Unlawful forced evictions of Roma communities continued throughout the year. Efforts by the authorities to control migration jeopardized the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers. Italy continued to deport people to places where they were at risk of human rights abuses. US and Italian agents were convicted for their part in the US-led programme of renditions (unlawful transfers of terrorist suspects between countries). Deaths in custody were reported and allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials continued to be made.
Roma continued to be denied equal access to education, housing, health care and employment. The authorities introduced new legislation which could result in discriminatory activities.
Roma – forced evictions
Unlawful forced evictions of Roma drove them further into poverty. Both Roma with Italian citizenship and those of EU or another nationality suffered the adverse effects.
- On 31 March, Milan authorities forcibly evicted a community of about 150 Roma living under the Bacula overpass in the north of the city. Only four families, approximately 30 people, were provided with adequate alternative accommodation. The majority of Roma living in Bacula camp had been previously forcibly evicted from other camps in Milan in 2008.
- On 11 November, city authorities forcibly evicted a community of about 350 Romani people from Via Centocelle camp, in Rome. All the community’s shelters were destroyed and the municipality offered short-term shelter to approximately 70 people. Members of the community were not notified of the eviction, contrary to domestic law, which states that authorities should notify each individual, or publish an order or notice. As the order was not formalized in this way, the community could not challenge it through the courts, and stop or postpone the eviction.
In August, new legislation (Law 94/2009), part of the so-called “security package”, enabled local authorities to authorize associations of unarmed civilians not belonging to state or local police forces to patrol the territory of a municipality. In recent years there have been documented attacks by self-organized groups against Roma and migrants. The implementation of such provision may result in discrimination and vigilantism.
Migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ rights
In January, Italy was criticized by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for the way migrants and asylum-seekers, including minors, were routinely detained without any individual consideration of whether their detention was necessary, and frequently without any basis in domestic law. Asylum-seekers were prohibited from leaving the reception centres where they were detained until they received a formal confirmation of the submission of their asylum claim; completing registration formalities could take up to a month. Forced expulsions, without consideration of individual protection needs and circumstances, persisted.
New legislation adopted as part of the so-called “security package” (see above) established the criminal offence of “irregular migration”. Criminal proceedings against asylum-seekers for entering the country illegally would only be suspended once a claim for international protection was lodged, and dismissed if international protection was granted.
There were concerns that the new law might deter irregular migrants from accessing education, medical care and protection by law enforcement officials against crimes, for fear of being reported to the police, especially given existing provisions in the criminal code obliging civil servants (such as teachers or local authority employees, including those in charge of issuing identity cards) to report all criminal acts to the police or judicial authorities.
International obligations to refugees and migrants
The Italian and Maltese governments disagreed over their obligations to carry out rescue operations at sea, leaving migrants stranded for days without water and food and posing a serious risk to their lives.
The Italian authorities took the unprecedented decision to transfer migrants and asylum-seekers rescued at sea to Tripoli, Libya, without assessing their need for refuge and international protection. Libya is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention and does not have a functioning asylum procedure in place, which limits the possibility of receiving international protection in the country. According to Italian government figures, between May and September 834 people intercepted or rescued at sea were taken to Libya, violating the principle of non-refoulement (prohibition on returning an individual to a country where they would risk serious human rights abuses).
- On 6 May, three vessels with an estimated 227 people on board sent out a distress call while passing about 50 miles south of Lampedusa. The rescue operation was delayed by a dispute between Malta and Italy over who had responsibility for the boats. Eventually, the people were rescued by two Italian coastguard vessels. The coastguard took them to Tripoli, Libya, without stopping in an Italian port to assess their need for refuge and international protection.
Counter-terror and security
The authorities failed to fully co-operate with investigations into human rights abuses committed in the context of renditions and, in the name of security, continued a policy of forcibly returning third-country nationals to places where they were at risk of torture. The government accepted the return of two Guantánamo Bay detainees.
- On 4 November, a Criminal Court in Milan convicted 22 US agents and officials of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and one US military officer in their absence. The prosecutors had issued arrest warrants for the US defendants in 2005 and in 2006, but successive Italian Justice Ministers refused to transmit them to the US government.
The accused were convicted for their involvement in the February 2003 abduction of Usama Mostafa Hassan Nasr (better known as Abu Omar). Abu Omar was kidnapped in Milan and flown via Germany to Egypt, where he was secretly detained for 14 months and allegedly tortured. Three other US nationals, including the then-CIA station chief in Rome, were granted diplomatic immunity and the cases against them were dismissed. Two Italian military agents were also convicted, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. The cases against the former head of the Italian Military Security Service Agency and his deputy were dismissed under the “state secrets” privilege, as were the cases of three other Italians.
The Milan Court provisionally awarded Abu Omar 1 million euros and his wife, Nabila Ghali, 500,000 euros as compensation for the abuse and injustice they suffered.
Despite international rulings against them, since the adoption in 2005 of legislation which provides for expedited expulsion procedures for terrorist suspects (Law 155/05, the so-called “Pisanu Law”), the authorities continued to expel several people to Tunisia, a country with a long and well-documented record of torturing and abusing prisoners.
- On 24 February, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Italy on its 2008 decision to expel Sami Ben Khemais Essid to Tunisia (see Tunisia entry). The Court condemned Italy for violating the principle of non-refoulement.
- On 2 August, the Italian authorities returned Ali Ben Sassi Toumi to Tunisia, despite three separate rulings of the European Court of Human Rights urging them to stay his forcible return. In Tunisia, he was held incommunicado and his relatives were not informed of his whereabouts until 10 August, when he was released on bail. He continued to await his trial for terrorism-related charges at the end of the year.
On 30 November, Adel Ben Mabrouk and Riadh Nasseri, two Tunisian nationals formerly detained without charge by the USA at Guantánamo Bay, were transferred to Italy. Both men were detained upon arrival and faced prosecution in Italy, reportedly on charges for terrorism-related offences. At the end of the year, they remained in prison in Milan under a special security regime.
Deaths in custody, torture and other ill-treatment
There were widespread allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by law enforcement officials as well as reports of deaths in custody in disputed circumstances. Italy failed to introduce an independent police complaints body and to introduce the crime of torture in its ordinary criminal legislation.
- The investigation in the case of Emmanuel Bonsu continued. In September 2008, Emmanuel Bonsu was arrested by municipal police officers in Parma. He was reportedly beaten and physically assaulted, resulting in long-term psychological damage. In June, 10 officers were indicted for injury, assault, abduction, slander and false testimony, and other lesser charges. The trial was still pending at the end of the year.
- On 6 July, four police officers were sentenced to prison terms of three years and six months each for the manslaughter of Federico Aldrovandi, who died in September 2005 after being stopped by police officers in Ferrara. The police officers had not been suspended from duty during the investigation or trial, and were appealing against the sentence at the end of the year.
- On 22 October, Stefano Cucchi died in Sandro Pertini hospital’s prison wing seven days after his arrest. His family believed injuries seen on his body after his death were indicative of ill-treatment. The Public Prosecutor investigating the death of Stefano Cucchi charged three prison guards and three doctors with his manslaughter.
Law enforcement officials and the Public Prosecutor continued different appeals against the 2008 verdicts and sentences of abuse of protesters at Armando Diaz School and Bolzaneto prison during the G8 summit in 2001.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Italy in March, July and October.
- Italy: Forcible return/fear of torture or other ill-treatment
- Italy: Obligation to safeguard lives and safety of migrants and asylum-seekers
- Homophobic attacks on the rise in Italy
- Italy: The Abu Omar case
- Italy: Roma community forcibly evicted