U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Italy

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 26 February 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Italy, 26 February 1999, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa604.html [accessed 19 December 2018]
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 longstanding, multiparty parliamentary democracy. 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) nominates the Prime Minister after consulting with leaders of all political forces in Parliament. Parliament was elected in free and democratic elections in April 1996. The judiciary is independent, but critics complain that some judges are politicized.

The armed forces are under the control of the Government and Parliament. Four separate police forces report to different ministerial or local authorities. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may call on the army to provide internal security. For several years, the army has supported the police in general guard duties in Sicily and in the province of Naples, both of which are areas with high levels of organized crime, to free police officers for investigations and related work. The army left Naples at the end of 1997 and left Sicily by the end of the year. There were a number of credible reports that some members of the security forces committed abuses.

Italy has an advanced, industrialized market economy, and the standard of living is high. Small and midsized companies employ from 70 to 80 percent of the work force. Major products include machinery, textiles, apparel, transportation equipment, and food and agricultural products. The Government owns a substantial number of enterprises in finance, communications, industry, transportation, and services, but privatization is moving forward at a measured pace.

The Government respects the human rights of its citizens. The law and the judiciary generally provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse. However, there were problems in some areas. There continued to be reports of police abuse of detainees; such accusations are investigated by the judiciary. Despite the Government's approval of a law to reduce the number of inmates and the reform of judicial procedures to speed up trials, prisons continue to be overcrowded, and the pace of justice remains slow. Lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. Societal discrimination against women and discrimination and sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners continue to be problems. The Government has taken steps to combat child abuse and violence against women. Child labor persists in the underground economy but is investigated actively.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits torture and cruel or degrading punishment. However, there were some reports of abuse by police. Amnesty International (AI), the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) have reported instances in which police abused detainees, commonly at the time of arrest or during the first 24 hours in custody, before detainees saw an attorney or a judicial authority. Examples of mistreatment include insults, particularly those aimed at aliens or Roma, kicking, punching, beatings with batons, or deprivation of food. A high proportion of these cases involved non-European union immigrants (mostly Africans), Roma, and persons held in connection with drug-related offenses. The U.N. Committee, the UNHRC, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, and Caritas have expressed concern over a possible trend towards racism. Amnesty International (AI), the UNHRC and the U.N. Committee have noted that, although authorities routinely investigate complaints of mistreatment in detention, some of the investigations lack thoroughness. The U.N Committee and the UNHRC also have questioned whether appropriate sanctions were imposed on those found guilty. The CPT and the UNHRC have recommended that the authorities take more effective steps to safeguard detainees and inmates from mistreatment.

In July the U.N. Human Rights Committee examined Italy's fourth periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and released its findings. Reporting on action taken against torture and cruel or degrading punishment, government representatives stated that during the reporting period, criminal proceedings had been initiated against several hundred police and Carabinieri officers within the prison service. Criminal proceedings were initiated against 122 wardens who were accused of offenses against prisoners, which fall within a broad definition of torture. Cases currently before the courts concern accusations of physical injury and abuse of disciplinary or correctional procedures. The U.N. Committee recommended that a specific definition of and statement on the illegality of torture be included in Italian law.

In August 1997, the Gallo Commission released its report on the 1992-93 U.N. peacekeeping operations in Somalia, which found that, in eight cases, human rights violations had been committed by rank-and-file soldiers. Midlevel and high-ranking officers were found remiss in their duties for being unaware of the actions of soldiers under their command. The Commission urged that military authorities improve human rights training for conscripts and recommended that magistrates and experts on international human rights standards accompany troops during future peacekeeping missions. The Commission reopened its inquiry when further accusations surfaced concerning human rights violations by Italian troops in Somalia, accompanied by claims that high-ranking army officers did not intervene to prevent them. Its second report was released in late May with no further findings. However, one Somali witness heard by the Commission was arrested and charged as a suspect in the 1993 murder of Italian journalist Ilaria Alpi.

Despite the construction of new facilities, the prison population continues to exceed planned capacity by over 15 percent. In an attempt to remedy overcrowding, Parliament passed a law in May allowing persons sentenced to less than 3 years' imprisonment to apply for an alternative penalty within a period of 30 days after final sentencing. Overcrowding creates problems of poor sanitation and strains medical services. The law allows judges to release prisoners whose incarceration would prevent their access to appropriate treatment or endanger the health of other inmates. AIDS is a major problem. More than 29 percent of the prison population is addicted to illegal drugs; of those, 13.6 percent are HIV positive. (A total of 5.8 percent of those who are HIV positive have AIDS). There were 55 suicides in 1997, compared with 45 in 1996.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards; however, the Government permits the independent monitoring of prison conditions by parliamentarians, local human rights groups, the media, and other organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Detainees are allowed prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing (although occasional lapses in this general rule have been alleged) and to family members. If detainees are indigent, the State provides a lawyer. Within 24 hours of being detained, the examining magistrate must decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to an arrest. The investigating judge then has 48 hours in which to confirm the arrest and recommend whether the case goes to trial. In exceptional circumstances, usually in cases of organized crime figures, where there is danger that attorneys may attempt to tamper with evidence, the investigating judge may take up to 5 days to interrogate the accused before the accused is allowed to contact an attorney. The U.N. Human Rights Committee (ICCPR) recommended that this 5-day period be reduced and that all detainees have access to legal advice immediately upon arrest.

Preventive detention can be imposed only as a last resort, or if there is clear and convincing evidence of a serious offense, such as crimes involving the Mafia, or those related to drugs, arms, or subversion. In these cases, a maximum of 2 years of preliminary investigation is permitted. Except in extraordinary situations, preventive custody is not permitted for pregnant women, single parents of children under 3 years of age, persons over 70 years of age, or those who are seriously ill. Preventive custody can be imposed only for crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years.

Magistrates' interrogations of persons in custody must be recorded on audio tape or video tape to be admissible in judicial proceedings. Prosecutors are required to include all evidence favorable to the accused in requests for preventive detention. The defense may present any favorable evidence directly to the court.

There is no provision for bail, but judges may 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 rule whether continued detention is warranted. Despite these measures, 44 percent of inmates were awaiting trial or the outcome of appeals, rather than serving final sentences. The Constitution and law provide for restitution in cases of unjust detention.

The law prohibits punishment by internal exile or exile abroad.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair judicial process.

There are three levels of courts. There are three separate lower courts: The Praetor Court (offenses punishable by monetary fines or less than 4 years imprisonment); the Court of Assizes (offenses punishable by more than 24 years' imprisonment); and the Tribunal Court (offenses that fall between the jurisdiction of the praetor and assizes courts). The Assizes Court of Appeals hears appeals from all three lower courts. Decisions of the Assizes Court of Appeals can be appealed to the highest court, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) in Rome.

The law provides for trials to be fair and public, and the authorities observe these provisions. The law grants defendants the presumption of innocence. Defendants have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense and 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.

Cumbersome procedures slow the pace of justice. The National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) reported the average duration of lower court trials (civil cases) at 3 years and 4 months. The length of trials varies by region; those in the north are shorter than those in the south. The UNHRC report also noted that provisions of the ICCPR concerning promptness of trials were not always respected, citing the case of 10 police officers charged in 1990 in connection with the 1985 death of a man following severe mistreatment in a police station. Since 1990 the case has been tried, appealed, and retried several times. In 1997 the Court of Cassation ordered another retrial and the case is still open.

To speed up judicial proceedings, a decree-law implemented in February allows cases involving crimes punishable by less than 20 years' imprisonment to be tried before a single judge.

Since 1991 public prosecutors have conducted sweeping investigations of corruption among the political and economic elites, and in the judiciary. These inquiries still have considerable public support. However, critics complain that some investigating magistrates are influenced by political or other interests in choosing targets of inquiry, or fail to show adequate respect for the rights of suspects, for example, making excessive use of preventive detention (see Section l.d.). The UNHRC report noted that lengthy preventive detention (which in certain serious offenses is permitted for up to 6 years) may constitute a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence and the principle of a prompt and fair trial. However, a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the 31-month preventive detention of a person accused of collusion with an organized crime organization was lawful.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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. Violations are subject to legal sanctions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not restrict the right of peaceful assembly, including protests against government policies, except in cases where national security or public safety is at risk. Permits are not required for meetings, but organizers of public demonstrations must notify the police in advance. Professional associations organize and operate freely. While allowing general freedom of association, the Constitution and law prohibit clandestine associations, those that pursue political aims through force, that incite racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, or that advocate fascism.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right. The Government subsidized several religions through tax revenue collection. Taxpayers who choose to do so can donate a percentage of their income tax payment to the Roman Catholic, Adventist, Waldensian, Baptist, and Lutheran churches, the Assembly of God or the Jewish community. Other religious groups, including Buddhists and Muslims, have initiated necessary procedures to obtain this status.

Nontraditional religious groups are free to practice their beliefs and proselytize, provided that they respect public order and general moral standards. In August 1997 the Court of Cassation annulled a lower court decision that Scientology was not a religion, finding that the lower court was not competent to rule on what constitutes a religion. The Court of Cassation further found that the issue of whether Scientology constitutes a religion must be readdressed by another court of appeal, in accordance with criteria established by the Constitutional Court.

Roman Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools as an optional subject. Students who do not opt to attend can elect to take an alternative course, or in some schools, have a free class period.

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

The Constitution and law provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. Citizens who leave are ensured 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 assisting refugees. It provides first asylum to refugees fleeing hostilities or natural disasters. Such refugees are granted temporary residence permits, which must be renewed periodically and do not ensure future permanent residence.

The Commission on Foreigners in Italy estimates that there are hundreds of thousands irregular foreigners in Italy. As of August 31, there were 28,612 foreigners temporarily residing in Italy for humanitarian reasons; 2,780 are in the process of requesting asylum. As of the same date, 582 persons had been granted political asylum.

Political asylum is obtained according to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Amnesty International has noted that Italy still lacks a specific law on political asylum, but there is one pending before Parliament. The immigration law passed in February levies high fines and penalties for land, air, and sea carriers that board passengers without documentation. There is also a bill pending before Parliament that would require asylum seekers to possess identity documents.

After his arrival in Italy in November, PKK leader Abdulan Ocalan filed a request for political asylum. It is being processed through normal judicial channels. A decision is expected towards the end of February 1999.

There were no reports of the forced expulsion of any person having a valid claim to refugee status.

The Government finished closing the camps that had housed Albanian refugees. There are 20 processing centers for persons claiming refugee status.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

There are no restrictions on women's participation in government and politics. However, few women hold elected office: Women hold 6 of 25 cabinet positions, 24 of 325 Senate seats, and 69 of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. A new association for women, EMILY Italia, was founded recently to promote increased participation of women in politics.

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

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

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), religion, ethnic background, or political opinion and provides some protection against discrimination based on disability, language, or social status. However, societal discrimination persists to some degree.


Legislation to protect women from physical abuse, including by family members, was updated and strengthened in 1996. The revised law makes the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women easier and shields women who have been objects of attack from publicity.

The law treats spousal rape the same as any other rape.

Media reports of violence against women are common. An investigation conducted by the Rome police and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Telefono Rosa reported 6,522 cases of domestic violence against women in Rome in 1997. In its annual report on violence against women, Telefono Rosa stated that 55.5 percent of the cases reported nationally included physical violence, an increase of 9.5 percent over the previous 2 years. Law enforcement and judicial authorities are not reluctant to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, but victims sometimes do not press charges due to fear, shame or ignorance of the law. The Telefono Rosa report noted that the entry of more women into the police force has contributed greatly to increased cooperation by female victims of violence. The Government provides a hot line through which abused women can obtain legal, medical and other assistance. Women's associations also maintain several shelters for battered women.

Telefono Rosa reported that sexual harassment in the workplace decreased in 1997 and concluded that ad hoc provisions against sexual harassment in national labor contracts worked as a deterrent in both the public and private sectors.

The media often report cases of trafficking in foreign women for the purpose of prostitution. The women (as well as their exploiters) are usually illegal immigrants and often reluctant to contact the police. Based on information from NGO's, the Ministry of Equal Opportunity estimates that 25,000 illegal immigrant women are engaged in prostitution in Italy, more than 5,000 of whom are exploited by traffickers. Prostitution itself is not illegal, but police can make arrests on charges of profiting from or exploiting the prostitution of others, which are criminal offenses. The February immigration bill provided an avenue of escape from traffickers by granting 1-year residence/work permits to women who turn in their exploiters.

Women enjoy legal equality with men in marriage, property, and inheritance rights. Males and females enjoy equal access and treatment with regard to education, health, and other government services. Many NGO's actively and effectively promote women's rights. Most are affiliated with labor unions or political parties.

A number of government offices work to ensure women's rights. The Ministry for Equal Opportunity is headed by a woman. In addition, there is an equal opportunity commission in the office of the Prime Minister. The Labor Ministry has a similar commission that focused on women's rights and discrimination in the workplace, as well as equal opportunity counselors who deal with this problem at the national, regional, and provincial government levels. However, many counselors have limited resources with which to work.

In 1997 the European Court of Justice found that a 1977 law that sought to protect women from hazardous work, such as work in mines, quarries, and tunnels and work on night shifts, is in noncompliance with the European Union directive on this issue. In response, a proposed bill before Parliament contains provisions that revise the prohibitions on night shift work for women. The bill was passed by the Chamber of Deputies and is now before the Senate. Liberal maternity leave, introduced to benefit women, does add to the cost of employing them, with the result that employers sometimes find it advantageous to hire men instead.

According to research conducted by the CGIL Labor Institute, women's salaries are 20 percent lower than men's for comparable work. They are underrepresented in many fields, such as management and the professions. Women experience unemployment at a higher rate than men and their participation rate in the labor force is lower. Data for 1998 released by the ISTAT shows that while male unemployment was 9.4 percent, female unemployment was 16.8 percent.


The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare. Schooling is compulsory from age 7 to age 14. The dropout rate is high in middle and secondary school. On the average, only 56 students graduate from secondary school out of each 100 who enrolled in primary school 12 years earlier. Abuse of children is recognized as a societal problem. Social workers counsel abused children and are authorized to take action to protect them. The NGO Telefono Azzurro maintains two toll-free hot lines for reporting incidents of child abuse.

Research conducted on behalf of the Government by a private institute estimated that the number of minors involved in cases of violence (including prostitution) was 10,000 to 12,000. There were 1,880 to 2,500 minor-age street prostitutes, of whom 1,500 to 2,300 were illegal immigrants, predominantly Albanians, and some Nigerians. An estimated 90 percent of violence against minors is committed within their own families.

In August the Parliament passed a law to combat pedophilia, child pornography, the possession of pornographic material involving children, sex tourism involving minors, and the trafficking of minors. The law provides severe penalties, including up to 20 years' imprisonment for violence against minors younger than age

14 and for trafficking in minors, even if committed outside of Italy.

People With Disabilities

The law forbids discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of state services. The law requires enterprises with more than 35 employees to hire the disabled to staff 15 percent of their work force, directs that public buildings be made accessible to persons with disabilities, and stipulates a number of specific rights for the disabled. Compliance with these requirements, however, is still incomplete.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Immigrants and other foreigners face societal discrimination. Some are subjected to physical attack. Roma encounter difficulties in finding places to reside. There are 60,000 to 80,000 citizens who are Roma. Sedentary Roma have more success in receiving equal treatment in the workplace and in the housing market. Nomadic Roma tend to live in camps and to have more difficulty in these areas. Immigrant Roma (45,000 to 60,000), predominantly from the former Yugoslav states often are precluded from obtaining residence or work permits because they do not possess valid identity documents from their country of origin and can be deported. With no legal source of income available, they often turn to begging or petty crime. The interests of the Roma are represented by over 130 nonprofit organizations, which, however, have funding difficulties.

Racism Survey, an organization located in Milan, compiles a record of racist incidents. According to this group, in 1997 there were 668 cases of racial discrimination, violence, and intolerance. Other NGO's, such as Caritas, provide a broad range of assistance to immigrants throughout the country.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for the right to establish trade unions, join unions, and carry out union activities in the workplace. Some 40 percent of the workforce is organized. Trade unions are free of government controls and no longer have formal ties with political parties. The right to strike is embodied in the Constitution and is frequently exercised. A 1990 law restricts strikes affecting essential public services such as transport, sanitation, and health. Nonetheless, during a year in which the overall number of work-hours lost to labor disputes was relatively low, strikes occurred in several public service sectors, especially air and ground transportation.

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 these rights are respected in practice. By custom, although not by law, national collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers, regardless of union affiliation. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. It requires employers that have more than 15 employees and who are found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate any workers affected. In firms with less than 15 workers, an employer must provide the grounds for firing a union employee in writing. If a judge deems the grounds spurious, he can order the employer to 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, including that performed by children, and generally it does not occur. However, some illegal immigrants and children were forced into prostitution (see Section 5).

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids the employment of children under age 15 (with some limited exceptions). There are also specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations for men under age 18, and women under age 21. The enforcement of minimum age laws is difficult in the extensive underground economy. The leader of the largest labor union estimates that there were 300,000 incidents of child labor, the majority involving immigrants, but cases involving Italian children also have been reported in the press.

Following the United Nations-sponsored Oslo International Conference in November 1997, the Government, employers associations, and unions signed a charter in April that included: The extension of compulsory education from 14 to 15 years of age; better enforcement of school attendance regulations; programs to reduce the number of school dropouts; more prompt assistance to families in financial difficulty; further restrictions on exceptions to the minimum age law; cancellation of all economic incentives or administrative incentives for companies found to make use of child labor, including abroad. The Prime Minister's office provided a toll-free telephone number to report incidents of child labor. The footwear and textile industries have established a code of conduct that prohibits the use of child labor in their international as well as national activities, applicable to subcontractors as well. The law forbids forced or bonded labor involving children, and the Government generally enforces this prohibition effectively. However, some children were forced into prostitution (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are not set by law, but rather by collective bargaining agreements. These specify minimum standards to which individual employment contracts must conform. When an employer and a union fail to reach an agreement, courts may step in to determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities or agreements.

A 1997 law reduced the legal workweek to 40 hours from 48. Most collective agreements provide for a 36- to 38-hour workweek. The average contractual workweek is 39 hours but is actually less in many industries. Overtime work may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week.

The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. European union directives on health and safety have been also incorporated into the law; some provisions have already taken effect and others were phased in during 1997. Labor inspectors are from the public health service or from the Ministry of Labor. They are few in number, given the scope of their responsibilities. Courts impose fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

Search Refworld