The Italian EU Presidency: A Chance for a Fresh Start for Human Rights at Home as well as Abroad

Mobilisation drive for the SOS Europe: People before borders campagin, at Piazza del Ferrarese, Bari, by Amnesty International’s Italian section, on the occasion of its 29th General Assembly. © Simone Muscogiun

There is a worrying dichotomy between the EU’s aspiration to promote human rights globally, and the reality of human rights violations in the member states

Amnesty International
Press Release

The Italian EU Presidency: A Chance for a Fresh Start for Human Rights at Home as well as Abroad

(Brussels) 24 June 2014

As Italy prepares to take over the European Union (EU) presidency on 1 July 2014, Amnesty International is urging representatives to grab the opportunity to show leadership and steer the Union in the direction of human rights, putting people before politics.

Through its “Recommendations to the Italian EU Presidency’’, launched today in Rome at an Amnesty International Italy press conference, Amnesty International is calling on the Italian presidency to ensure the EU develops an internal human rights strategy to address violations within and at its own borders, as well as beyond.

“There is a worrying dichotomy between the EU’s aspiration to promote human rights globally, and the reality of human rights violations in the member states”, said Iverna McGowan, Director of Programmes for Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Discrimination and violence against refugees, migrants, Roma, LGBTI people, and women remain pervasive. This has to change”.

In calling for an overarching EU-internal human rights strategy, the Italian presidency can lay the foundations for the EU to develop proactive and protective responses to pressing human rights challenges within its own territory. And ensure the member states fulfill their human rights obligations at home. Such a strategy would also ensure human rights protection gaps are identified and addressed, and the assessment of EU human rights work.

An internal human rights strategy can however only be achieved and implemented through collective action by and support from all EU actors and member states. As newly appointed Members of the European Parliament take their seats in Brussels, the new European Commission prepares to take office later in the year, and member states start work on implementing the Strategic Guidelines to shape work in the field of freedom, security and justice, the Italian presidency should work with all actors to ensure human rights are central to all EU polices.

Amnesty International is specifically urging the Italian presidency to initiate a major shift in the EU’s approach to migration policies and practices. Italy has shown there are alternative approaches, specifically regarding search and rescue under its Mare Nostrum operation. But Italy cannot save lives on its own. 

“As Europe builds its walls higher in an attempt to keep refugees and migrants out, lives are being lost. Italy knows only too well the dangers of turning a blind eye to the reality of migration. Hopefully, with its experience, the Italian presidency will be able to succeed where others have failed, and ensure a protective rather than a security based approach to migration management, in order to respect rights and save lives’’, added McGowan.

Amnesty International is urging the Italian presidency to push for joint efforts to increase search and rescue capacity, safe routes, so those escaping violence and persecution are not forced to embark on dangerous journeys in the first place, and an end to exporting migration control cooperation to external countries with deplorable human rights records.  

The Italian presidency also has the opportunity to ensure the EU meets its human rights obligations at home by, amongst others:

• Pressing for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and a more robust approach to combating and prosecuting hate crime, to protect people from discrimination and violence on all grounds

• Implementing an urgent response to the ongoing abuses of Roma rights, including hate crime, forced evictions, housing and school segregation, and discriminatory rhetoric by officials. The presidency should press member states to comply with the Race Equality Directive. And Italy should lead by example, particularly regarding forced evictions and access to social housing

• Urging the EU member states to put into effect their commitment to combating violence against women by developing a strategic framework to comprehensively address this issue. Support should also be gathered from member states to effectively resource the implementation of the Commission’s Communication, Towards the Elimination of FGM

Mirroring its internal calls, Amnesty International’s Recommendations highlight the need for the presidency to ensure the EU continues to promote and uphold human rights abroad, in all areas of external action and policy, and in dealings with all countries. This includes strengthening the effectiveness of the EU and member states’ work to prevent and respond to torture worldwide, in line with the EU Guidelines on Torture, and with the “Tools of Torture Regulation” (which controls the transfer of goods that could be used for torture, capital punishment or other ill-treatment to countries outside of the EU). At the same time, the presidency should work with the European External Action Service, its delegations and member state embassies to protect and support human rights defenders in their crucial work.

As people suffer the consequences of human rights violations around the globe, Amnesty International is also strongly urging the Italian presidency to ensure the EU shows leadership and active engagement in eleven cases of people under threat in Europe and worldwide.

“Italy has the chance to ensure a fresh start for human rights at home and abroad during its presidency”, said McGowan. “The presidency should work with EU leaders to urgently respond to human rights challenges within and at its borders, and globally. And collectively, leaders must use their new mandates to reset agendas, recommit to stalled promises, and ensure that respect for human rights is the bedrock of all EU policies and actions.”

For further information, please contact

Maeve Patterson
Media & Communications
Amnesty International European Institutions Office
[email protected]
+32 (0)2 548 27 73