Italy: Ground-breaking court victory for Romani people underscores authorities’ failure to protect rights
An Italian court ruling that the Municipality of Rome acted unlawfully by forcibly relocating Romani families to an ethnically segregated camp is a landmark step towards ending the discrimination faced by Romani people in Italy, said Amnesty International.
The judgement, revealed by the complainants at a joint press conference in Rome today, found that making Roma live in the ethnically segregated La Barbuta camp constituted discriminatory treatment. Amnesty International said that the judgment should mark the beginning of a process to dismantle housing segregation faced by Roma across the country.
“Making Roma people live in a segregated camp in a remote and inaccessible sitenot only pushes them to the margins of society but has now been proven to be unlawful,” said Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International’s Italy Researcher.
"Whilst it has taken a court ruling to stir Italian institutions out of their complacency regarding their treatment of Roma, it is vital that this is just the start of a process. Italy must end this discriminatory two-tier system and ensure that Romani people in need of housing assistance are not given as the only option an ethnically segregated camp.
The judgement, issued on 30 May 2015 by the civil section of the Tribunal of Rome, found that the Municipality of Rome had discriminated against Romani families by housing them in the La Barbuta camp. The camp, consisting of pre-fabricated containers surrounded by fencing, was built in a remote location near the city’s airport, using powers granted under a state of emergency declared by the Italian government in 2008. Despite a court decision in 2011 annulling the state of emergency and all resulting measures and decisions, the Municipality of Rome completed the construction of the La Barbuta camp and proceeded to assign housing units in the camp to Romani families only. These included many families forcibly evicted from the camp of Tor de' Cenci.
Amnesty International is calling on the Rome Municipality and the Italian government (also a party to the case) to move swiftly to implement the decision in full and to ensure an immediate end to the discriminatory treatment against the families currently living in La Barbuta and other camps.
As a minimum, no new camps should be planned and developed and a process of genuine consultation with all Romani families currently housed in segregated camps and centres in Rome should be undertaken to identify a range of feasible, non-discriminatory and adequate alternative housing solutions in line with Italy’s human rights obligations. All Romani individuals and families who need adequate housing should be provided with it, including social housing.
“For too long local authorities have blatantly discriminated against Romani families and the national authorities have failed to lift a finger to stop it. They must both now work towards the closure of camps while engaging with communities, offering them a range of adequate alternatives,” said Elisa De Pieri.
“This judgement underlines the legal requirement that all people should have equal access to adequate housing regardless of their ethnicity. But whilst it constitutes important progress, it is only a first step.”
“Italy has so far failed to address discriminatory actions by local governments. Such failure, which clearly emerges as an important feature of this judgment, must stop. We urge the European Commission to look at this judgment as a key opportunity to bring its pressure to bear by opening an infringement procedure against Italy because of its discriminatory treatment of Roma in access to adequate housing, in violation of EU anti-discrimination law.”
Amnesty International, which had campaigned together with local and international non-governmental organizations to stop the construction of La Barbuta and the transfer of Romani families there, intervened with a supportive amicus brief in the case brought by Associazione Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione and Associazione 21 Luglio against the Municipality of Rome in 2012.
Two parallel systems were put in place by Rome authorities on the assumption that, while other groups would need proper housing, including social housing, for Roma it would be sufficient to be placed in a camp.
For background information on this case see our 2013 report.