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Italy 2023

There were new reports of torture and other ill-treatment by prison and police officers. Climate justice activists faced disproportionate restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly. Gender-based violence remained at unacceptably high levels. Access to asylum was significantly restricted, including through unlawful measures. Concern about hate speech and hate crime persisted and anti-discrimination safeguards were inadequate. Access to abortion remained difficult in parts of the country. Italy was at risk of failing to meet carbon emission reduction targets.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In June, five police officers in Verona were placed under house arrest as part of an investigation into acts of torture aggravated by racial hatred, mostly against foreign nationals. Others were also investigated for violent offences, while many more were transferred for failing to report their colleagues’ abuses, including the chief of the city police. In March, more than 20 prison officers under investigation for alleged torture in the prison of Biella were suspended. The trial continued of 105 prison officers and other officials accused of multiple offences, including torture, following the suppression of a protest in the Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison in April 2020. Two other officers who had chosen an accelerated court proceeding were acquitted in June.

A draft bill to abrogate the crime of torture raised concerns that Italy was preparing to backtrack on international obligations to guarantee freedom from torture.1

Freedom of expression and assembly

A government-backed bill to criminalize the defacing or damaging of heritage buildings and artifacts during demonstrations was under discussion in parliament. In April, the UN Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders under the the Aarhus Convention criticized the bill and urged the authorities to refrain from disproportionately restricting peaceful acts of civil disobedience by climate justice protesters. In November, another government-backed bill proposed harsher penalties for protesters involved in organizing road blocks in certain circumstances.

Police used excessive force against protesters on some occasions. In July, in Piedmont, at a largely peaceful demonstration to oppose a high-speed railway project, police made unnecessary and indiscriminate use of tear gas.

Violence against women and girls

There were 97 killings of women in domestic violence incidents, with 64 killed by their partners or former partners. Strengthened protective measures to prevent attacks were proposed, including in response to the killing of a young woman by her former boyfriend in November, in the town of Pordenone in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In December, following her visit in June, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the shortage of shelters for women victims of gender-based violence and the scarcity of funds for service providers. 

Parliament failed to bring rape laws in line with the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

The central Mediterranean route remained the most dangerous migration route in the world, with 2,498 people drowning or going missing during the year trying to reach Europe, a dramatic increase from 1,417 in 2022. Most had departed from Libya and Tunisia. More than 157,600 people arrived irregularly by sea, including more than 17,300 unaccompanied children, compared with about 105,000 people in 2022.

Thousands of the people disembarked in Italy were rescued by Italian authorities. There were concerns, however, that Italy was not always fulfilling its search-and-rescue obligations. In February, at least 94 people, including 34 children, drowned near the beach of Steccato di Cutro , Calabria, in Italian territorial waters. Six hours before the ship sank, Frontex, the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency, had shared information about the boat with Italian authorities, who had not immediately launched a rescue operation. Criminal investigations were ongoing to determine responsibilities.

NGOs rescuing people at sea remained subject to unnecessary requirements, including that they request a port for disembarkation and make their way there immediately after each rescue, limiting the possibility of saving more people in one operation. In some cases, authorities forced NGO rescue ships to navigate over 1,000km to reach ports assigned for disembarkation, when closer suitable ports were available. In January and again in December, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights asked the government to withdraw the measures.2

In March, the government updated the list of “safe countries of origin”, adding Nigeria and confirming Tunisia among them, despite evidence of widespread human rights violations in both countries. In May, parliament abolished special protection permits, a complementary form of protection for asylum seekers and others who would be at risk if repatriated, and significantly limited permits based on other grounds. It also introduced accelerated border procedures to examine asylum applications from people coming from countries regarded as “safe”. Some of the new provisions were in breach of international standards. In October, the courts ordered the release of several people detained under the new accelerated border procedures, ruling that asylum seekers could not be deprived of their liberty solely on the basis that they were from countries presumed to be safe. The government appealed against the rulings. In October, parliament approved further measures aimed at restricting access to asylum and expanding the possibility of expelling people.

In November, the prime ministers of Italy and Albania agreed the creation of two detention facilities for asylum seekers and migrants on Albanian territory, claiming these would be under Italian jurisdiction, leading to concerns about arbitrary detention, refoulement and effective access to asylum.

Cooperation with Libya

Support for Libyan authorities to contain people in that country continued, including by renewing the Memorandum of Understanding, regardless of overwhelming evidence of widespread, serious human rights violations against refugees and migrants disembarked in Libya. In March, a shipwreck in the Libyan search-and-rescue region, which claimed more than 30 lives, provided a further illustration of the inability of Libyan authorities to fulfil their search-and-rescue responsibilities. Despite this, in June, parliament extended support for Libyan coastguards aimed at increasing their capacity to conduct interceptions at sea.3

Criminalization of solidarity

The case against the crews of the Iuventa and other NGO rescue ships before the tribunal of Trapani in Sicily for facilitating irregular migration in connection with rescue operations in 2016 and 2017 had not concluded by the end of the year. This preliminary hearing had already lasted 18 months.


In August, the CERD Committee expressed concern about racist hate speech; racist political discourse, including from members of government; the proliferation of racist hate incidents; and the many cases of racist abuse and ill-treatment against ethnic minorities and migrants by law enforcement officials.

In November, a Jewish monitoring centre reported a significant increase in antisemitic incidents in October, following the start of the new conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Laws against hate speech and hate crimes were not extended to offer LGBTI people, women and people with disabilities the same protections available to victims of hate based on racist, religious, ethnic and nationalist motives.

Children of foreign nationals born and/or grown up in Italy continued to be deprived of an effective access to citizenship, with more than 1.5 million children facing discrimination in accessing rights as a result.

Sexual and reproductive rights

In several regions, obstacles to access abortion persisted, mostly due to the high number of doctors and other healthcare providers refusing to deliver abortion care. There was concern over the proliferation of national and regional bills focusing on the protection of the fetus.

Right to a healthy environment

Record-breaking temperatures in July, made much more likely by climate change, saw a 7% increase in mortality over the average in southern Italy. In June, the government published a new Energy and Climate Plan, which some experts noted revealed insufficient emissions reductions, could allow the postponement of coal phase-out to 2028 and showed that the country was struggling to meet the EU target for lower carbon emissions by 2030. The government continued to invest in fossil fuel projects overseas, breaking a 2021 commitment, and heavily subsidized fossil fuel use.

Irresponsible arms transfers

In November, the government suspended new licences for exporting weapons and military equipment to Israel. Exports relying on past licences continued, however, despite mounting evidence of unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian objects by Israel in the occupied Gaza Strip.

  1. “Italy: Backtracking on guaranteeing freedom from torture”, 3 November
  2. Italy: Withdraw measures that hinder the work of search and rescue NGOs and increase the risk of drownings”, 1 February
  3. Italy: Avoidable loss of life at sea calls for swift review of search and rescue procedures and visa policies”, 17 March