“There’s this streak of sacrifice in our culture” says Davide Zaveri, coordinator of the Salvagente project in Italy. “We Italians first focus on helping others in need – and need to overcome this reflex before we start thinking of our own security.”
The Salvagente (‘Lifejacket’) project overcomes this reflex. It invited Protection International to Turin this week to share its expertise and support the Salvagente team’s security planning.
Salvagente is a project run by Libera, a network of Italian associations, citizen groups and schools that want to actively counter the mafia. Libera built its reputation since the 1990’s by making the Italian authorities return confiscated mafia assets to society. Libera gives these assets a new life, serving the community. Farms formerly owned by mafia bosses are now run by Libera collectives. That sends a strong signal throughout the region. Cafeterias once owned by mafia families are now run by Libera associations and liven up neighbourhoods. Confiscated apartment blocks now host communes where youth in need find shelter. Italian citizens take back what was siphoned out of society through racket and corruption.
This year Libera is adding a new tool to its kit: the Salvagente project. Members of the Salvagente team reach out to people considering to testify against the mafia, so-called Witnesses of Justice. Their support is like a lifejacket – the team visits the witnesses and visits them to court in case there’s no police escort, or stay behind with the family while the witness is away.
Witnesses of Justice live under threat. Those who opt for the police protection programme often live in isolation, cut off from their family and community, often relocated to a different part of Italy. Some need to adopt a new identity. Witnesses that opt out of protection programmes face even more threats, before, during, and long after the trials. Some threats may turn into actual attacks.
Members of the Salvagente team accompanying witnesses are indirectly at risk as a result. Protection International was keen to respond when the team asked for assistance in improving their own security arrangements. “If we want to set an example that pushes the Italian authorities to do more for Witnesses of Justice, then we need to take an almost professional approach to our own security,” said a member of the team.
It is the first time for Protection International to share its expertise with activists defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in a European country.
For more information:
– The Salvagente’s project
– The website of Libera
– Or simply contact us