Omerovic and Others v. Italy
Challenging the Creation of a Discriminatory Roma Database
In 2008 Italy introduced emergency legislation that applied only to Roma. Between June and October 2008, Italian police and soldiers forcibly entered 167 Roma settlements throughout the country to gather personal information about the inhabitants, creating a database with information on a single ethnic group. After the census, restrictions were placed on access to the camps, and forced evictions began. No provisions have been made to relocate, protect, or provide basic educational, health, and social services to the evicted Roma. The Omerovic family brought a legal action with nine other claimants to challenge this treatment. While the Milan courts upheld the ban, the Rome Civil Court later found it to be unlawful.
In May 2008, the Italian government adopted the Nomad Emergency Decree, which claimed that an “extremely critical situation” had developed “due to the presence of numerous irregular encampments of nomads.” (In Italian, Roma are referred to as “nomads,” although in fact most Roma today are sedentary.) The camps were designated a direct threat to public order and the security of local populations.
The decree granted emergency powers to the prefects of Rome, Milan, and Naples to adopt measures targeted at Roma residing in so-called nomad camps. These powers included: the authority to conduct a full census of Roma and identify people found in the camps with fingerprints and photographs; the expulsion and removal of persons with irregular status; and clearing the camps and evicting their inhabitants.
The government issued guidelines providing that the operations should not target specific groups or individuals, but in reality they only affect Roma communities. Documentation of census operations released by nongovernmental organizations between October 2008 and April 2009 confirmed that virtually all people subjected to the census were Roma and Sinti.
During the first census operation in June 2008 in the Via Impastato settlement near Milan, 70 law enforcement officers entered the settlement, searched the properties of 35 Roma residents who are Italian citizens, and collected data regarding the identity of the inhabitants, including fingerprints. Similar operations were conducted in Roma and Naples.
Roma were forced to participate in the count and intimidated by the authorities. The census applied to all Roma in the camps, whether or not they were Italian citizens.
Francesco Cipriani, a priest who works and lives with Italian Roma in Verona’s Campo Via la Rizza stated: “We are all Italian citizens and we have lived in this camp for 20 years. I do not understand why they have to check us this way. It seems that we are back at the beginning of the concentration camps. I was photographed with name and surname. I want to make a reflection as an Italian citizen as we all are here at the camp: this would not have happened in a normal neighborhood...”
One elderly Italian Sinti said: “I had to accept to be counted. The police knocked on my door at 5:00 am and they said it was a census... The Scientific Police searched all around outdoors with gloves. Then they search my caravan. People told me that other caravans were also searched. They showed no court permission to do this. I felt humiliated as an Italian citizen. We are Gypsies and not like other Italian citizens—I was imprisoned in many fascist concentration camps, and the police now treated me in this way!”
The census operations ultimately identified 12,346 Roma, including 5,436 children. The Italian government announced that 124 of 167 identified Roma settlements were unauthorized and would be demolished. Evictions began in 2009.
In Milan, where the Omerovic family and nine other claimants brought suit, 4,200 Roma were registered, and evictions have been underway since 2009. Since filing the case, Mujo Omerovic—an Holocaust survivor—and his wife, Nevresa, both passed away, leaving the other claimants to carry on.
After two full years of “emergency,” there have been no measures to relocate, protect, or provide basic services to the evicted communities as had been promised in the original decree. Instead, these policies have caused severe hardship for Roma and Sinti across Italy. In particular, uprooted Roma children have found it nearly impossible to continue their schooling.
Members of the Omerovic family were subjected to the census in Milan. They have brought their case to court, along with nine other claimants.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Justice Initiative intervened ad adiuvandum in the domestic proceedings in Milan challenging the Nomad Emergency Decree, arguing that the provisions violated European law and should have been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Justice Initiative did not appeal the judgment in this case, but instead chose to support separate litigation in the Rome Civil Court in the case of Salkanovic v. Ministry of Interior, in which the court eventually declared the Roma Emergency Measures to violate antidiscrimination law, the first such holding in Italy.
Roma Database. The collection and processing of personal data from a single ethnic group amounts to the processing of personal data which effectively reveals ethnic origin, in violation of Article 8 of the EU Data Protection Directive.
No Informed Consent. The Roma and Sinti targeted by the Nomad Emergency Package did not give their unequivocal and informed consent to participating in the census, in further violation of the EU Data Protection Directive.
Lack of Safeguards. The Decree lacks any safeguards against arbitrary use of data required by EU law, such as provisions stating how the data may be consulted, retrieved, or disseminated.
Racial Discrimination. The Decree discriminates against Roma by targeting them as the subjects of specific measures and by depriving them of basic social services as a result of these measures, in breach of the EU Racial Equality Directive.
Degrading Treatment. Singling out Roma in such a way is racism amounting to degrading treatment, contrary to Article 3 ECHR.
No Lawful Derogation. The Italian government has made no derogation from EU law, meaning there is no legal basis for any justification based on national security.
On March 2, 2011, the Milan Civil Tribunal delivered its judgment in the case, finding that the presence of Roma and Sinti caused deteriorating hygiene and safety conditions in specified locations around Milan, and holding that the Roma Emergency Measures were not discriminatory.
The Court delivered its judgment in the case, finding that the presence of Roma and Sinti caused deteriorating hygiene and safety conditions in specified locations in Italy, and holding that the Roma Emergency Measures were not discriminatory.
Hearing before the Civil Tribunal of Milan in the Omerovic case.
Justice Initiative files an ad adiuvandum brief in the Civil Tribunal of Milan.
Emergency measures extended to December 31, 2010 and expanded to cover Piedmont and Veneto.
New restrictions are placed on access to and residence in “nomad” camps in Milan and Rome.
Omerovic case is filed with the Milan Civil Tribunal.
Sixty police officers begin the Milan census at the camp of Via Impastato.
Census of all Roma camps in Italy is conducted.
Introduction of the Emergency Decree and the implementing ordinances.
EC v. Italy
Roma in Italy are facing a wave of hostility, as fears of immigration from other EU countries are exacerbated by government-controlled media, and used to justify racist policies.
Salkanovic v. Ministry of Interior (Italy)
The Justice Initiative with Italian NGOs filed a petition on behalf of Salkanovic against the government, seeking a declaration that the Roma census violated Italian and EU antidiscrimination and data protection law.
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