Photo Credit: Amnesty International / Catrinel Motoc
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Ahead of the sixtieth anniversary of the Rome Treaty, Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office has called for Europe to uphold its founding principles of the protection and promotion of human rights:
“At this key juncture in its history, it is vital that leaders recall and recommit to the EU’s founding spirit of protecting human dignity even in dark times. As they celebrate the past and plot the way for the future, a strong joint stance on the importance of human rights is imperative.
“The EU’s response to the challenges of the global refugee crisis, countering terrorism and to the global crackdown on human rights defenders have left many questioning its commitment to human rights in practice. At this cross roads, EU leaders must recall its founding principles and commit to upholding them. Reeling in those member states that are flagrantly violating their EU Treaty obligations on human rights would be an obvious and good place to start”.
Released 00:01 GMT 3 November 2016
The European Union’s pressure on Italy to “get tough” on refugees and migrants has led to unlawful expulsions and ill-treatment which in some cases may amount to torture, a new report from Amnesty International revealed today.
Beatings, electric shocks and sexual humiliation are among the numerous allegations of abuse documented in Hotspot Italy: How EU’s flagship approach leads to violations of refugee and migrant rights. The report demonstrates how the EU-sponsored ‘hotspot approach’ for processing refugees and migrants at the point of arrival is not only undermining their right to claim asylum but has fuelled appalling abuse.
“In their determination to reduce the onward movement of refugees and migrants to other member states, EU leaders have driven the Italian authorities to the limits – and beyond – of what is legal,” said Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Italy.
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 site not 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.
The latest capsizing of a boat carrying refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean – with hundreds of people feared dead – is a man-made tragedy that could well have been avoided, Amnesty International said.
A boat able to carry hundreds of refugees and migrants – according to the Italian coast guard - capsized this morning off the Libyan coast. The boat had sent a request for help to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome, which requested a Portuguese merchant vessel to attend the call.
So far, 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies have been recovered, according to the coast guard. A rescue operation is currently ongoing with 17 ships involved as well as aircrafts.
“What we are witnessing in the Mediterranean is a man-made tragedy of appalling proportions. These latest deaths at sea come as a shock, but not a surprise,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
The European Union’s limited search and rescue resources contributed to the soaring death toll after four rubber dinghies carrying hundreds of migrants sent out an SOS in stormy weather in the southern Mediterranean last week, Amnesty International revealed today after a visit to Lampedusa.
Following the tragedy that claimed more than 300 lives, an Amnesty International research team carried out interviews, in Rome and Lampedusa, with survivors, members of the Italian coastguard and local authorities.
When the distress call came in on Sunday 8 February, the main vessel used in the pan-EU border management operation Triton was docked hundreds of kilometres away in Malta for maintenance. The large military vessels used in Italy’s now-defunct Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation were also out of use and docked even farther away in Sicily.
The European Union and its member states must hang their heads in shame following reports this morning that as many as 300 migrants are believed to have died in the high seas off the Italian island of Lampedusa, said Amnesty International.
“This new tragedy realizes our worst fears about the end of Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation and exposes the predictable consequences of the European Union’s failure to provide an adequate replacement,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“The humanitarian crisis that sparked the need for Mare Nostrum has not gone away. With people continuing to flee war and persecution, EU member states must stop burying their heads in the sand whilst hundreds keep dying at sea.”
By Maxim Tucker, Press Officer – Global Campaigns, Thematic Issues and UN.
(BORGO MEZZANONE, ITALY) Ebrima’s bedroom is a stark corrugated square, five metres long and five metres wide. He shares it with one other asylum seeker – each has a foam mattress over a camp bed to sleep on. Wires dangle from a broken light in the ceiling and the floor is carpeted in dust, crumbs and the odd seashell.
The Asylum Seekers Reception Centre at Borgo Mezzanone, Southern Italy, has been his home for the past six months. In this disused airbase which was turned into a detention centre, conditions are dire. But after a harrowing journey from Africa, through the Sahara and across the Mediterranean, Ebrima doesn’t even seem to notice. He is happy to be here.
He tells me his journey started in Sierra Leone after the death of his Muslim father. The Christian community where he lived wanted him gone. Even his stepmother’s family tried to force him to convert from Islam to Christianity.
The forced eviction of some 40 people – half of them young children, including several babies – from a Roma settlement in a Rome suburb this morning is a blatant violation of international human rights law and standards that has left numerous families homeless, Amnesty International said.
At around 7:30AM, local police and municipal authorities moved in on the makeshift camp of shacks and tents in the park of Val D’ala, in the Italian capital’s north-eastern suburbs. They quickly razed the settlement with bulldozers, leaving the dozens of Romanian Roma living there with no place to go.
“Today’s shocking demolition in Val D’ala is an eviction in violation of international human rights standards – leaving these people homeless and destitute. There was no formal advance notice of eviction or consultation with the community, and no suitable alternative housing has been offered,” said Matteo de Bellis, Amnesty International’s Italy Campaigner, who is currently with the community as they seek redress from municipal authorities.
Rome’s municipal authorities have been running a discriminatory two-track assisted housing system that is denying thousands of Roma people access to adequate housing, said Amnesty International in a report published today.
“The municipality of Rome is keeping thousands of Roma people on the margins of society. Its assisted housing system is designed and implemented in such a way as to condemn thousands of Roma purely on ethnic grounds to live in segregated, substandard accommodation in camps far from services and residential neighbourhoods. This is a blight on the city of Rome,” said John Dalhuisen, Program Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“This is being done with the tacit complicity of the Italian government which is failing to ensure equal access to adequate housing for all across the country. This is clearly a breach of its international obligation to eliminate discrimination, both under international and European Union law, and to uphold the right to adequate housing.”
The Italian President Giorgio Napolitano must reject a former CIA agent’s plea to be pardoned for a crime he committed in the country as part of the US-led rendition programme, Amnesty International said.
Robert Seldon Lady – who is now believed to be back in the USA – wrote to the Italian leader on Wednesday to request a pardon. An Italian court previously convicted him in absentia, sentencing him to nine years in prison for his role in the abduction of Abu Omar from Milan in 2003.
“This is someone who admits to taking part in a kidnapping operation that resulted in a man being sent to prison in Egypt, where he was tortured. Robert Seldon Lady has evaded justice for a decade, and letting him off the hook now would send a very dangerous message that there is no accountability for crimes that led to enforced disappearance and torture,” said Julia Hall, expert on counter-terrorism and human rights at Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is calling for the return of CIA agent, Robert Seldon Lady, to Italy to face justice for his part in the US-led rendition programme.
“By his own admission, he participated in a kidnapping operation that resulted in a man being tortured. Seldon Lady evaded justice by leaving Italy before his trial. This time he should have to answer the charges against him in Italy in person,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International
Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA station chief in Milan, was reportedly arrested in Panama earlier this week and is being held as a consequence of an arrest warrant issued by Italy. Italy is reportedly requesting Seldon Lady's extradition. He was tried in absentia together with 22 other CIA agents and was sentenced to nine years in jail for his involvement in the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar.
In February 2003 Abu Omar was abducted in Milan by Italian and US operatives. The cleric was transferred via Germany to Cairo, where he reported that he was tortured in Egyptian custody.
The Italian government must investigate and make public all the facts behind the illegal expulsion of the wife and daughter of Kazakhstani opposition politician Mukhtar Ablyazov, said Amnesty International today. The Italian parliament is preparing to consider an internal inquiry by the Minister of the Interior on Thursday into allegations of collusion between both countries and other violations of Italian law.
“The Italian authorities must ensure that there is a full investigation and criminal prosecution for any violation of their human rights. Only then can any allegations of collusion between the Italian and Kazakhstani authorities be put to rest,” said John Dalhuisen, Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme.
Alma Shalabayeva and her six-year old daughter Alua Ablyazova were apprehended in a house in Rome on 29 May 2013 following a police raid reportedly conducted in search of Mukhtar Ablyazov. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest on fraud-related charges issued by the authorities of the United Kingdom, and a pending extradition request from Kazakhstan.
Italy’s Supreme Court today declared the so-called “Nomad emergency” unlawful and unfounded, a move Amnesty International has hailed as a key victory in the struggle to end discrimination against Roma communities around the country.
The Court’s decision upheld a November 2011 ruling against the state of emergency declared by the government in May 2008, which has led to widespread human rights violations and increased discrimination against Romani people.
Roma were targeted in an unlawful census based on ethnicity and deprived of safeguards against forced evictions, which resulted in thousands being made homeless in several Italian cities. They were also increasingly segregated in camps set up by the authorities.
“The Nomad emergency ushered in an all-time low in Italy’s discriminatory treatment of Roma. We are delighted that the country’s highest court has finally upheld the rights of Romani people,” said Jezerca Tigani, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Program Director at Amnesty International.