Dabetić v. Italy

European Court of Human Rights
Case Manager

Italy’s protracted statelessness status determination procedures deny rights

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 and has lived there ever since. Slovenia erased Dabetic and thousands of other habitual residents from their list of permanent residents in 1992. 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, under threat of arrest and deportation, unable to work, or to receive any services or benefits. The Justice Initiative asked the European Court of Human Rights to find that this situation violated his right to private life and the 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. When he applied for permanent residence in Slovenia, after learning of the erasure in 2002, he was denied.

A group of “erased” persons, including Mr. Dabetić, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2012, the Grand Chamber of the Court in the case of Kurić and others v. Slovenia, 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, Mr. Dabetić’s application was deemed inadmissible, as the Court considered that he should have applied for permanent residency after 1992.

When his Yugoslav passport expired in 2002, he lost his permit to work and stay in Italy. It was only then that he learned that his name had been erased from Slovenia’s registry. He attempted to obtain Slovenian citizenship in 2003, but was denied. He applied to the Italian Ministry of Interior to be recognized as stateless, but was also denied. He asked for a permit of stay while his application was considered, but this was also denied.

While waiting for the authorities to decide his status he could not conduct 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 2012, the Justice Initiative challenged this situation 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 a failure to accord effective redress for violations of his rights.

In September 2013, after seven years of uncertainty, an Italian appeals court granted Mr. Dabetić’s request for recognition of his statelessness status. The Justice Initiative continues to seek the European Court’s determination as to the violation of his rights while he was left without status for such a long time.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Open Society Justice Initiative challenged Mr. Dabetić’s statelessness before the European Court of Human Rights with Italian co-counsel Andrea Saccucci.


The Open Society Justice Initiative argued that Mr. 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 Mr. Dabetić’s legal status, failure to grant him temporary protection pending the outcome of his claim for statelessness, the repeated deportation notices, multiple arrests for his undocumented presence, 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Dabetić differently based on his vulnerable status as stateless and as a victim of “erasure” in Slovenia. The treatment in comparison to asylum seekers in Italy amounted to discrimination (Article 14).  

Failure to Provide Redress. There is no effective domestic remedy available to Mr. 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).  

October 23, 2013

Mr. Dabetić’s counsel submits a letter to the ECHR informing the Court that, after seven years, Italy has recognized his statelessness status. 

September 30, 2013

Rome Ordinary Tribunal recognizes Mr. Dabetić as stateless.

December 14, 2012

Mr. Dabetić files application with the European Court of Human Rights.

May 26, 2011

Application for determination of status filed at the Rome Ordinary Tribunal.

January 25, 2008

Application for statelessness status rejected by Ministry of Interior.

March 02, 2006

Mr. Dabetić first applies for statelessness status in Italy.

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