Will Italy Finally Include the Crime of Torture in Its Penal Code?

After condemnation by the Court of Human Rights, Italy appears close to adding the crime of torture into its penal code. An Italian NGO's petition in support of this has already gathered nearly 50,000 signatures.

In its judgment on April 9, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Italy for violating Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

The court ruled on a complaint concerning acts of violence and abuse against dozens of anti-globalization protestors and journalists at the Diaz school during a police raid, and torture that occurred at the detention facility in Bolzaneto. Both events occurred during the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001.

50,000 signatures

The Italian NGO Antigone has launched a petition for the introduction of the crime of torture into Italy's penal code. The petition has been signed by almost 50,000 people, with more than 30,000 signing after the ECtHR’s decision.

Specifically, the Strasbourg court condemned Italy both for the police assault and because the country lacks a law to punish the crime of torture. It noticed the structural character of the problem and recommended that Italy establish effective legal and practical measures to punish those found guilty of torture and other abuses.

The Italian Parliament began to discuss adding the crime of torture into the penal code many years ago, but the bill was shelved because of strong opposition from some political parties, especially those of the extreme right.

'Heated debate'

The Chamber of Deputies resumed the debate some weeks before the court’s judgment, and on April 9 approved a bill already passed in first reading by the Senate. It comes 27 years since Italy ratified the UN Convention against Torture. But, as some amendments have been made to the text, it now must go back to the Senate for final approval.

Antigone’s hope is that the ECtHR’s condemnation of Italy will spark a heated debate across the country in order to raise awareness on the subject and to push senators for a quick approval of the law without further modifications.

It would be shameful to resume a game of ping pong between the two chambers. In the past this has meant that nothing gets done in the end, and many proposed laws have died this way.

'Flawed and mediocre'

Antigone is aware that this is not the best possible law. For instance, it recognizes the crime of torture as a "common" crime that could be committed by anyone, and not as a "proper" crime only attributable to public functionaries.

But we cannot wait anymore. This law must be approved as it is, even if flawed and mediocre. Otherwise, the risk is too great that the crime of torture will stay out of our justice system for many years to come.

The approval by the Chamber of Deputies has been a great achievement. We really hope that the Senate will soon do its part and finally introduce the crime of torture into the Italian penal code.

Grazia Parisi