Last month, UN Watch was the first to take the floor at the United Nations to challenge Italy for illegally arresting and deporting a Kazakh mother and her little girl back to the land of their oppressor. Three independent UN experts spoke out yesterday to condemn Italy’s actions. And now the government in Rome may fall. The Financial Times has the full story below — and an editorial.
July 18, 2013 6:09 pm
UN condemns Italy’s deportation of mother and child
By Guy Dinmore in Rome
UN human rights experts have condemned Rome’s “unlawful ” deportations of the wife and child of a fugitive Kazakh dissident, saying the expulsions amount to an “extraordinary rendition” in a case that has threatened the stability of Italy’s coalition government.
In a statement released by the UN office for human rights in Geneva, three special rapporteurs called on Italy and Kazakhstan on Thursday to reach an agreement on the “rapid return” to Italy of Alma Shalabayeva, wife of Mukhtar Ablyazov, and her six-year-old daughter Alua.
Condemnation by the UN of the way Italy handled the May 31 deportations is likely to fuel a debate due to be held in the Italian Senate on Friday ahead of a vote of no-confidence called by opposition parties against Angelino Alfano, the interior minister and number two in Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party.
Mr Berlusconi’s party has warned it will bring down the coalition government it formed with the centre-left Democrats in April if Mr Alfano is ousted. Democratic party leaders have decided not to support the no-confidence motion, but the UN report is likely to strengthen the resolve of a group of party rebels who have demanded Mr Alfano’s resignation.
“The circumstances of the deportation give rise to the appearance that this was in fact an extraordinary rendition, which is of great concern to us,” said the UN experts.
The report noted that Ms Shalabayeva was married to Mr Ablyazov whom it described as a former political prisoner and political opponent of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. The report said he was granted political asylum in the UK in 2011 but fled after UK police warned him his life was in danger.
“Ms Shalabayeva and her daughter were legal residents in the European Union and living in Italy when they were expelled,” the report said, accusing Italy of violating guarantees of due process and depriving the mother of her right to appeal against deportation and to apply for asylum.
The report said Italian authorities “appeared to have ignored concerns that Ms Shalabayeva might be at risk of being persecuted, tortured or subjected to other forms of ill-treatment upon her forcible return to Kazakhstan due to her husband’s political activities”.
Italy’s coalition government, led by the centre-left prime minister Enrico Letta, revoked the deportation orders last week after an internal inquiry.
Mr Alfano told parliament on Tuesday that he had not been informed of the deportations. However, his chief of staff, who resigned over the affair, said he had told Mr Alfano that the Kazakh embassy in Rome had requested that Italian police arrest Mr Ablyazov who was suspected of being in the city in late May.
Mr Ablyazov – who denies charges in Kazakhstan of bank fraud, involvement in an organised criminal group and money laundering – was not there when Italian police raided a Rome villa on the night of May 28. Police instead arrested his wife and accused her of being an illegal immigrant, which she denied. She and her daughter were deported two days later on a private jet chartered by the Kazakh embassy.
Police deny she repeatedly requested political asylum and said they were unaware her husband was a political refugee.
Earlier on Thursday, Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s head of state, stepped into the fray by warning the nation’s political parties not to risk triggering instability that would damage confidence on international markets.
“The damaging effects on our international relations and on financial markets would be seen immediately and could be impossible to recover from,” said Mr Napolitano.
He specifically referred to the twin crises surrounding the legal battles of Mr Berlusconi, who has appealed against a conviction for tax fraud, and the deportations of the two Kazakhs. The president also lashed out at the pressure put on the interior ministry by Kazakhstan’s embassy in Rome.
Government should take responsibility for Kazakh blunder
July 18, 2013 6:57 pm
Italy’s law-enforcement agencies are not famous for their efficiency. Yet police in Rome were surprisingly swift in May in deporting the wife and daughter of a Kazakh dissident, Mukhtar Ablyazov, over alleged illegal immigration. Suspicions linger that Italy wanted to do a favour for the Kazakh government. Rome has strong commercial ties with Astana, in spite of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record.
Mr Ablyazov is no saint. London’s High Court sentenced him to 22 months in jail for contempt of court following a legal battle with his government over the alleged misappropriation of billions from BTA bank. Yet the UK authorities had granted him political asylum. Threats to his life had convinced the police to offer him protection.
More importantly, accusations levelled by the Italian authorities against Mr Ablyazov’s wife and daughter are groundless. After a hasty inquiry, Rome has admitted the mistake and revoked the expulsion. But the two are now held in Astana. Kazakh authorities accuse the mother of having acquired her passport illegally and she cannot leave the country. There are fears they may be kept as hostages to force Mr Ablyazov to return.
The case is an embarrassment to Rome, which has been condemned by the UN. Italy, a founding member of the EU, should defend human rights, not hand innocents to a ruthless regime.
Astonishingly, no one has taken political responsibility for this blunder. Giuseppe Procaccini, chief of staff of Angelino Alfano, interior minister and deputy prime minister, has resigned but Mr Alfano denies he knew about the deportation. However, his claim clashes with comments from Mr Procaccini, who says he was instructed to meet the Kazakh authorities. Even if Mr Alfano was unaware of the facts, that would imply he does not have a grip on his ministry.
Opposition parties have tabled a vote of no-confidence in Mr Alfano, which will be held on Friday. The government has closed ranks. As the number two to Silvio Berlusconi, the minister can rely on the centre-right People of Liberty’s support. The centre-left Democrats will also back him, as they fear that a vote of no-confidence could bring down the government.
Five months after a messy election and in the middle of a deep recession, Italy cannot afford a political crisis. However, the cabinet’s credibility will be severely undermined if no one takes responsibility. Mr Alfano would be wise to step aside and leave his job to one of his party colleagues.