Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2017, 08:56 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Italy

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Italy, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 2008 mean that the focus of this section must overwhelmingly consider the plight of the Roma in Italy. Expressions of racism and xenophobia against that community increased dramatically over the year. An EU-wide survey revealed that Italy is the most intolerant towards Roma of all the 27 member states: almost half the respondents in Italy would feel uncomfortable having Roma neighbours, twice the EU average, while only 5 per cent of them had Roma friends, a third of the EU average. Mainstream politicians at local and central level became the champions of hate speech and intolerance. Crimes perpetrated against the Roma went unpunished: perpetrators have yet to be held legally accountable for at least eight incidents of anti-Roma pogroms, leading to the razing of Roma camps with Molotov cocktails. Research from a coalition of organizations – including the Open Society Institute, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, the European Roma Rights Centre, Romani CRISS and the Roma Civic Alliance in Romania – reported that as a result of statements from high-ranking Italian politicians fuelling anti-Roma sentiment, instances of physical and verbal abuse of Roma in Italy have increased disproportionately in frequency and seriousness since April 2008, when the new government was elected.

The election campaign was dominated by the issues of security and migration. Roma were often portrayed by politicians as irregular migrants or criminals, suggesting that their mere presence was a security threat. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner criticized Italy's criminalizing of immigrants, hate speech by public figures and the media, where racist attacks against Roma have become a standing feature of the public discourse. Italy's Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal, overturned the conviction of the mayor of Verona and four other members of his Northern League party for racially discriminatory propaganda. The mayor had stated publicly that wherever Roma arrived, there were thefts. The court held that 'discrimination based on diversity is different from discrimination based on somebody's criminality', effectively ruling that to imply all Roma were criminals is acceptable discrimination. The case was returned to the lower court, however, which in its October 2008 decision confirmed the conviction.

The new government instituted a series of measures aiming to remedy the security issues identified in the campaign, including the declaration of a state of emergency in the regions of Campania, Lazio and Lombardia. The most controversial measure was a census operation conducted in a number of municipalities in June 2008, which involved various measures for the identification of Roma, including fingerprinting. Following an international outcry, the census operations were modified to include certain safeguards and were extended to the entire population in Italy in order to avoid allegations of discrimination. Moreover, on some issues the government has been forced to back down under pressure from the EU. These include a provision for the expulsion of EU citizens that was devised for Romanian Roma and judged to clash with European rules on free movement. The provision was withdrawn after the European Commission threatened to start infringement proceedings.

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