Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Head of government: Silvio Berlusconi
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

Reports of excessive use of force and ill-treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, by law enforcement and prison officers persisted, together with reports of detainee and prisoner deaths in disputed circumstances. The functioning of the criminal justice system was the subject of renewed criticism by both domestic and intergovernmental bodies. 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 lodged with the European Commission of Human Rights. Organizations campaigning for refugees' human rights voiced concern at the continued lack of a comprehensive law on asylum and the adoption of a new law, relating mainly to immigration but containing some provisions concerning asylum, which impeded the effective exercise of the right to asylum under international refugee and human rights law and increased the risk of the refoulement (forcible repatriation) of people at risk of serious human rights violations. An armed political group, the Red Brigades for the Construction of a Fighting Communist Party (BR-PCC) claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting in March of a senior economics adviser to the government.


In January, following nationwide protests by magistrates, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the UN Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about the growing confrontation between the government and the judiciary which he said could undermine the rule of law. He visited Italy in March and November in order to study the causes of, and assist in finding a solution to, the confrontation.

In preliminary reports and statements issued following his visits, the Special Rapporteur stated that he was satisfied that judges and prosecutors had "reasonable cause" to feel their independence threatened. Following his March visit he called on politicians involved in high-profile trials concerning charges of corruption and false accounting, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to respect the principles of due process and not to use their positions to delay the proceedings unduly. He also recommended the establishment of a coordinating committee representing all segments of the administration of justice to address reform of the justice system in a "holistic and comprehensive way". During his November visit he found that "[m]utual suspicion and mistrust resulting in tension between the magistrates and Government" continued. He said that "[t]he root causes appear to be the cumbersome legal system and its procedures leading to abuses and the high profile trials of prominent politicians who are seen taking advantage of the weaknesses in the system and where necessary using the Parliamentary process". He also concluded, among other things, that there had "not been much progress in the reform of the justice system" and pointed out that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe was also concerned over the excessive length of judicial proceedings in Italy and was monitoring the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

In its Second Report on Italy, issued in April, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) recognized that the country had taken a number of steps towards combating such problems in recent years, but noted that they persisted and were reflected in prejudice, discrimination and acts of violence. It stressed that "the use of racially inflammatory and xenophobic propaganda by certain politicians" had played a role in the development of this situation and merited urgent attention. The Italian authorities observed in response that "[n]o Italian political party in its program or behaviour draws inspiration from racial and xenophobic intolerance".

Ill-treatment and excessive force by law enforcement officers

Numerous criminal proceedings were opened or continued into allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, as well as into shootings, sometimes fatal, in disputed circumstances.

ECRI expressed concern at reports that some law enforcement officers were involved in "discriminatory checks, insulting and abusive speech, ill-treatment and violence, including in some cases undue use of firearms", and that certain groups of people, "including Roma/Gypsies, foreigners and Italian citizens of immigrant background" were "particularly likely to become victims of this behaviour". ECRI noted reports that most such incidents did not result in a criminal complaint being filed by the victim, that there was "little investigation" of such cases and little transparency regarding the results of police investigations and that counter-charges were "frequently brought or threatened against those indicating their intention of lodging a complaint of ill-treatment". It stressed the "urgent need" for an improved response to complaints of police misconduct against members of minority groups and recommended, among other things, the establishment of an independent commission to investigate all allegations of human rights violations by the police.


Among the criminal investigations under way were those into human rights violations committed during the policing operations surrounding mass demonstrations during the Third Global Forum in Naples in March 2001 and the G8 Summit in Genoa in July 2001.

  • Scores of Naples police officers were under investigation. In April the judge of preliminary investigation endorsed the public prosecutor's request for eight police officers to be detained. Among other things, they were accused of illegally and indiscriminately transferring scores of individuals from local hospitals, where many had gone for urgent treatment to injuries incurred during the demonstrations, to a detention facility; preventing the detainees from communicating with relatives and lawyers; subjecting them to illegal and humiliating body searches, physical assault, including with batons, intimidation, threats and other ill-treatment; damaging detainees' property and illegally confiscating photographic film, cameras, video cameras, mobile phones and other objects with the aim of covering up alleged crimes committed by law enforcement officers. The review section of Naples Tribunal annulled the detention order in May. However, the Tribunal emphasized that, although it had found insufficient evidence to support a charge of abduction, there was consistent evidence of crimes of coercion and bodily harm and that there was "no doubt" that there had been "violent and oppressive" police conduct "in clear violation of legal provisions" particularly in the detention facility and that what had occurred had been "abnormal and absolutely unjustifiable".
  • The numerous G8-related criminal inquiries being conducted by the Genoa public prosecutor's office included an inquiry into the fatal shooting of a demonstrator, Carlo Giuliani. The carabiniere who fired the shot, from a carabinieri vehicle under attack by demonstrators, was under investigation in connection with a possible crime of homicide while witness and forensic evidence was analysed. In December the public prosecutor's office, arguing that the officer had acted in self-defence, requested that the judge of preliminary investigation close the investigation without bringing charges. Lawyers representing Carlo Giuliani's family challenged the request and the judge's decision was still awaited at the end of the year.
Another criminal investigation was under way into the conduct of law enforcement officers during a raid on a building legally occupied by the Genoa Social Forum. At least 62 of the 93 people detained during the raid suffered injuries, some of them requiring urgent hospitalization and in some cases surgical operations. Dozens of police officers were under investigation, initially in connection with possible charges of abusing their authority, assault and battery, verbal abuse and/or failing to prevent such crimes committed by officers under their command. The investigation widened as strong evidence emerged suggesting that officers had committed perjury and falsified evidence against the 93 detainees, apparently in order to justify the raid, the degree of force used by police and the arrest of the 93. The latter were accused of violently resisting state officers, theft, carrying offensive weapons and belonging to a criminal association intent on looting and destroying property. In December the public prosecutor's office asked for the criminal proceedings relating to the first three accusations to be dropped. A criminal investigation relating to the fourth accusation was still open at the end of the year.

An investigation was also under way into the conduct of law enforcement and prison personnel inside the temporary detention facility of Bolzaneto through which over 200 detainees passed. By the end of the year over 30 people, including prison officers, doctors, carabinieri and police officers, were reportedly under investigation for abusing their authority, assault and battery, verbal abuse and/or for failing to stop such crimes.


Chronic overcrowding persisted, as did reports of inadequate medical assistance, poor sanitary provisions and high levels of self-mutilation, attempted suicides and suicides. There were frequent prison protests, prompted largely by deteriorating conditions for both prisoners and staff. Numerous criminal proceedings, some of them marked by excessive delays, were under way into alleged ill-treatment by prison officers, in some cases amounting to torture. There was concern that the so-called 41-bis high-security regime, allowing a severe degree of isolation from the outside world, and applicable to prisoners held in connection with organized crime, could in certain instances amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Legislation approved by parliament in December extended its application to prisoners held in connection with trafficking in people and crimes committed "for the purposes of terrorism or subversion of the state".
  • In May, over 70 inmates in Trento district prison signed a complaint alleging that prison officers had beaten an inmate of Moroccan origin and that officers frequently abused their power. The Ministry of Justice stated in June that the local public prosecutor's office had opened inquiries both into the prisoners' allegations and into a report submitted by Trento prison officers alleging that prisoners had committed violent crimes against officers in May and that some prisoners of Moroccan origin had participated in violent disturbances.
  • In September, the Palermo public prosecutor's office opened a criminal investigation into a written complaint lodged by some 25 inmates in Pagliarelli prison. The prisoners alleged that officers had subjected them to physical assault, intimidation and psychological pressure and that in one case this had resulted in a suicide attempt.
  • There were reports that the windows of cells occupied by prisoners held under the 41-bis regime in the prisons of Cuneo, L'Aquila and Viterbo were covered by up to three layers of reinforced glass and metal security barriers which significantly limited the inmates' access to air and light. It was claimed that the eyesight of prisoners held in such cells for prolonged periods had deteriorated significantly.
  • The trial of eight prison officers charged with causing serious bodily harm to Luigi Acquaviva who died in the Sardinian prison of Bad'e Carros in January 2000 opened in December 2002. Autopsy and forensic tests had found that his body, found hanging in an isolation cell under electronic surveillance, had suffered extensive traumatic injuries before death as well as neck injuries consistent with suicide. One officer was additionally charged with manslaughter for failing to monitor the prisoner and prevent his suicide.
Universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity

In February a Rwandese national resident in Italy flew to Tanzania and surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha. In 2001 Italy had refused to implement an international warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity arguing that, under its domestic legislation, there was no legal basis to carry out any such arrest. AI had called on Italy to fulfil immediately its international obligations and ensure that any perpetrators of serious human rights violations were brought to justice. A law on Italy's cooperation with the Tribunal was promulgated in August.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Italy in April.

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