ROME, ITALY - Italy and Austria issued sharp retorts to the new U.N. human rights chief Tuesday over her plans to send in teams to investigate the treatment of migrants, with Italy saying the move is “inappropriate, unfounded and unjust.”
A foreign ministry statement recalled all the praise Italy has received over the years for rescuing migrants, providing assistance projects in migrants' home countries and cracking down on Libyan-based smuggling networks that have greatly reduced the number of arrivals.
The ministry said it hoped the data “will help the newly installed high commissioner” understand Italy's commitment and its track record.
Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who took over as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights last week, announced plans to send teams to Italy and Austria to examine the treatment of migrants after her first major address Monday.
In Vienna on Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz demanded “clarification” from the U.N. of “what human rights violations” are suspected in Austria, the Austria Press Agency reported.
“It is particularly important to clear up how and why the decision came about that Austria in particular should be examined,” he added. Kurz said he would defend Austria against any unjustified suspicion.
Amid such protests, Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, said it was “not unusual at all” for it to deploy teams to countries, saying they often conduct “working-level visits to various countries where we see that there are human rights concerns for them to look at.”
She told reporters in Geneva that rights office teams were dispatched to Bulgaria, France, Greece and Macedonia as well as Italy in 2016.
Shamdasani said she did not have precise dates for the visits to Austria and Italy, but “I'm told it's a matter of weeks.”