Italy: Still Waiting for That Law on Torture

Italy has put off dealing with its obligations with regard to torture for way too long, despite the fact that the duty to criminally sanction torture is unequivocally in various international treaties.
Italy has long failed to get to grips with its obligations. Antigone's president comments on the umpteenth law on torture being stuck in Parliament and the importance of breaking the circle of violence.

Italy's failure

Among the most notable treaties are the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture and the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights, both of which Italy has signed to uphold. But this obligation is also found in the most fundamental law of the Italian state. Article 13 of the Constitution indeed contains the one and only constitutional duty of penal incrimination - that is, the obligation to criminally prosecute torture.

This failure of the Italian legislator to get to grips with torture has been condemned on numerous occasions by competent international authorities, including some recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (such as the Saba and the Cestaro cases) and the very recent developments in the case on the torture of two men in the penitentiary of Asti.

And yet, despite the many attempts made over the years and the pressure exercised by civil society associations such as Antigone, the umpteenth legal proposal on the introduction of the crime of torture is still far from approval, having now being stuck in Parliament for months.

What happened to the announced law?

Antigone's president, Patrizio Gonnella, commented in a recent interview:

"The proposed law on the introduction of the crime of torture has been stuck since this spring, when the Parliament approved it and passed it to the attention of the Senate. During the last months the 'melina' - that is, the obstructionist technique used in some sports to slow down matches (e.g. keeping possession of the ball so the opposition cannot score) - has come back into vogue. The debate has once again been anesthetized and blocked. There is this old and enduring cliché - which, like all clichés, is actually false - according to which the crime of torture goes against the police. There is nothing further from the truth: the crime of torture protects all those policemen and carabinieri who do their job following the law."

Gonnella, while arguing that torture cannot be prevented where there is no crime punishing it, and thus calling for the prompt adoption of such a law, also highlighted the worrisome fact that the text currently being evaluated has been significantly weaken during discussions in Parliament. For example, the most recent versions construe the crime as generic rather than specific to a public official.

What is necessary, Gonnella concludes, is a "cultural revolution" finally giving center stage to the importance of defending individuals against each and any abuse of power of the state, of which torture is arguably one of the most odious manifestations.

How long until that law becomes a reality, Italy?

Sign Antigone's petition urging the introduction of the crime of torture in the criminal code.