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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Italy

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Italy, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Italy is a democratic, multiparty republic with a directly-elected parliamentary government. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers, headed by the President of the Council (the Prime Minister). The Head of State (President of the Republic) selects the Prime Minister after consulting with leaders of all political forces in Parliament. The judiciary is independent of the executive, but continues to be subject to occasional political pressures.

The armed forces are under the control of the Government and Parliament. There are four separate police forces under different ministerial or local authorities. During the year there have been some credible reports of police maltreatment of individuals while in official custody.

Italy has an industrialized market economy. Although heavy government ownership of the primary industrial sectors persists, privatization is well underway.

Societal discrimination and some official abuses continued to be problems. There were sporadic acts of violence or discrimination aimed at ethnic or religious minorities and several instances of physical abuse of prisoners by guards. The judicial system has moved slowly in punishing the perpetrators. Moreover, the judiciary itself is accused of abuses such as excessive use of preventive detention and of inordinately drawn-out proceedings. Politically motivated terrorist violence remained at low levels, but organized criminal elements continued to use terrorist tactics, albeit less frequently than in 1993.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In May the public prosecutor in Turin brought manslaughter charges against two police officers accused of beating a suspect to death after his arrest in December 1993; the trial began in November and was still in progress at year's end. Also begun in November and still in progress was the trial in Turin of two policemen accused of inflicting mortal injuries on an unarmed suspect they were apprehending. In October the judiciary in Padua committed to trial an officer of the carabiniere police force who was accused of manslaughter in the death of an 11-year-old Roma detainee in September 1993; a court hearing is scheduled for March 1995. The case of the Iranian opposition leader killed in March 1993 remains unsolved.

There were no credible reports of death while in official custody in 1994.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and cruel or degrading punishment. However, there have been credible reports that in several cases police abused detainees or prisoners during interrogation, usually by repeated kicks and punches or prolonged beatings with batons. In February a public prosecutor in Rome initiated proceedings against a police officer accused of ill-treatment of a 13-year-old in September 1993.

There also continue to be credible allegations--some proven true--of guards' abuse of prisoners. In November 1993 the director of a jail in Pavia was suspended from duty and committed to trial on charges of having placed in isolation a detainee for whom a medical doctor had instead recommended hospitalization; the trial is scheduled for January 1995.

A report by Amnesty International in June cited specific instances of alleged ill-treatment of prisoners, including 13 formal complaints in February by inmates of Sulmona prison accusing the staff of maltreating prisoners and "committing acts of deliberate humiliation and extortion." The director of this prison was suspended from duty in early 1994; there is no confirmation that this action was taken as a result of these events, and Amnesty International has not received any response to its inquiry to date.

In an open letter published by the press in February, inmates of Secondigliano prison claimed guards had repeatedly beaten a prisoner during a 2-day period just before his court hearing, and that they threatened him with further ill-treatment if he reported the beatings to the judges; the Government has not responded to these complaints. In December the Naples judiciary committed to trial 70 of the guards at this prison, including the chief warden, on charges of ill-treatment of some 300 inmates in early 1993; the trials are scheduled to begin in the spring of 1995.

In June six prison guards were held in preventive detention for 2 weeks and suspended from their jobs for 2 months for having beaten a prisoner in a Monza jail.

The prison population exceeds the maximum capacity of the nation's prisons by some 50 percent--in some prisons the inmates number two or three times the capacity--and reportedly there are also problems of poor sanitation and inadequate medical assistance in prisons. These conditions have continued to spark numerous hunger strikes in various prisons, and presumably were a factor prompting many of the more than 100 prison suicides in the past 2 years alone. Legislation in August 1993 made it easier for certain categories of offenders to receive house arrest, pending conclusion of their trials, and to be sentenced to alternatives to imprisonment.

The Government permits independent monitoring of prison conditions by parliamentarians, local human rights groups, the media, and other organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law requires police to obtain a judicial warrant in order to make an arrest, and to lodge charges within 48 hours. The law limits the maximum duration of preventive or investigative detention to 2, 4, or 6 years depending on the gravity of the crime. If a detainee is charged with additional offenses, the detention can be extended beyond the original maximum duration. In some cases, pre-trial detention is extended when the accused, already in detention on specific charges, is charged with additional offenses. This has often been the case during "clean hands" judiciary proceedings connected to kickbacks and corruption over government contracts, which started in Milan in February 1992 and have since spread throughout the country. Politicians of all parties as well as officials of private and public companies have been implicated. Each offense with which "clean hands" defendants are charged allows a maximum preventive custody of 3 months. Since most of the defendants are charged with more than one offese, some have remained in jail for longer than 3 months. In 1994 there continued to be considerable expression of public concern about the excessive use of preventive detention, particularly in the "clean hands" investigations, where detention was said to be used for purposes for which it was not intended, such as to obtain confessions or information on other investigations. Legislation was introduced in Parliament to restrict the use of preventive detention. Political parties across the spectrum support such legislative proposals.

There is no provision for bail, but judges often grant provisional liberty to suspects awaiting trial. As a safeguard against unjustified detention, panels of judges ("liberty tribunals") review cases of persons awaiting trial and decide whether continued detention is warranted. Despite these measures, as of mid-1994 over 40 percent of inmates were in prison because they were awaiting either trial or the outcome of an appeal, rather than because they had been convicted of an offense. The average waiting period for trials is about 18 months, but can exceed 24 months; preventive detention thus sometimes runs longer than the penalty for the crime. The Constitution and law provide for restitution in cases of unjust detention.

Detainees are allowed prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing and to family members. If a detainee is indigent, the State provides a lawyer.

There are no political detainees. Punishment by exile abroad is not practiced, and a 1993 law prohibits domestic exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for trials to be fair and public, and the authorities observe these provisions. Counsel is provided for the accused, at government expense if necessary. The law grants defendants the presumption of innocence. Trials are public, and defendants have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense. Defendants can confront witnesses. All government-held evidence is normally made available to defendants and their attorneys. Defendants can appeal verdicts to the highest appellate court.

Although the authorities generally make good-faith efforts to provide due process, trials frequently last years, owing to cumbersome procedures. A revised Code of Criminal Procedure which took effect in 1989 sought to streamline the process, but it has proven ineffective; the Parliament is amending it, but progress has been slow.

The judiciary is formally autonomous and independent of the executive. However, there is a broad public perception that magistrates are subject to political influence and that some are swayed by their political biases or personal interests. Since 1993 some 200 magistrates have come under judicial investigation on charges of corruption, collusion, or mafia-related crimes; so far, 13 have been arrested, of which at least 4 have been committed to trial.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law safeguards the privacy of the home, and the authorities respect this provision. Searches and electronic monitoring may be carried out only under judicial warrant and in carefully defined circumstances. There have been no reports of any other kinds of violations of privacy.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the Government does not interfere with these rights. While there are laws against obscenity and defamation of state institutions, they have not been enforced in the past several years.

The public enjoys unhampered access to numerous newspapers and magazines, and to broadcasts by several state-run radio and television stations and by many private radio stations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not restrict the right of peaceful assembly except in cases where national security or public safety is endangered. Permits are not required for meetings, but organizers of public demonstrations must notify the police in advance. Professional and employer associations organize and operate freely.

While allowing general freedom of association, the Constitution and law prohibit associations that are clandestine; or that pursue political aims through paramilitary forces; or that revive the Fascist Party; or, since a 1993 decree, that incite racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination.

In May an authorized demonstration by 200 skinheads in Vicenza provoked widespread accusations that the Government and police were permitting a revival of Fascism. The Interior Minister promptly removed the city's Prefect and Chief of Police; initiated judicial action that could lead to prosecution of all participants in the demonstration; and banned all further demonstrations by skinheads. The Justice Minister and police noted, however, that because the demonstration was peaceful, there were scant grounds for prosecution. The Vicenza Public Prosecutor, while expressing the same view, requested Justice Ministry authorization to initiate proceedings against 22 participants on charges of public defamation of the Republic; the Justice Minister granted this authorization in December.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government does not interfere with the teaching or practice of any faith. It subsidizes the Roman Catholic Church, the Adventist Church, and the Assemblies of God by allowing taxpayers to elect to designate a fixed small percentage of their tax payment to one or another of these. In November 1993 the Buddhist community applied for the same funding, but the Government has not yet responded.

Roman Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools as an optional subject. Those students who do not want to attend the "hour of religion" may take an alternative course. Some schools allow free time as an option.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens may travel freely both within the country and abroad. Emigration is unrestricted. Citizens who leave are guaranteed the right to return. The Constitution forbids deprivation of citizenship for political reasons.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Italy usually does not grant asylum or permanent refugee status; rather, applicants are granted temporary residence permits that must be renewed periodically and that carry no guarantee of future permanent status. The Government does not force applicants to return to countries in which they presumably would face persecution, and there were no reports of forced expulsion of any having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

All citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote, by secret ballot, for the 630 members of the Chamber of Deputies. Those over 25 have the right to vote for 315 of the 325 members of the Senate, which also has 10 non-elected members, such as former presidents of the Republic. Elections must be held every 5 years, or sooner if the President of the Republic so orders. The Parliament and a few representatives of regional bodies jointly elect the President of the Republic for a 7-year term. The President nominates the Prime Minister, who upon election by the Parliament selects the other ministers.

There are no restrictions in law on women's participation in government and politics, but social restraints keep it lower than that of men. In 1994 women occupied 1 of 26 cabinet positions; 29 of 325 Senate seats; and 86 of 630 in the lower house (up from 51 in 1993), including its presidency .

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government freely permits nongovernmental or international organizations to investigate conditions in Italy and to publish their findings.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex (except with regard to hazardous work--see below), religion, ethnic background, or political opinion, and provides some protection against discrimination based on disability, language, or social status. However, societal discrimination is still evident, especially regarding sex and ethnicity.


Some laws that nominally are intended to protect women from hazardous work keep them out of jobs that some of them--perhaps many--are able and willing to undertake; e.g., women are not permitted to be employed underground in quarries, mines, or tunnels. Also, laws notwithstanding, employers generally continue to pay higher salaries to men than to women doing comparable work, and to favor men over comparably qualified women in filling jobs, particularly those in management or likely to lead to it. Official data indicate that only 30 percent of adult women are employed outside the home, and that of these, only 0.1 percent hold top-level managerial positions.

Women are underrepresented also in some public-sector professions; e.g., in the judicial branch, women account for barely more than one-fourth of all magistrates; 10 of the 725 executive positions; 9 of the 591 middle-management positions; and 1 of 27 presidencies of minors' courts. Likewise, of the 27 public prosecutors in the minors' courts, only 3 are women.

A recent study found that among workers up to age 30, women are paid on average $9,700 (equivalent) a year less than men; in the 40-45 age bracket the disparity averages $17,400; and among workers at the end of their careers, women earn an average $34,200 a year as against $66,450 for men.

No law prohibits sexual harassment; and although it is prohibited by labor agreements covering significant sectors (such as metalworking--the leading industrial sector--and public service), women who bring suit based on these provisions have generally not won their cases.

Women enjoy legal equality with men in marriage and in property and inheritance rights.

Various laws seek to protect women from physical abuse, especially from members of their family. Spousal rape is legally regarded as the same as other rape. Although there are no reliable data on the extent of domestic violence against women, media reports of it are common and indicate it is widespread. Police and judges are not reluctant to bring perpetrators to justice, but victims often do not bring charges, due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

The Government provides a hot-line telephone service which helps abused women obtain legal, medical, and other assistance. In 1994 private associations of women made several houses available for sheltering battered women.

The media have reported a number of cases of trafficking of women, usually involving forced prostitution. Most of these women are illegal immigrants, and so as a rule they do not contact the police. The police have made several arrests for these offenses.


Societal abuse of children continued to be a problem. A nationwide, toll-free, privately financed telephone hot-line service to help abused children receives an average of about 20 calls a day that report serious cases (along with 200 a day that are not deemed serious). In 1994 it began to provide psychological assistance to minors involved in criminal proceedings. Social workers are authorized to take remedial or punitive action to protect children, and they can place abused children in family shelters.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Immigrants and other foreigners continued to face widespread societal discrimination, and some were subjected to racially motivated attacks. In February five skinheads on a bus beat and stabbed a Tunisian passenger while 70 other youngsters watched; the five were apprehended, jailed for 9 days, and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but the sentence was suspended.

Similarly, in June nine youths on a train beat a university student from Zaire; they were not jailed, and received suspended sentences of 20 months.

Also in June, four skinheads attacked the Imam of the Islamic community in a small city; they were arrested, jailed, and 10 days later were given suspended sentences of up to a year.

In July a fire of suspicious origin destroyed a shantytown that was home to 2,200 illegal immigrants from North Africa, while most of them were away doing their seasonal work as migratory farm laborers.

In the most serious anti-Semitic incident, a Norwegian Jewish woman residing in Assisi was assaulted by several youths who, to date, have not been apprehended. The Forum of Foreign Communities, a new entity representing immigrants, in 1993 registered 352 incidents of violence against 24 ethnic groups involving 504 immigrants. Over two-thirds of the attacks occurred in Rome, and most perpetrators were below age 25. Preliminary 1994 data indicate there were slight reductions in these numbers. The Forum has arranged a telephone hot-line with a toll-free number to report incidents of violence against foreigners.

The only major act of violence against Roma during the year was a firebombing attack against a Roma encampment in Sardinia in October by three minors and an older youth; in December the latter was given a 6-month suspended sentence for throwing a "Molotov cocktail" into the camp. Firemen extinguished the blaze before it injured anyone. There have been sporadic demonstrations, so far peaceful, against the establishment of one of eight camps for Roma to be set up outside Rome. The first of these camps opened in December without significant local opposition.

People with Disabilities

A 1968 law requires almost all employers of 35 or more persons to staff 15 percent of their workforce with disabled persons, but as yet only about 4 percent of the employees in these firms are disabled.

A 1971 law requires public buildings to be made accessible to the physically handicapped, but compliance in schools and other buildings is still not universal.

A 1992 law sets forth the rights of disabled persons, provides for various kinds of assistance to them, imposes fines on employers who do not comply, and authorizes the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor to enforce this law. However, a seminar in February 1994 concluded that this law had not yet significantly benefited the over 2 million permanently disabled people in Italy because the relevant institutions were still not equipped to implement it.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Workers' Statute of 1970 provides for the right to establish trade unions, to join unions, and to carry out union activities in the workplace. Trade unions are free of government controls, and no longer have ties with political parties. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, and this right is frequently exercised. A 1990 law restricts strikes affecting essential public services such as transport, sanitation, and health.

The Workers' Statute prohibits employers of more than 15 workers (or, in agriculture, more than 5) from taking retribution against strikers other than deduction of wages for the duration of the strike. The Government enforces this effectively. Hiring of personnel to replace strikers is effectively prohibited.

Italian unions associate freely with international trade union organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and the Government does not hamper this. By custom (though not by law), national collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers regardless of union membership; a July 1993 accord guaranteeing this has not yet been implemented as law.

The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. The law requires employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities if the firm has more than 15 employees. A 1990 law covering enterprises with 15 or fewer employees encourages workers in them to join unions, and requires that when a union member is fired, the employer must state the grounds in writing; if the judges reject the grounds, the employer must either reinstate or compensate the worker.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law provides that no child under 15 years of age may be employed (with some specified exceptions). The Ministry of Labor may authorize the employment of children aged 13 or 14 on certain jobs. There are also specific restrictions on employment of males under age 18, and females under age 21, in various hazardous or unhealthful occupations. Enforcement of the minimum-age laws is effective only outside the extensive "shadow" economy; a recent study concluded that some 400,000 children below age 15 are employed illegally, largely in agriculture in southern Italy.

In August a legislative decree came into effect that provides for more severe fines on employers who violate child-labor laws, while it removes some minor violations from the Criminal Code.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are set not by law but rather by national collective bargaining agreements. These specify minimum standards to which individual employment contracts must conform. When an employer and union fail to reach agreement, the courts may step in to determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities or agreements. The law establishes standards for workhours, and collective labor contracts elaborate them. The Basic Law of 1923 provides for a maximum workweek of 48 hours, with no more than 6 days per week and 8 hours per day, except that the latter can be exceeded in some specified kinds of jobs. Most collective agreements provide for a 36- to 38-hour workweek. Overtime may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week.

Basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries are set forth in an extensive body of laws and regulations. A legislative decree in September incorporated into Italian law the eight European Union Directives on Health and Safety, which had not previously been applied in Italy. They will take effect on various dates in 1995 and early 1996. Enforcement of health and safety regulations is entrusted to labor inspectors, who are either employees of local health units or of the Ministry of Labor and have the same status as judicial police officers; but the number of inspectors is too small to permit fully effective enforcement. The courts usually impose fines on convicted violators, but sometimes sentence them to prison.

Because of high unemployment, there is pressure on workers to accept unsafe conditions. There are many substandard workplaces (especially in the south). Following a serious accident in mid-1993, the Government announced it would establish a special agency to deal with industrial accidents, but this has not yet been done. However, in 1994 Parliament revised the basic legislation on such accidents so as to provide guidelines regarding dangerous production processes.

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