Alert: Read our new report on the effects of Covid-19 on torture in Mexico

At a glance

Italy ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1989 but only criminalised torture on 14 July 2017. The Law however falls short of the bar set by international bodies and fails to meet international standards. The first cases that saw public officials investigated for the crime of torture were initiated in 2019, in relation to acts of ill-treatment and torture that allegedly took place in the Turin and San Gimignano prisons in 2018. The beginning of the Covid-19 emergency was marked by revolts in 49 Italian prisons. In several cases, there were violent reprisals by members of prison police. Judicial authorities started investigations after the non-governmental organisation Antigone and others filed official reports with prosecutors’ offices.

Civil society and international bodies have repeatedly raised concerns over Italy’s failure to uphold the principle of non-refoulement. Of particular concern are the forcible returns of irregular migrants in applications of bilateral agreements with countries such as Sudan or Libya. Italy is the only European country that has signed an agreement with Libya for the specific purpose of stemming fluxes of ‘illegal migrants’, raising questions over Italy’s complicity and liability in the systematic torture of migrants pulled back to Libya. Another problematic issue is the procedure of expulsion of foreign nationals on grounds of national security under article 3.1 of Law No. 144/2005, which the European Court of Human Rights found in several cases violated the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The situation of the penitentiary system is also cause of great concern, especially because of its chronic overcrowding. In 2013, with the Torreggiani and others v. Italy pilot judgement, the European Court of Human Rights urged Italy to reduce its prison population. Italian authorities abided and undertook several reforms, leading to a decrease in the occupancy rate from 153% to 105% between 2010 and 2015. After this date numbers started to rise again and as of 29 February 2020, there were 61,230 detainees for 50,931 available places (120.2% occupancy rate). Antigone has estimated a rate of 130%, taking into account places that were unavailable in some prisons because of closed sections or renovation works. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the necessity to reduce the number of detainees to avoid the spread of the infection and in only three months, the prison population decreased: by mid-May, there were 52,600 detainees compared to 61,000 at the end of February.

Over the past few years, OMCT has closely worked with its SOS-Torture Network member Antigone to submit information to the UN Committee Against Torture.

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