After 28 years of failure, Italy has finally made torture a crime. But there’s little to celebrate. The compromise text, finally approved on July 5 by the Chamber of Deputies after four years of tough negotiations, falls short of the bar set by European and international bodies of which Italy is a member and fails to meet international law standards. The flaws rest with how the law defines the scope of the crime and the statute of limitations.
Diverging from the definition provided by the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Italy ratified in 1989, the text of the new law requires “multiple acts” for torture to occur – the convention, reflecting international law, affirms “any act” might be torture if it meets the gravity standard. The new law also requires that psychological trauma be “verifiable” to establish “psychological” torture. And parliament also rejected the proposal to double the length of the statute of limitations for the crime of torture, despite the need to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice for this serious crime.
The restrictive definition and short statute of limitations – in a country whose judiciary is infamous for its lengthy trials – raises the risks torture will go unpunished, as well as hinder the ability of victims to get redress. This means that Italy will continue to be in violation of its international obligations.
After the difficult approval at the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies made no changes to the law before passage, ignoring serious concerns raised by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, which echo those repeatedly expressed by several Italian nongovernmental organizations, by the first proponent of the draft, Senator Luigi Manconi, by the prosecutors of the 2001 Genoa G8 events, and by a group of victims, lawyers, and judges.
Italy has a duty to comply with its international obligations and with European Court of Human Rights’ rulings, and to guarantee torture survivors, victims, and their families an effective remedy. By doing so, it would give more credibility to its call for justice for Giulio Regeni, the Italian researcher tortured to death in Egypt more than a year ago. Unfortunately, the approval of this text does not meet this test, nor does it satisfy the imperative to amend it so that it is fully in line with international law. Then, and only then, there will be something to celebrate.