U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Italy

ITALY   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 (the 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 March 1994. The judiciary is independent 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. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may call on the army to provide security. The armed forces were assigned to patrol along the southern coastline of Puglia to counter illegal immigration. They also replace the police in general guard duties in regions with a high level of organized crime, such as those around Naples and in Sicily, thus freeing police resources for investigative and related activities. 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 some 70 to 80 percent of the work force. Major products include machinery, textiles, apparel, transportation equipment, food, and agricultural products. The Government owns a substantial number of enterprises in finance, industry, transportation, and services, but privatization is moving forward at a measured pace. The Government generally respected 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, although abuse of inmates by prison guards declined. Prisons are overcrowded and the pace of justice remains slow. Discrimination against women, abuse of children and discrimination and sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners are problems. However, Parliament passed new legislation to regulate the often criticized practice of preventive detention. The Government is taking steps to combat violence against women.

Respect for Human Rights

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. Two Turin police officers were brought to trial on manslaughter charges in 1994 for beating a suspect to death after his arrest in December 1993. In January a court acquitted both officers, finding that the one officer's use of physical force had been within the limits of the the law. The suspect's family appealed in April. In March the commandant of a carabinieri barracks near Padua was sentenced to 2 months' imprisonment for "abuse of authority." The court ordered him to pay compensation of approximately $6,250 (10 million lire) for the September 1993 death of an 11-year-old Romani detainee and the wounding of his 13-year-old cousin. The Padua judiciary also convicted a carabinieri officer involved in the same death of manslaughter. The court gave him a suspended sentence of 1 year and 5 months' imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay approximately $2,175 (3.5 million lire) in compensation to the child's family. In September a court-martial expelled him from the carabinieri and gave him a suspended sentence of 3-months' imprisonment. The case of an Iranian opposition leader killed in March 1993 remains unsolved.

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 have been some reports of abuse by police. Amnesty International (AI), the U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the U.N. Committee Against Torture, and the Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (ECPT) reported instances in which police abused detainees at the moment of arrest or during the first 24 hours in custody, before detainees saw an attorney or a judicial authority. Examples of mistreatment included kicking, punching, prolonged beating with batons, or deprivation of food. A high proportion of these cases involve non-European Union immigrants (mostly Africans), Romani people, and people held in connection with drug-related offenses. The U.N. Committee against Torture and the UNHRC expressed concern over a possible trend towards racism. AI, UNHRC, and the UN Committee Against Torture noted that although authorities routinely investigate complaints of mistreatment in detention, some of the investigations lack thoroughness. The U.N. Committee and UNHRC also questioned whether appropriate sanctions were imposed on those found guilty. Italy has ratified all of the principal international instruments prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the ECPT and the UNHRC recently recommended that the authorities take more effective steps to safeguard detainees and inmates from poor treatment. The ECPT visited prisons in October 1995, but its report is not yet available. The ECPT first inspected prisons in March 1992. A report by AI in April cited several specific instances of mistreatment by law enforcement and prison officers, including the November 1993 beating by three carabinieri police officers of a Nigerian detainee. According to AI, a court gave the three Carabinieri a suspended sentence of 12 months' imprisonment. The court also ordered that the sentences not be recorded in the standard information certificates which the central records office supplies to third parties. In September a public prosecutor in Rome initiated proceedings against a police officer accused of mistreating a 13-year-old in September 1993. The number of allegations of abuse of prisoners by guards is decreasing. In July a court acquitted the director of a jail who had been charged with placing in isolation a prisoner whom a doctor had recommended receive hospitalization. The detainee has appealed the decision. In December 1994, the Naples judiciary committed to trial 71 prison officials of the Secondigliano prison, including the chief warden, on charges of mistreating some 300 inmates in early 1993. A court hearing for 65 of the defendants, all of them prison guards, has been scheduled for early 1996. Hearings for the remaining six defendants are yet to be scheduled. Prison conditions meet international levels and would not, in theory, pose a serious threat to life or health. However, the prison population exceeds the maximum capacity of the nation's prisons by some 50 percent: in some cases the number of inmates is two or three times greater than capacity. Overcrowding creates problems of poor sanitation and strains medical services. AIDs is a major problem, although the law allows judges to release prisoners whose detention would prevent access to appropriate treatment or would endanger the health of other inmates. According to data of the Association of Prison Doctors, more than 5 percent of the total prison population is HIV positive. Inmates engaged in hunger strikes, seeking improvements in conditions. There were 36 suicides by prisoners as of September, compared with 51 in 1994. 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

In August Parliament passed major new legislation on preventive or investigative detention. The new law was a clear response to growing political concern that the previous law had allowed excessive use of the practice. Public attention was focused on the issue by the "clean hands investigations." (These were nationwide investigations into kickbacks and corruption, which began in February 1992, and which implicated politicians of many parties as well as officials of private and public companies.) Many claimed that investigators abused preventive detention to extract confessions or seek information to incriminate others. The new law specifically adds that 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, and 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. 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. The preliminary hearing judge's interrogation of an accused person must be conducted within 5 days, or the defendant must be released. Interrogation by a magistrate of a person in custody must be recorded on video or audio tape, or the statements cannot be utilized in any proceedings. The prosecutor is required to include in his request for preventive measures all evidence favorable to the accused. In addition, the defense may present any favorable evidence directly to the court. Preventive custody can be imposed only for crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years. 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 decide whether continued detention is warranted. Despite these measures, as of mid-1995, 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 sentenced. 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. Punishment by exile abroad is not practiced, and the law prohibits domestic exile.

e. Denial of Fair and Public Trial

The judiciary is formally autonomous, but the Constitution gives the Justice Minister the right to propose disciplinary action against magistrates. Heated friction between magistrates and the Justice Minister developed in several cases where this right was exercised. The law provides for trials to be fair and public, and the authorities observe these provisions. 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. Cumbersome procedures slow the pace of justice. A revised Code of Criminal Procedure which took effect in 1989 sought to streamline the process, but it proved ineffective. Parliament is working to amend it. There is a broad public perception that magistrates are sometimes swayed by their political or other interests. Since 1993, more than 200 magistrates have come under judicial investigation on charges of corruption, collusion, or mafia-related crimes. At least 15 were arrested and several others were committed to trial. The number of magistrates accused of involvement with the mafia is growing with the increasing number of ex-mafia members who are becoming state witnesses. 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. 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 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 and employer 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 in practice. The Government subsidizes the Roman Catholic Church, the Adventist Church, and the Assemblies of God by allowing taxpayers to elect to designate a fixed 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

The Constitution and law provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. 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. 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. There were no reports of forced expulsion of any one 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 age 25 have the right to vote for 315 of the 325 members of the Senate, which also has 10 nonelected 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. Parliament and a few representatives of regional bodies jointly elect the President of the Republic for a 7-year term. The Constitution states that the President need not be a member of Parliament, but must be over age 50. The President nominates the Prime Minister, who is the head of the executive and who in turn selects the cabinet members. There are no restrictions in law on women's participation in government and politics. Fewer women than men, however, are office holders. In 1995 a woman was Minister of Foreign Affairs but this was the only cabinet position occupied by a woman of the total of 22. Women hold 29 of 325 Senate seats, and 95 of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, including its presidency.

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--see below), 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.


The law protects women from physical abuse, including from members of their family. Spousal rape is legally regarded the same as any other rape. Detailed data on domestic violence are not available, but media reports are common. The total number of cases filed with the courts was 866 for 1993, 869 for 1994, and 194 for the first quarter of 1995. Law enforcement and court officials are not reluctant to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, but victims often do not press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law. In addition, technicalities of the law can make conviction uncertain. The Government provides a hot line through which abused women can obtain legal, medical, and other assistance. The Government advertises this service actively. Women's associations maintain several shelters for battered women. The media report cases of trafficking in women, often involving forced prostitution. The women (as well as their exploiters) are usually illegal immigrants and are therefore reluctant to contact the police. Nevertheless, the police have been able to make arrests on several occasions. There are a number of government offices which work to ensure women's rights. The Equal Opportunity Commission is in the Office of the Prime Minister. Another such commission in the Labor Ministry focuses on discrimination and women's rights in the workplace. The Labor Ministry has a counselor who deals with these problems at the national level, and similar officials serve with regional and provincial governments. Many of these counselors, however, have limited resources for their work. Some laws intended to protect women from hazardous work keep them out of jobs (such as underground work in mines, quarries, or tunnels) that some feel they can do. 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. Women generally receive lower salaries than men for comparable work. They are underrepresented in many fields, such as management or the professions (women, for example, account for only one fourth of magistrates). Women are laid off more frequently than men. While the law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, labor agreements covering broad sectors of the economy, in both the private and public sectors, do contain clauses which address the problem. Women enjoy legal equality with men in marriage, property, and inheritance rights. There are many groups actively and effectively involved in promoting women's rights. Most are close to labor unions or political parties.


The Government demonstrated a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through well-funded programs of public education and health care. During 1995 the Government took additional steps: (a) the creation of a National Observatory on Minors (collecting data and cases); (b) the establishment of a National Center for the Protection of the Child (located in Florence), and; (c) better coordination between the central government and the regions. By the end of 1995, the first report on minors will be issued by the center in Florence. Societal abuse of children is a problem. The National Statistical Office estimated that 600,000 children below the age of 15 suffered abuse of some kind within the last 2 years. A toll-free number to help abused children under 14 years of age received 127,000 calls in the period from November 1994 through May 1995. Social workers counsel abused children and are authorized to take action to protect them, including placing them in shelters.

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 employers have filled only about 4 percent of their positions with disabled persons. 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 benefitted the over 2 million permanently disabled people because the relevant institutions were still not equipped to implement it.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Immigrants and other foreigners face discrimination. Some were even subjected to physical attack. The Romani people encounter difficulties finding places for their groups to stay. The city of Rome opened a camp for them in December 1994, and it now holds fifteen families. Eight new camps are planned, but the Romani population around Rome is between 5,000 and 6,500. The Forum of Foreigners continues its work on behalf of immigrants and foreign residents. It has a hot line to report incidents of violence against foreigners. Other nongovernmental organizations 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. 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 it is frequently exercised. A 1990 law restricts strikes affecting essential public services such as transport, sanitation, and health. 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 (though 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 who have more than 15 employees and who are found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate the workers affected. In firms with less than 15 workers, an employer must state the grounds for firing a union employee in writing. If a judge deems these 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, and it does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law forbids employment of children under 15 years of age (with some limited exceptions), but child labor is still a problem, although a diminishing one. Illegal child labor occurs more frequently in commercial agriculture than in other sectors. There are also specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations of males under age 18, and females under age 21. Enforcement of minimum age laws is effective only outside the extensive "underground" economy.

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 agreement, courts may step in to determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities or agreements. The law provides a maximum workweek of 48 hours, with no more than 6 days worked 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 a 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 also been incorporated into domestic law; some have already taken effect, and others will enter into force in 1996. Labor inspectors are from local health units or from the Ministry of Labor. However, they are few, given the scope of their responsibilities. Courts impose fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws.

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