We Need Stronger Laws to Fight Racism and Discrimination in Italy

A new report criticizes Italy's anti-discrimination law, which does not criminalize discrimination on the basis of color or language, and also draws attention to the ongoing marginalization of Roma.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance recently published its fifth report on Italy, noting the developments and weaknesses in the field of racism and racial discrimination in the country.

A monitoring body against racism

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is the independent human rights monitoring body of the Council of Europe specializing in issues related to racism and intolerance. It is composed of impartial experts appointed on the basis of their moral authority and recognized expertise in dealing with racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance.

The ECRI does monitoring work, analyzes the situation in each country and prepares reports on its findings. The reports conclude with suggestions and recommendations for dealing with the negative findings.

The work takes place in 5-year cycles, covering 9-10 countries per year. The working methods for the preparation of the reports involve documentary analyses from a wide variety of national and international sources, a visit to the country concerned, and then a confidential dialogue with the national authorities.

Italy: some good news...

In the fifth monitoring cycle of ECRI, Italy has been criticized and commended at the same time. There was some progress in different areas since the last report on the country: Italy has indeed ratified Protocol No. 12 to the ECHR as well as the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime.

Concerning criminal law, harsher penalties were introduced in connection with Holocaust denial, and homophobia is now considered as an aggravating circumstance in any offense.

ECRI also welcomed the creation of the Observatory for protection against discriminatory acts (OSCAD), which helps facilitate the reporting of hate crimes and communication between police and victims. The commission also commended the new Action Plan against racism, xenophobia and intolerance.

Italy has also implemented many valuable legislative initiatives, such as a new law allowing same-sex couples to engage in civil unions, and a draft law was adopted that will allow access to Italian citizenship for many of the foreign minors in Italy.

... and some bad news

The report, however, finds gaps in the country's anti-discrimination law, which does not criminalize discrimination on the basis of color or language and does not always provide effective, proportionate and dissuasive punishment.

ECRI found out that the Ufficio Nazionale Antidiscriminazioni Razziali (UNAR) is not really an independent institution and lacks sufficient powers. There are serious problems with the data collection on hate speech and other hate-related incidents by the authorities.

Another major source of concern is the forced evictions of Roma from their unauthorized settlements, in some cases with no regard for procedural guarantees, such as the lack of notification in writing and, more importantly, of re-housing solutions.

According to the collected data of the Associazione 21 Luglio, there is an exponential increase of evictions recorded in Rome between March and October 2015. The data shows that these evictions have the unintended effect of replicating the same situation with the same terrible circumstances and unhealthy environment that led to the evictions in the first place.

Because of the previously mentioned facts, the association highly welcomed the ECRI report, which expressed concerns about the condition of strong marginalization, discrimination and segregation of the Roma people living in Italy.

The report put a huge emphasis on the recent judgment of the Civil Court of Rome, which determined that the Roma community settlements are a form of segregation and discrimination based on ethnic origin, which is a violation of both Italian and European law.

The question of sex education in schools, particularly on subjects like gender identity and sexual orientation, remains controversial in Italy and meets with strong opposition from certain regional authorities.

Recommendations

The ECRI made a few recommendations for Italian authorities:
  • More effective regulations to fight racism are needed.
  • The independence of UNAR must be secured both in law and in fact, and its powers should be extended to cover discrimination on the basis of color, language, religion, nationality and national origin.
  • Develop a coherent system for collecting data on incidents related to hate speech and other hate-motivated offenses.
  • Implement measures in schools to promote mutual tolerance and respect, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.