Italian Officials: Fingerprinting of Gypsies Is Legal, Not Racist

Italy has assured the EU that its policy of fingerprinting Roma does not discriminate against them, the EU's top justice official said Thursday. Amnesty International strongly disagreed, saying the policy is racist and tramples on the rights of all EU citizens.

The Italian government has begun fingerprinting Roma, or Gypsies. Reasons for the action have varied. Some Italian officials have said it's part of a wider crackdown on street crime, which they blame mostly on foreigners, while others say it is needed to see who lives in the country illegally or to boost efforts to get Roma children to attend school.

Opponents noted, however, that EU citizens of Roma origin were being treated differently than other citizens in Italy, who are not required to submit their fingerprints.

Jacques Barrot, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner told reporters he had received a letter from Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni telling him the policy did not violate EU human rights standards.

"We received assurances that he was not going to ask for people's ethnicity or religion," Barrot said Thursday. He told Maroni he was expecting a more complete report on how the program was being carried out by the end of July.

"In the light of this report, we will check whether this is in line with (EU) community law," Barrot said.

Rome says Gypsies will only be fingerprinted if they don't have a valid identification. But census forms in Naples clearly showed that authorities were taking fingerprints from people with valid passports, and children, and were also collecting information on religion and ethnicity.

Amnesty International appealed to Barrot and EU justice and interior ministers Thursday to take immediate action to stop Italy, saying the program is racist.

"This measure is discriminatory, disproportionate and unjustified," Amnesty wrote to the EU ministers. "It violates international and regional human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights ... It should be immediately stopped."

Amnesty said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government is increasingly trampling on the rights of all EU citizens, notably on their rights to move and live freely across the 27-nation EU.