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Italy Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

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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 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 security. The army supports the police in general guard duties in the region of Sicily and in the province of Naples, both areas with high levels of organized crime, thus freeing the police 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, 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 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. Prisons are overcrowded, and the pace of justice remains slow. Societal discrimination against women, abuse of children, and discrimination and sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners are problems. The Government is taking steps to combat violence against women. There were some reports of child labor in the underground economy.


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.

The case against two Turin police officers tried on manslaughter charges for allegedly beating a suspect to death after his arrest in 1993 came to an end in December 1996, when the Turin Appeals Court upheld a lower court decision absolving the officers.

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 United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the United Nations (U.N.) Committee Against Torture, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) 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 involve 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 expressed concern over a possible trend towards racism. Amnesty International (AI), the UNHRC and the U.N. Committee 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 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 CPT and the UNHRC recommended that the authorities take more effective steps to safeguard detainees and inmates from treatment. The CPT's first visit to Italian prisons was in 1992. Further visits took place in 1995 and 1996, but only the report on the 1995 visit was available by the end of the year. In the report, the CPT called on the Government to provide more formal training for prison guards, highlighting the rights of detainees, and for improvements in the investigation of complaints by prisoners. AI reported several specific instances of mistreatment by law enforcement and prison officers. One involved the alleged beating and verbal abuse of the driver of a car by police officers acting as bodyguards for a judge in Sicily. The driver filed a complaint against the police, but a prosecutor, after reviewing the case, recommended that charges not be filed against the police. This recommendation is under review. In 1996 AI reported that an Italian citizen of Nigerian origin filed a complaint with the courts claiming that she had been beaten by two police officers, who had asked her for her identity documents. Court hearings into this complaint are underway. The case of the Ghanian citizen resident in Denmark who reportedly was beaten by police at the Rome airport in 1995 was referred to the Rome prosecutor's office. There is no information regarding an investigation.

In June the press published reports of alleged episodes of torture of Somalis, including sexual abuse, the use of electrical shocks, and beatings, by Italian paratroopers during the international peacekeeping efforts in Somalia in 1993. The Government launched investigations into the charges by both military and judicial authorities. Some of these investigations are still underway; some found wrongdoing but not of an institutional nature. Two generals temporarily resigned. A number of officers and men were disciplined, and investigations that could lead to charges against some continued at year's end.

Prison standards meet minimal international standards. However, despite the construction of new prison space, the prison population exceeds the maximum capacity of the prisons by some 15 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, so much so that it was noted as a negative factor by the CPT in its report on prison conditions after a visit in 1992 (published in 1995). AIDS is a major problem, although the law allows judges to release prisoners whose detention would prevent access to appropriate treatment or endanger the health of other inmates. According to data from the Interior Ministry's prison administration, about 4 percent of the total prison population is HIV positive. There were 36 suicides in prison as of the end of July, compared with 45 during 1996.

Allegations continued of the abuse of prisoners by guards. In 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 1993. Two trials, one involving 65 of the defendants and another involving 6 were still in progress at year's end.

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

In response to public concern over the excessive use of preventive or investigative detention, Parliament passed a law in 1995 clarifying 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, 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.

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. 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 detention all evidence favorable to the accused. In addition 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 decide whether continued detention is warranted. Despite these measures, as of mid year, 42 percent of inmates were in prison awaiting either trial or the outcome of an appeal, rather than because they had been finally sentenced. 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 Public Trial

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

There are three levels of courts. The lower level has three separate tracks: praetor Courts for offenses punishable by monetary fines or imprisonment for not more than 4 years; a Court of Assizes for crimes punishable by prison terms of more than 24 years; and a Tribunal Court for offenses falling between the jurisdiction of the first two. The Assizes Court of Appeals hears appeals from all three tracks. Decisions at this level can be further appealed to the highest level, the Court of Cassation 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. 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. The average waiting period for trials is about 18 months. The Code of Criminal Procedure that took effect in 1989 sought to streamline the process, but it has not produced substantial improvement.

Since 1991 public prosecutors have conducted sweeping investigations of corruption among the political and economic elites and in the judiciary. These inquiries continue and enjoy public support. However, there are critics who complain that some investigating magistrates are occasionally influenced by political or other interests in choosing targets of inquiry, or sometimes fail to show adequate respect for the rights of suspects by, for example, making excessive use of preventive detention (see Section 1.d.).

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 sanction.

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 religions and the Government respects this right. 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 1997 Parliament passed a law extending these subsidies to the Lutheran and Jewish denomination. In 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.

Nontraditional religious groups are free to follow their beliefs and proselytize provided they respect public order and general moral standards. In August the Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that Scientology was not a bona fide religion, ruling that the definition of religion applied was unconstitutional.

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 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. It provides first asylum for refugees fleeing hostilities or natural disasters, for example. In these cases the refugees are granted temporary residence permits that must be renewed periodically and that carry no guarantee of future permanent residence. 220,000 foreigners living irregularly in Italy, including would-be asylum seekers, were able to obtain residence and work permits in 1996 as a result of a 1995 amnesty decree. As of mid-year, the number of refugees present in Italy, largely of Balkan origin, increased to 62,500 because of the continuing difficulties in the former Yugoslavia and the unrest in Albania. The Government also provides political asylum, often for permanent residence, and 107 such permits were granted as of mid-year, compared with a total of 175 for all of 1996. There were no reports of forced expulsion of any person having a valid claim to refugee status.

In December the Government began closing the camps housing refugees who fled Albania earlier in the year. The Government acted after ascertaining that sufficient civil authority was restored in Albania and after the International Committee for the Red Cross determined that there was no longer a humanitarian emergency there.

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 in law on women's participation in government and politics. Fewer women than men, however, are office holders: women held 3 of 23 cabinet positions, 24 of 325 Senate seats, and 69 of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

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.


Legislation to protect women from physical abuse, including from members of their family, was updated and strengthened in 1996. The law treats spousal rape the same as any other rape.

Media reports of violence against women are common. Telefono Rosso, a prominent nongovernmental organization, in a 1996 survey detected a slight increase in reports of beatings and rape but a slight decline in reports of sexual harassment.

Law enforcement and court officials 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 new legislation passed in February makes the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women easier and shields women who have been objects of attack from publicity. The Government provides a hot line through which abused women can obtain legal, medical, and other assistance. The city of Milan maintains a clinic served by 40 doctors to provide free medical assistance to abused women and minors. Women's associations also 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 using the charge of profiting from or exploiting the prostitution of others.

A number of government offices work to ensure women's rights. The Prodi Government created a new cabinet-level position, the Office of Minister for Equal Opportunity, and named a woman to this position. In addition there is an Equal Opportunity Commission the Office of the Prime Minister. Another such commission is in the Labor Ministry and 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 night shifts or underground work in mines, quarries, or tunnels. 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 25 percent of magistrates and only 10 percent of police officers). Women experience unemployment 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 that address the problem.

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

Many NGO's actively and effectively promote women's rights. Most are affiliated with labor unions or political parties.


The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare. It signed the European Convention on the Exercise of the Rights of Minors on January 25. In September it launched an extensive study of the living conditions of minors to serve as a data base for policies to improve their situation. In August Parliament passed a law aimed at helping shield children from dangerous situations and encouraging them to attend school. The major objective of the law is child welfare but it also is connected with government efforts to banish child labor (see Section 6.d.). Boys and girls enjoy equal access and treatment with regard to education, health, and other government services.

Schooling is compulsory for children from the age of 7 to 14. The dropout rate is high, especially in junior and senior high school. In 1995 on average only 56 students graduated from senior high school of each 100 who enrolled in primary school 19 years earlier.

The abuse of children is a societal problem Telefono Azzurro, an NGO that maintains a toll-free hot line for cases of child abuse, received an average of 800 calls a day during 1996 and in the first 3 months of 1997. From all of these calls, follow-up services were required in 1,425 cases in 1996 and 437 cases in the first 3 months of 1997. Social workers counsel abused children and are authorized to take action to protect them.

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 finding places for their groups to stay. The city of Rome opened six camps for them and launched a program of compulsory schooling for Roma children.

The Forum of Foreign Communities continues its work on behalf of immigrants and foreign residents. It maintains a hot line to report incidents of violence against foreigners. Other NGOs, 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 work force 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. 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 any 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, including that performed by children, and it does not occur.

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

The law forbids forced or bonded labor involving children, and such practices do not occur (see Section 6.c.). The law also forbids employment of children under 15 years of age (with some limited exceptions). There are also specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations for males under age 18, and females under age 21. The enforcement of minimum age laws is effective only outside the extensive "underground" economy. The leader of the largest union put the number of child laborers at 300,000.

In addition to their legal obligations, the government, labor, and business volunteered in a January 1996 pact to mobilize against exploitation of child labor at home and abroad.

The August law aimed at helping shield children from dangerous situations and encouraging them to attend school is the first step in the Government's plan to strengthen support for children and is connected with government efforts to banish child labor (see Section 5).

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.

A law enacted in June reduced the legal workweek to 40 hours from 48. 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 the law; some provisions have already taken effect and others will be phased in during 1997. Labor inspectors are from local health units or from the Ministry of Labor. They are few in numbers, 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.

[end of document]

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