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Press releases Multiple Mechanisms

Italy: UN Experts on Racial Justice in Law Enforcement Warn of Racial Profiling Risk

10 May 2024

ROME (10 May 2024) - The United Nations International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement on 10 May completed a comprehensive mission across Italy, visiting Rome, Milan, Catania, and Naples to assess the intersection of race and law enforcement practices.

The Mechanism heard testimonies on racial profiling as a basis for identity checks and stop-and-searches by different law enforcement agencies in Italy, under the assumption either that the person was not an Italian citizen, or on presumptions of criminality.

“This racial bias, stereotypes and profiling create harmful and spurious associations of Blackness with criminality and delinquency,” said Akua Kuenyehia, Chairperson of the Mechanism.

“The legitimate task to promote citizens safety and security should not be construed as a licence to engage in racial profiling. This practice erodes trust in law enforcement, and as a result, reduces law enforcement effectiveness,” she said.

“We acknowledge that the work of law enforcement is a difficult one,” Tracie L. Keesee, member of the Mechanism, said. “We spoke with officers who expressed the need for additional support services for their own and family health.”

“Officers must be excused from requests for help where an alternative response should be an option when appropriate; for example, when dealing with homelessness and those experiencing a mental health crisis,” she added.

Among the Mechanism’s findings was a lack of comprehensive race-based data hampering efforts to address racial disparities.

“The collection, publication and analysis of data disaggregated by race or ethnic origin in all aspects of life, especially regarding interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, is an essential element for designing and assessing responses to systemic racism,” Juan Mendez, member of the Mechanism, said.

The Mechanism also expressed concerns about overcrowding in Italian prisons and its impact on detainees' human rights, highlighting the disproportionate incarceration of Africans and people of African descent, which further highlighted the prevalence of systemic racism. It also noted instances of torture and ill-treatment, including a significant recent case at the Cesare Beccaria Juvenile Detention Centre in Milan.

Concerns were also raised about the challenges migrants and asylum seekers face in accessing legal protections, often exacerbated by law enforcement abuse of authority and bureaucratic delays. The Mechanism emphasized the need for immigration services to have a civilian nature, as opposed to be part of police tasks. It also suggested that immigration offices should be placed within or nearby affected communities.

During its 8-day mission, members of the Mechanism met with a broad spectrum of stakeholders including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and representatives from Italy’s primary law enforcement agencies: the National Police, Financial Police, Penitentiary Police, and the Arma dei Carabinieri.

The Mechanism also met with the National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR), the Observatory for Security against Acts of Discrimination (OSCAD), the National Ombudsperson for the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, and several key departments within the Ministries of Interior and Justice.

Members visited a reception centre for migrants in Catania, and immigration detention centres for repatriation in Milan and in Ponte Galeria in Rome. They also visited the Cesare Beccaria Juvenile Detention Centre and Casa Circondariale San Vittore Remand Prison in Milan.

The Mechanism has shared its preliminary findings with the Italian Government. It will also draft a full report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council at its 57th session in September-October 2024


Background: The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement was established in July 2021 by the Human Rights Council to make recommendations, inter alia, on the concrete steps needed to ensure access to justice, accountability and redress for excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent. Judge Akua Kuenyehia (Ghana), Dr. Tracie Keesee (United States of America) and Professor Juan Méndez (Argentina) were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council to serve as its independent experts.

For media requests and queries, please contact: (traveling with the experts) Alan Mayo ([email protected] / +41 76 691 0826); In Italy/Italian: Marina Mazzini (UNICRI) [email protected] / +39 347 4809463); In Geneva: Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the UN Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions, [email protected] or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer, [email protected].