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Prison cell, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
© UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

United Nations: the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published the conclusions of the visit in Italy

On 11 July 2014 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Government of Italy to take extraordinary steps, such as alternative measures to detention, to end over-incarceration and to protect the rights of migrants.

While the Working Group welcomed the recent reforms reducing the length of sentences, overcrowding in the penitentiary establishments, and the use of pre-trial detention, it also stressed the need to monitor and remedy the disproportionate application of pre-trial detention in the case of foreign nationals and Roma, including minors.

It was highlighted that Italy does not have a general policy of mandatory detention of all asylum seekers and migrants in an irregular situation, as opposed to some other European countries. The Working Group welcomed the recent abolition of migration as an aggravating circumstance in criminal law and the steps taken by the Parliament to abrogate the crime of “illegal entry and stay”. However, it noted with concern that the latter remains an administrative offence.

The Working Group remains seriously concerned about the length of administrative detention (with a statutory maximum duration of 18 months), but is encouraged by recent legislative initiatives to reduce the maximum period of detention of irregular migrants to 12, or 6 months. Particular concern was raised concerning reports of summary returns of individuals, including unaccompanied minors and adult asylum seekers, in the context of bilateral readmission agreements, mainly due to inadequate or non-existing screening that fail to determine age or to inform them of their rights.

The UN experts noted that the special detention regime for mafia offenders under article 41 bis of the Law on the Penitentiary System has not yet been brought in compliance with international human rights requirements. The Working Group also examined efforts taken to close the Judicial Psychiatric Hospitals and transfer their competence to regional substitutive healthcare structures.

In the context of monitoring places of detention, the Working Group welcomed the recent ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the establishment of the National Guarantor of the rights of detainees. The Working Group urged the Government to prioritize the establishment of such an institution with a broad human rights mandate and the necessary human and financial resources for its effective functioning. It also encouraged prompt adoption of the bill on the specific crime of torture.