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U.N. blasts Italy over Gypsy 'discrimination'

  • Story Highlights
  • U.N. experts: Italian politicians are creating a "climate of ethnic bias"
  • Italy began fingerprinting Gypsies, including children, in crackdown on street crime
  • European Parliament called measure a "clear act of racial discrimination"
  • Italian PM: Govt. wants to "make these European citizens better integrated"
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ROME, Italy (AP) -- Three U.N. experts accused Italy on Tuesday of discriminating against Gypsies by going ahead with a plan to fingerprint them, saying that Italian politicians are creating a climate of ethnic bias.

Demonstrators protest against the discrimination of Gypsies in Rome.

Demonstrators protest against the discrimination of Gypsies in Rome.

The criticism by the independent U.N. experts in Geneva came as the EU chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, addressed the issue during talks in Rome with Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Barroso said he was confident that Italy would comply with EU principles and treaties. Berlusconi defended the treatment of Gypsies, who also are known as Roma.

Italy has drawn widespread criticism this month as it began fingerprinting Gypsies, including children, as part of a crackdown on street crime.

The European Parliament called the measure a clear act of racial discrimination and urged Italian authorities to stop it, while many human rights groups criticized it as racist.

The three U.N. experts said that "by exclusively targeting the Roma minority, this proposal can be unambiguously classified as discriminatory." They said they are "extremely concerned."

They also said they were "dismayed at the aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric used by political leaders, including Cabinet members, when referring to the Roma community."

"By explicitly associating the Roma to criminality, and by calling for the immediate dismantling of Roma camps in the country, these officials have created an overall environment of hostility, antagonism and stigmatization of the Roma community," said the statement. "This climate of anti-Roma sentiment has served to mobilize extremist groups."

Italy must uphold its obligations under international law, said the three: special rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diene; the independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall; and the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante.

Recently, Italian officials have spoken of a "Roma emergency" in big cities, linking crime to the minority. Some cities have appointed special commissioners to deal with the issue.

The Gypsies often live off temporary work and mostly stay in encampments in squalid conditions with no access to health services, education, basic sanitary facilities or jobs.

More than 700 encampments have been built in Italy, mainly around Rome, Milan and Naples, housing tens of thousands of Gypsies.

In Naples, camps had to be evacuated after attackers set huts on fire and angry residents in neighboring areas protested the alleged attempt by a Gypsy woman to kidnap a baby. Authorities in Rome raided a camp to check for proper papers.

Berlusconi, speaking alongside Barroso in Rome, defended the fingerprinting. He insisted the measure is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants for expulsion as well as making sure that Gypsy children are sent to school and not begging in the streets.

The premier said the government only wants to "make these European citizens better integrated and to give them the same right to education that our children have."

Barroso did not evaluate the program.

But he said, "I'm sure a solution will be found, compatible with the great Christian and humanistic traditions of Italy, and also ... of Europe in general." He praised the cooperation that he said Italian authorities are offering to EU officials on the subject.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

All About ItalySilvio BerlusconiEuropean Union

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