Can Europe Make It?

Genocides versus human rights

Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo introduces the International Human Mobility Charter of Palermo 2015 to a Goldsmith University audience in a lecture to launch their new partnership with the city of Palermo.

Leoluca Orlando
13 November 2015

Leoluca Orlando. Demotix/lucio ganci. All rights reserved.

The refugee crisis and the Palermo Charter

This October, Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, visited Goldsmiths, University of London with a new pioneering initiative. He was giving his lecture entitled ‘Genocides versus human rights’ and presenting to the assembled staff and students his International Human Mobility Charter of Palermo 2015 – its first outing in the UK. The charter calls for a fundamental change in the treatment of displaced people, “from migration as suffering, to mobility as an inalienable human right.” International Human Mobility, Charter of Palermo 2015 (PDF).

To respond to the ongoing refugee crisis, Orlando is calling for the abolition of residence permits and a raft of other changes in European legislation that would include the simplification of legislation around employment, housing, healthcare and citizenship. The Charter holds that recent EU proposals to allow legal entry only to those with the necessary ‘qualifications’ and to outsource asylum to outside Europe, “cannot be accepted”. Instead, “Mobility must be recognised as an inalienable right” and, “Everything else, including the concept of ‘security’, too many times and improperly invoked, must be coherent with this approach.”

Speaking before the event, Orlando said:

“No one can let children, women and men die in deserts or at sea for the sole reason they are born poor or in countries at war. Solidarity between individuals is an essential value for everyone who wants to continue to belong to humanity."

He was accompanied at this event by another Palermitan, Dr Andrea Cusumano, from Goldsmith’s Department of Theatre And Performance, who is on secondment in Sicily in the role of Minister for Culture for the Municipality of Palermo, at Orlando’s invitation. It is on his initiative too that Dr. Cusumano’s university department has been invited to establish a Mediterranean Centre in the City of Palermo, where work on this ambitious mission will continue. Listen to Leoluca Orlando, Mayor of Palermo, on ‘Genocides versus human rights’, here, (50 minutes) and to Palermo’s Minister of Culture, Andrea Cusumano, here. (21 minutes). Below, more on the career of the remarkable Mayor of Palermo.

The Mayor of Palermo’s career

Leoluca Orlando was born in Palermo in 1947, and became a lawyer and Professor of Regional Public Law at the university of Palermo. From 1978 – 80, he was legal adviser to Piersanti Mattarella, President of the Sicilian Region, until he was killed by the Mafia in 1980.

In that year, Orlando was elected City Councillor for the Christian Democratic party and in 1985 became Mayor of Palermo for a five-year administration in which his city government made up of movements and parties of the political left constituted a severe break with past practice. In what became known as the ‘Palermo spring’, he denounced the peril represented by the Mafioso economy, exercised with the complicity of public officials, and in 1990, though boycotted by national leaders of his own party, his candidacy for the city government won more votes than anyone else’s (71,000).

In 1991, however, he was forced to leave the Christian Democrats to found the Movement for Democracy, known as ‘La Rete’ ( The Network), whose main aim was to bring moral issues back to Italian politics through the principle of  ‘transversality’ (multipartisanship i.e. the participation of all the positive forces from the various political parties looking to create a more democratic society.)

As a candidate of this new movement, he was elected to the Sicilian Regional Parliament in 1991 and the Italian National Parliament in 1992.

In 1993 he was elected Mayor of Palermo in the first direct mayoral elections ever held in Italy, with 75% of the votes, and set about banishing the economic interests of organised crime from the municipality. He brought to a conclusion the rescinding of all the contracts for the maintenance of public facilities that the City had assigned to companies suspected of belonging to Mafia families, a process that had up till then been vetoed by political forces.

Moreover he initiated a new multi-faceted project of civic renewal through a variety of programmes including cultural and school-based initiatives promoting lawfulness, that liberated the citizens from the cultural hegemony of the Mafia in a process that became referred to as the ‘Palermo Renaissance’.

In 1994 he was elected Deputy to the European Parliament where he worked extensively to promote the interests of a stronger role for the Mediterranean in the European Union, and for the adoption of an EU project against organised crime inspired by the Sicilian experience.

Since July 2006, he was been an elected deputy of the National Parliament, President of the parliamentary commission for regional affairs, elected Vice President of the European Liberal Democratic and Reform Party, and in May 2012 he was again elected Mayor of Palermo, with 74% of the votes.

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