The Sardines – A Popular Human Rights Movement?

By Giulia Ciccia Messina

Beginning in November 2019, a new wave of protests has surfaced in Italy. We are used to associating Italian politics with anti-immigrant and refugee sentiments. However, the new movement, which has become known as the Sardine (sardines, in English) is bringing people together across many Italian cities to protest in support of the human rights of those whom right-wing populists have been attacking so publicly.

On November 14th Matteo Salvini, the prominent leader of the extreme right-wing Italian political movement called Lega, was scheduled to appear in Bologna. The Paladozza, where Salvini was due to appear can hold a maximum of 5,570 people. The “sardines challenge” was launched by four friends and specifically sought to attract 6000 individuals to protest against Salvini and the anti-human rights platform he has been prominently leading. The friends put out the call through Facebook, other social media platforms and through word of mouth. In the event, some 15,000 people answered the call and assembled to make their voices heard. They were packed so tightly into the main square of Bologna, that they subsequently became known as the sardines.

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The reasons why so many were willing to publicly refute what Salvini and the Lega represent can be traced to the increasingly harsh policies Italian authorities have been pursuing against the acceptance of immigrants on Italian territory[1] and the numerous successful attempts to perpetrate a narrative of “us” against “them” amongst the wider Italian population. The right-wing populist narrative deployed by Salvini routinely characterises immigrants and asylum seekers as responsible for the many frustrations and resentments experienced by many Italians in these times of austerity and crisis.

The name “Sardine” does not only symbolise the act of being a numerous and tight-knit group. It also seeks to convey the peaceful nature and aims of the protest movement. In fact, this movement’s genesis was spontaneous and sought only to demonstrate popular and ordinary peoples’ opposition to the policies of Salvini and the Lega. It has also sought to show support for an alternative future based upon an attitude of respect and tolerance. The message of the “sardines” is clear: in this current, divisive, political climate, it is better to hold tight in mutual respect than to lose each other in divisive hatred.

What significance do these events have for the actual implementation and guarantee of human rights in Italy, especially in regard to immigrants and asylum seekers who often arrive illegally in the country?

In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the context and the level of protection afforded to these individuals’ human rights. Firstly, Italy has been repeatedly criticized by various international organizations, most notably Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its repeatedly poor treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers. Criticism of Italy’s human rights record has also been levelled by the European Court of Human Rights, in respect of regarding the case of Khalifia and Others vs Italy, (2016). Further criticism has also been levelled by  the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in its Universal Periodic Review in August 2019, which highlighted several areas of particular concern regarding Italy’s lack of institutional provision for combatting a range of forms of discrimination and ill-treatment, as well as Italy’s repeated denial of entry of rescue vessels into Italian ports[2]. Consequentially, it can be deduced that the response of the Italian government to the ever-growing issue of illegal immigration and asylum seekers has not been particularly focused on guaranteeing and protecting their human rights up to this point.

The intolerance and viciousness exhibited by various right-wing populists in their depiction of and attitudes towards immigrants and asylum-seekers manifests itself in numerous ways, from the irresponsible speeches of politicians to hate crimes committed by more “ordinary” people. It can be difficult to avoid becoming despondent and depressed at the spectacle of such intolerance and hatred. However, against this backdrop, the sardines offer an example that populists do not speak for all of the people. In fact, there are countless numbers of people who are ready and willing to protest in support of some of the most vulnerable in our midst.

In respect of Italy and writing as an Italian, I personally feel reassured by the sardines. They serve to support the idea of ​​living in a country that retains a desire to say “no” to hatred and intolerance. So-called ordinary people, who are not part of any elite or establishment can be passionate supporters of human rights and to insist on seeing immigrants and asylum-seekers as, first and foremost, fellow human beings.

The protection of human rights often requires more than simply the existence of legal commitments, which governments can ignore. Political support also has a vital role to play. The sardines deserve the support of the wider human rights movement and offer an example to follow for all of us.

Giulia is presently studying the MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, here at the University of Essex. She possesses a BA in International Relations and Modern Languages, also from Essex. She has a passion for political and social phenomena and movements, is firmly confident of the possibility of governing conflicts with the tools of knowledge and reasonableness.




What does that mean here? Localizing human rights in the UK

By: Koldo Casla & Kath Dalmeny

Originally posted on Open Global Rights

Researchers and campaigners up and down the UK are adapting the international human rights system to local institutions and meanings in a process of “vernacularization”: they are taking the needs of the community and the language that make sense locally as the starting point of human rights advocacy.

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RightsCast – A new podcast from the Essex Human Rights Centre  

We are delighted to launch RightsCast, a new podcast from the Essex Human Rights Centre, that is intended to bring you informed, interesting, and (relatively) informal discussion on contemporary and thematic human rights issues. Here’s what the blurb says:

RightsCast brings you discussion on a wide range of contemporary and enduring human rights issues from the University of Essex Human Rights Centre.

Bringing together diverse voices from all over the world, we apply a human rights lens to better understand current events, to discuss key and emerging issues, and to explore how to achieve social change.

From grassroots movements to major international affairs, join us each week as we talk to the people behind the stories and seek to create a dialogue around the role of human rights in our daily lives. Continue reading

Book Announcement

Routledge has just published a book by Dr. Raymond Smith directly based on his 2017 Essex LLM dissertation in IHR law, which was conducted with Dr. Julian Burger of the Human Rights Centre. The short e-book is entitled Extending International Human Rights Protections to Vulnerable Populations. A political scientist by training, Ray is an adjunct associate professor with the Center for Global Affairs at New York University(NYU) and a member of the affiliated faculty of the Program in Human Rights Practice at the University of Arizona, USA.  This blogpost provides the abstract to the book, which identifies key strategies being used to articulate the legal basis for the protection of vulnerable populations that are not specifically mentioned in the nine core IHR treaties.

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HR & Tech Weekly News Circular

Each week the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, based at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, prepares an overview of related news stories from the week. This summary contains news articles from 7-14 June 2019.

You can follow the HRBDT Project on twitter: @hrbdtNews.

Algorithms and AI
Data Protection
Social Media

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.

Constructively Confronting Right-Wing Populism

By Andrew Fagan

This post addresses what may be identified as some of the more significant implications for human rights contained within two recent Ipsos global surveys. The first survey, conducted in 2018, studied attitudes towards human rights amongst over 23,000 adults in 28 countries. The second survey, conducted in 2019, sought to measure support for populism and nativism amongst over 18,000 adults across 27 countries. Taken together, these two surveys graphically illustrate some of the core challenges facing the human rights project today.

These are deeply troubling, anxiety-inducing times. The greatest cause for concern for many is the ongoing full-frontal attack upon the liberal rights-based paradigm, which, in so-called Western societies, has provided the institutional and conceptual scaffolding for the modern human rights movement. Right-wing “populism” has emerged as the single greatest political threat to liberal democracy and, it seems, human rights. Punctuated by the election of Trump, the manner in which the Leave campaign conducted itself during the UK’s EU referendum and a subsequent series of other right-wing populist electoral and political gains, a politics fuelled essentially by hate and fear seeks to lay claim to truly representing the majority sovereign will of the (no longer) silent majority.  Continue reading

Human Rights & Tech Weekly News Circular

Each week the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, based at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, prepares an overview of related news stories from the week. This summary contains news articles from 7-14 June 2019.

You can follow the HRBDT Project on twitter: @hrbdtNews.



Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.