Human rights chief’s visit to Italy

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in her first visit to Italy on 10 and 11 March 2010, raised concerns that the Italian authorities are treating Roma and migrants as security problems rather than looking at ways to include them in society.

Roma children play outside their homes on the outskirts of Rome, Italy.- OHCHR Photo/Rupert ColvilleDuring her two-day visit at the invitation of the Human Rights Committee of the Senate, the High Commissioner met high level officials including the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice, the Under Secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, the Foreign Committee / Sub Committee on Human Rights of the Chamber of Deputies and the Human Rights Committee of the Senate.

She discussed the situation of migrants and Roma in Italy, the independence of the judiciary and media freedom, urged the establishment of a national human rights institution and efforts to combat hate speech. She also lauded Italy’s initiatives on the international level aimed at abolishing the death penalty, improving the situation of children in armed conflict and reducing violence against women.

The High Commissioner also delivered a keynote speech at the Pontifical Lateran University on “The right to freedom of religion today – sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

On the second day of her visit, the High Commissioner had a chance to hear from representatives of national and international NGOs and to visit an authorized Roma camp in Via Candoni, an unauthorized Roma camp in Via Marchetti and the Identification and Expulsion Centre in Ponte Galeria.

“I am profoundly shocked by the conditions of the camps,” Pillay said after visiting the unauthorized camp of Via Marchetti, on the outskirts of Rome.

"For a moment I thought I was in one of the poorest developing countries and not in one of the richest nations in the world,” she said.

The High Commissioner met people living in a small shanty settlement put together with scraps of metal, cardboard and low quality timber. Many have lived in Italy for a long time.

A woman of Bosnian origin invited the UN Human Rights chief to visit her small shack. The woman explained that she had been in Italy for 20 years, her children were born in Italy, and yet, she still has no regular work permit or tax registration documents that would allow her and her family some basic social benefits.

“We have nothing. We don’t have water to wash. Children here do not go to school, although we would like to go. We are excluded and called ‘zingari’ (gypsies). We live like rats,” said one of her children.

“I would like to get an education, a proper home and a job. I would like to live like everybody else, outside of here. We want to be respected,” the boy said.

“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,” Pillay told a press conference in Rome on 11 March at the end of her two-day visit.

The High Commissioner also drew attention to the “often extraordinarily negative portrayal of both migrants and Roma in some parts of the media.”

“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,” she said.

She urged 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. She noted that Italy has not officially revoked the policy of push-backs at sea, though there are no recent examples of this practice.

The High Commissioner also spoke against provisions in the country that make illegal entry and stay a criminal offence, and consider “irregularity” an aggravating circumstance for ordinary criminal offences.

12 March 2010