Covering events from January-December 2001

Italian Republic
Head of state: Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Head of government: Silvio Berlusconi (replaced Giuliano Amato in June)
Capital: Rome
Population: 57.5 million
Official language: Italian
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

There were further reports of excessive use of force and ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, by law enforcement and prison officers. Several detainees and prisoners died in disputed circumstances. Hundreds of people suffered human rights violations during policing operations surrounding mass demonstrations. In violation of its international obligations, Italy refused to implement an international warrant issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the arrest of a Rwandese national apparently indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity. One of three men convicted in 1995 of participating in a politically motivated murder in 1972, following criminal proceedings of questionable fairness, remained in prison, serving a 22-year sentence and awaiting the outcome of a petition against Italy lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights.


General elections in May brought to power the centre-right House of Freedoms alliance, led by Silvio Berlusconi. The new government included the leader of the radical right-wing National Alliance party as Deputy Prime Minister, and the leader of the anti-immigration and formerly pro-secessionist Northern League as a minister with responsibility for devolution of power to the regions and institutional reform.

The new Prime Minister, who was involved in a number of criminal investigations relating to his vast business interests, and other government members repeatedly accused the judiciary of left-wing bias and of pursuing politically motivated prosecutions. Public tension between the government and the magistracy escalated in December after the government announced its intention of bringing about far-reaching reforms in the judicial system within six months. Although the excessive slowness and inefficiency of the judicial system was widely recognized, there were fears that some of the projected reforms might erode the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

Ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers

Allegations that law enforcement officers subjected criminal suspects to physical assault, excessive force and racist abuse persisted, together with reports of shootings, sometimes fatal, in disputed circumstances.

  • In March, five youths, three of them Albanian, lodged a criminal complaint against Pistoia police officers and a discotheque bouncer. They alleged that, following a verbal argument with the bouncer, they were detained by police officers outside the discotheque and taken to a police station where they were assaulted by at least five officers and the bouncer. One detainee needed hospital treatment to a broken nose, a burst ear-drum and a damaged testicle as a result. The police officers had lodged a complaint accusing the youths of insulting them and causing them bodily harm. The officers claimed that they had detained the youths inside the discotheque and had intervened to stop a brawl between them and the bouncer inside the police station. Five officers were subsequently charged with causing bodily harm, falsifying evidence and calumny; one was additionally charged with verbal abuse and unlawful detention. In December, after plea bargaining, three officers received sentences ranging between 11 and 14 months' imprisonment, while two were committed for trial.
  • In April, three carabinieri officers were placed under criminal investigation on suspicion of murder. Inhabitants of Ladispoli reported seeing Tunisian national and illegal immigrant Edine Imed Bouabid getting into a carabinieri vehicle in March, some 30 minutes before his corpse was discovered near a motorway. Autopsy and forensic examinations apparently established that he had died after receiving three blows from a heavy object, fracturing his skull.

There were reports of law enforcement officers using excessive force during large street demonstrations in Brescia, Naples and Genoa, and subjecting numerous peaceful demonstrators, including minors, to gratuitous assaults, including beatings with batons and arbitrary detention. Other violations of fundamental human rights were also reported.

Over 200,000 people participated in anti-globalization demonstrations surrounding a G8 summit held in Genoa in July. The vast majority protested peacefully but some demonstrations degenerated into violence, resulting in significant injuries to people and extensive damage to property. By the end of the summit, hundreds of people had been injured; over 280, many of them foreign nationals, had been detained; and one Italian protester had been shot dead by a law enforcement officer performing his military service in the carabinieri force.

Some protesters with apparently peaceful intent were not allowed to enter Italy and proceed to Genoa, thus violating their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

There were well-documented reports of law enforcement officers indiscriminately assaulting non-violent protesters, and journalists and medical personnel working in a professional capacity and clearly identifiable as such. During an overnight raid carried out on a building legally occupied by the Genoa Social Forum (GSF), the umbrella group which had coordinated the demonstrations, officers inflicted beatings resulting in injuries to some 62 people, some of them requiring urgent hospitalization.

Dozens of people were subjected to arbitrary and illegal arrest and there were numerous allegations of law enforcement and prison officers subjecting individuals to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment inside detention facilities. Detainees were systematically denied the rights to have their relatives promptly notified of their whereabouts, and to prompt access to lawyers and, in the case of foreign nationals, to consular officials.

While welcoming the prompt initiation of a number of criminal investigations into the treatment of people on the streets, during the raid on the GSF centre and in detention facilities, AI believed these were unlikely to provide an adequate response. In September a parliamentary fact-finding investigation into the Genoa events ended its work in disagreement and acrimony. No effective independent commission of inquiry, as advocated by AI, had been established by the end of the year.

Torture and ill-treatment in prisons

Numerous criminal proceedings into alleged ill-treatment, in some cases amounting to torture, and into deaths in disputed circumstances were opened or continued. Excessive delays in bringing offending officers to justice persisted, contributing to an apparent climate of impunity. A background of chronic prison overcrowding persisted, often accompanied by reports of inadequate medical assistance, poor sanitation and other connected problems including high rates of suicide and attempted suicide.
  • In February, 10 people, including prison officers and medical personnel employed at Potenza Prison, were put under criminal investigation in connection with possible charges of actual and grievous bodily harm and falsification of medical certificates. A criminal investigation had opened in August 2000, after Tbina Ama, a Tunisian prisoner, had climbed onto the prison roof to protest against a beating he alleged prison staff had inflicted on him the previous day. A forensic examination carried out at the Public Prosecutor's request concluded that the injuries he displayed were consistent with his allegations. Tbina Ama committed suicide in May 2001.
  • In October a magistrate began examining the Public Prosecutor's request for 95 people to stand trial, following a criminal investigation into allegations that on 3 April 2000 over 40 inmates of Sassari prison, Sardinia, were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in some cases amounting to torture, by dozens of prison officers employed in various Sardinian penal institutions. The accused also included the former director of Sassari prison, the former regional director of Sardinian prisons, various doctors employed in Sassari and two other Sardinian prisons – Macomer and Oristano – as well as the directors of these two prisons.
Universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity

In July the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR expressed disappointment at Italy's refusal to implement an international warrant for the arrest of a Rwandese national resident in Italy on the grounds that, under Italy's domestic legislation, there was no legal basis to carry out any such arrest. The individual had been indicted by the ICTR on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and his arrest was requested as a preliminary step in his transfer to the ICTR. AI called on Italy immediately to fulfil its international obligations and ensure that any perpetrators of serious human rights violations were brought to justice. A bill on cooperation with the ICTR, put forward by the government in August, was still awaiting final parliamentary approval at the end of the year.

In February the Supreme Court of Cassation annulled a Rome Appeal Court ruling of September 2000 which had ordered the release of former Argentine military officer Jorge Olivera. He had been arrested in Rome in August 2000, on an international warrant issued by France, for the abduction and torture of a French citizen in Argentina in 1976, during the period of military rule. Full examination of a French extradition request was still pending when the appeal court ordered his release on the grounds that the crimes of which he was accused were subject to a statute of limitations. Jorge Olivera immediately returned to Argentina.

Five more Argentine officers were under criminal investigation for the abduction and murder of three Italian citizens in a secret detention centre in Argentina during the years of military rule. In June, the Italian judiciary made an unsuccessful request for the extradition from Argentina of one of the officers. Further criminal investigations were under way into complaints of human rights violations committed against Italian citizens as a result of past collaboration between the security forces of Argentina and those of several other South American countries.

AI country reports/visits

  • Italy: Letters to the Italian government concerning the G8 policing operation (AI Index: EUR 30/008/2001)
  • Italy: G8 Genoa policing operation of July 2001 – a summary of concerns (AI Index: EUR 30/012/2001)
  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Italy (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

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