history of the slave trade and colonialism and its inclusion in the curricula, to do justice to all those who suffered and continue to suffer from racism.

The content of training of teachers and others working in educational institutions should include principles of equality and non-discrimination and other measures to ensure that issues affecting people of African descent are addressed. There should also be more teachers as well as non-teaching staff of African descent. We recommend targeted efforts to support refugees once accepted through vocational training and other job seeking opportunities. Laws should include special measures for integrating refugees and migrants into Italian society. Affirmative action by way of educational, housing, health care and employment opportunities should be made available.

Evictions must be carried out lawfully, only in exceptional circumstances, in full accordance with relevant provisions of international human rights law. The authorities should cease forced evictions affecting people of African descent and set out procedural protections arising from international law. As regards the centre for Sudanese refugees, we encourage the Rome municipality to respect the residents’ right to information, full consultation and participation.

We recommend that the Ministry of Interior increase the number of territorial Commissions to expedite review of asylum seekers claims and to decrease the waiting time in reception centres.
We recommend reform of the law regulating Italian citizenship in order to grant citizenship to children born in Italy from foreign citizens, minors entering the country and expediting the process in the case of adults.

We urge the government to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their families, as well as the Protocol No.12 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

We reiterate the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance following his visit to Italy in 2006, which are still relevant. We also emphasize the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants regarding European Union border management.

The Working Group encourages the government of Italy to undertake impact-oriented activities in the framework of the International Decade for People of African descent to bridge the existing gaps between policies and practice, including through the implementation of relevant recommendations for recognition, justice and development of people of African descent, Africans and all Italians.

The Working Group would like to reiterate its satisfaction at the Government’s willingness to engage in dialogue, cooperation and action to combat racial discrimination. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.