Dabetić v. Italy
For more than two decades, Velimir Dabetić lived with an uncertain legal status, unable to acquire any nationality or receive protection as a stateless person. Born in what was then Yugoslavia, he moved to Italy as a permanent resident in 1989, where he still resides and where he was living when the Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991, resulting in the territory where he originally resided becoming the newly independent Slovenia.
However, in 1992, Slovenia removed Dabetić and thousands of other habitual residents from their list of permanent residents. Slovenia subsequently rejected his application to be recognized as a citizen. When his Yugoslav passport expired in 2002, he lost the right to live and work in Italy but had nowhere else to go. For seven years, Italy failed to address his application for statelessness status, leaving him as an undocumented non-citizen. This meant that he could have been arrested and deported at any time, and was unable to work or to receive any government services or benefits.
The Open Society Justice Initiative has asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to issue a decision finding that this situation violated his right to private life, that he was subjected to discriminatory treatment and Italy failed in its duty to provide effective remedies for human rights violations.
Velimir Dabetić was born in Yugoslavia in 1969 and registered as a permanent resident there in 1971. He moved to Italy in 1989 and was issued a regular work permit. He has lived in Italy ever since.
When Yugoslavia broke apart, he was still registered as a permanent resident in Slovenia. However, in 1992, Slovenia “erased” thousands of people from its register of permanent residents. It was only when his Yugoslav passport expired in 2002 that he learnt that he had been removed from this register in 2002. When he applied for permanent residence in Slovenia that same year, he was denied.
He attempted to obtain Slovenian citizenship in 2003 but was denied. He also applied to the Italian Ministry of Interior to be recognized as stateless, a request that was also denied, along with a request for a permit of stay while his application was considered.
During the years following 2002, Dabetić’s uncertain status prevented him from conducting a normal life. In 2009, Italy criminalized entry into the country and being in the country without a valid permit, making his status even more precarious. He lived under threat of arrest, criminal conviction, and deportation for remaining in Italy as an undocumented alien. He was arrested at least six times and subjected to countless identity checks. He could not work or receive any benefits or services beyond emergency health care.
In May 2011, Mr. Dabetić began a judicial procedure for determination of his statelessness status by filing an application with the Rome Ordinary Tribunal. An application for interim protection was refused.
In June 2012, the Grand Chamber of the Court ruled on Kurić and others v. Slovenia, filed by a group of individuals who had been removed from the register, including Dabetić, before the European Court of Human Rights. The tribunal ruled that Slovenia’s failure to regulate the applicants’ legal status breached their rights to private and family life (Article 8), an effective remedy (Article 13), and non-discrimination (Article 14) under the European Convention. However, Dabetić’s application was deemed inadmissible, as the Court considered that he should have applied for permanent residency after 1992.
In 2012, the Justice Initiative brought a case on behalf of Dabetić before the European Court of Human Rights, arguing there was no reasonable justification for the delay in granting him legal protection, and that Italy’s actions amounted to a violation of his right to respect for private life, unjustified discriminatory treatment, and failure to accord effective redress for violations of his rights.
In September 2013, after seven years of uncertainty, an Italian appeals court granted Dabetić’s request for recognition of statelessness status. While this was a welcome development, the Justice Initiative continues to seek the European Court’s determination as to whether Dabetić’s rights were violated by Italy. While he is no longer at risk of criminal sanction or expulsion, no compensatory measures have been undertaken, including any attempt to facilitate his access to naturalization in light of the years of delay he suffered during efforts to place himself on a pathway to citizenship. More broadly, for the court to rule that Italy has failed to address the inherently and unjustifiably discriminatory nature of its policies and legal procedures when it comes to stateless persons could lead to greater protections for this vulnerable group.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Open Society Justice Initiative brought a case forward on behalf of Dabetić regarding Italy’s failure to remediate his prolonged status of statelessness in a timely manner before the European Court of Human Rights with Italian co-counsel Andrea Saccucci.
The Open Society Justice Initiative argued that Dabetić could not conduct a normal life because of his stateless status. It also argued that Italy discriminated against him compared with asylum seekers in refusing him access to protection.
Respect for Private Life. Italy’s prolonged failure to recognize Dabetić’s legal status and failure to grant him temporary protection pending the outcome of his claim for statelessness, which resulted in repeated deportation notices, multiple arrests for his undocumented presence, his inability to work, or receive any benefits or services beyond emergency health care, and the impairment on his connections with family members and community, amounted to a violation of his right to respect for private life (Article 8).
Discriminatory Treatment. Because of his irregular status, Dabetić was legally barred from receiving any form of protection through administrative statelessness proceedings. By contrast, asylum seekers receive protection, including permits of stay, regardless of their preexisting status in Italy. Additionally, the Italian authorities failed to treat Dabetić differently based on his vulnerable status as a stateless person and a victim of having been removed from Slovenia’s register of permanent residents. The treatment in comparison to asylum seekers in Italy amounted to discrimination (Article 14).
Failure to Provide Redress. There was no effective domestic remedy available to Dabetić to challenge the denial of his legal status and seek to assert his rights, violating the right of access to a court (Article 6) and the right to a remedy (Article 13).
The applicant files his observations in reply on the admissibility and merits, and claims for just satisfaction.
The Court notifies the Justice Initiative and co-counsel that the government has refused a settlement. The Court sets a deadline of January 6, 2022, for the government’s statement of facts and written observations on admissibility and merits.
The applicant notifies the court that he will not pursue a settlement.
The court communicates the case to the government.
Dabetić’s counsel submits a letter to the ECHR informing the court that, after seven years, Italy has recognized his statelessness status.
The Rome Ordinary Tribunal recognizes Dabetić as stateless.
Dabetić files an application with the European Court of Human Rights.
Dabetić's application for determination of status is filed at the Rome Ordinary Tribunal.
Dabetić's application for statelessness status is rejected by the Ministry of Interior.
Dabetić first applies for statelessness status in Italy.
Kuric v. Slovenia
This case concerns citizenship rights and statelessness in Slovenia.
Iseni v. Italian Ministry of the Interior
Roberto Iseni is in danger of criminal sanctions and expulsion because he failed to apply for a passport within a 12-month window following his 18th birthday, as dictated by Italian law.
Stateless in Italy: Time to Fix a Broken System
Two ongoing cases illustrate all that is wrong with Italy's status determination procedures for identifying stateless persons and recognizing their status.
Justice Initiative Welcomes First UN Human Rights Committee Ruling on the Right to Nationality for Children
The UN Human Rights Committee has found, in the case of Zhao v. Netherlands, that the Netherlands violated the rights of a child, Denny Zhao, by assigning him the status of “unknown” nationality when his birth in the country was registered.
Open Society Justice Initiative Joins Statement of Concern on Assam Registration Crisis
Over 100 international and national civil society groups have signed a joint-letter calling for an international response to a India's troubled review of its National Register of Citizens in Assam.