The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered free and fair. Members of parliament and regional representatives elect the president of the republic; the last such election was held in 2015.
The National Police and Carabinieri (gendarmerie or military police) maintain internal security. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violence or threats of violence against journalists; criminal libel laws with penalties of up to three years in prison; denial of access to asylum; crimes, violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and labor exploitation.
The government identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses. It sometimes implemented effectively laws against official corruption.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to safeguard freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions during the year.
Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and libel with penalties of up to three years in prison. On June 22, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional a law punishing libel and defamation with up to six years of imprisonment if committed through the press and consisting of “attribution of a specific fact.” Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out, but on April 21, a Rome judge sentenced a former editor and a journalist of daily newspaper La Repubblica to pay 50,000 euros ($57,500) to former interior minister Matteo Salvini as compensation for an article regarding a canceled trip to Israel.
Nongovernmental Impact: The NGO Reporters without Borders stated there was growing hostility toward reporters, mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the NGO, approximately 20 journalists – mostly in Rome and the South – received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists.
Police reported 123 cases of intimidation against journalists between January and July compared with 103 during the same period in 2020. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) alleged some attacks against reporters. It reported that on April 11, an unidentified man attacked Rete-4 TV reporter Carmen La Gatta and two support staffers while they were conducting interviews in the northwestern city of Cuneo, using physical force including a metal chain to attack the reporting team and the vehicle in which they were traveling. According to the CPJ, on August 28, a mob in Rome protesting the country’s measures against COVID-19 surrounded Antonella Alba, a journalist working for public broadcaster Rai News 24. The mob harassed her verbally, assaulted and injured her physically, and tried to steal her cell phone.
The CPJ also reported that on August 30, at another rally in Rome against the anti-COVID-19 measures, a protester threatened to leave Francesco Giovannetti, a video journalist for La Repubblica, “lying on the ground” unless he turned off his camera. The protester then punched Giovannetti in the face four or five times. One report stated police intervened and apprehended the attacker and that Giovannetti was taken to the hospital and treated for head injuries.
Reporters without Borders reported that journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly chose to self-censor out of fear. In February and April, the editor of the Livorno-based daily Il Tirreno reported verbal attacks, threats, and a physical assault against journalists at the newspaper. The newspaper also received a tape recording threatening a violent attack against the newsroom.
On April 15, a Bari court convicted a member of an organized crime gang to 16 months in jail for violence and threats against Maria Grazia Mazzola, a journalist from the national broadcaster Rai.
The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 110 cases of threats made against journalists between January and June, 18 of which were made by organized crime gangs and 36 of which were made by extremist political organizations.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Through December 13, a total of 63,062 seaborne irregular migrants had entered the country, compared with 32,919 during the same period in 2020. The increase, together with the fear of possible COVID-19 transmission, affected the ability of authorities to provide housing and other services to migrants and asylum seekers. The Italian Red Cross was responsible for managing migrants during their period of COVID-19 quarantine.
Authorities regularly authorized disembarkation of migrants rescued by NGO ships despite an April 2020 decree by the minister for infrastructure and transportation stating that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italian ports could not guarantee that they meet the requirements to qualify as places of safety for migrants who were rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area. NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistencies in the application of standards in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to appropriate, adequate services. NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified within the system and classified instead as asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation.
Some territorial adjudication committees took more than one year to process asylum claims, due in part to preventive measures adopted in response to COVID-19. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to three years.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.
Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when, on February 7, it renewed with Libya the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to seize vessels carrying migrants in Libyan waters to take them back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” due to the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya including the lack of protection from abuses, the lack of durable solutions, and a heightened risk of trafficking facing migrants forced to remain in Libya.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to seize migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed the Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.
The IOM, UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation, including labor trafficking, of asylum seekers, especially in the agricultural and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).
The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On March 9, police arrested three persons and investigated another five accused of fraud and money laundering in Frosinone. They were suspected of holding migrants in overcrowded facilities in unhealthy conditions and inflating official reports of the center’s population in order to receive public funds.
Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 120 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from a deportation order or predeportation jail sentence. The ombudsman for detainees noted that only half of the migrants in expulsion centers were repatriated in 2020 and lamented the lack of independent monitoring of the centers and judicial remedies for abuses. The government worked to reduce the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and restricted their movement for up to 72 hours after they arrived at reception centers.
Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported that thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported that these persons had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.
Some refugees working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions.
Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. Many asylum seekers moved to other European countries; based on conversations at welcome centers in Catania, Sicily, most Tunisians sought to move to France or Germany, while in contrast, most Bangladeshis sought to remain in the country. The government offered refugees resettlement services, while both the government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.
Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.
According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020 approximately 3,000 stateless persons lived in the country. Most of them were children born in Italy to parents coming from the former Yugoslavia. The law gives Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to stateless individuals, both of whom must have obtained formal recognition of stateless status. Otherwise, Italian citizenship will not be conferred upon the child at birth, and the child will be born stateless. The law provides that individuals formally recognized as stateless may request to become naturalized citizens after five years of legal residence in the country.
According to the NGO Tavola Apolidia, many stateless individuals reported difficulty in obtaining their rights, due to the low level of knowledge in the country’s administrative bodies concerning statelessness. Individuals who are stateless but have not received stateless status do not receive fundamental rights such as the rights to work; to go to school; to own property; or to receive welfare, identity documents, and travel documents. They were also at risk of detention and expulsion.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes convicted perpetrators of rape of either gender, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members) and provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women and assistance in shielding abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, while restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to survivors.
Between August 2020 and July, 62 women were killed by domestic partners or former partners. In the same period, authorities reported 11,832 cases of stalking. On June 22, for example, police arrested a man accused of having abused his wife for more than 30 years in Catanzaro. The woman had been repeatedly stabbed, beaten, and raped.
The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between January and March, the hotline received 7,974 calls, a 39 percent increase from the same period in 2020. In 72 percent of those cases of violence, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 48 percent of the cases, children were present.
Sexual Harassment: By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Independent observers and NGOs reported that government health authorities did not provide sufficient resources to adequately supply the public with reproductive health services and counseling.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. NGOs reported that in some cases government personnel were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to the requisite sources of assistance.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).
The law protects members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).
The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019, authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, including 234 incidents of incitement to violence, 147 acts of grave desecrations, and 93 acts of physical violence. On September 22, police in Foggia arrested three persons and put three additional persons under investigation for two episodes of violence against a Colombian minor and a Paraguayan who were also insulted for their nationalities and cultural backgrounds.
The European Roma Rights Center reported at least seven evictions of Roma from their unauthorized camps between January and July. On July 1, local authorities closed a Romani camp on the outskirts of Rome. Of the 105 persons living in the camp, 33 found alternative housing and 48 received financial assistance to rent apartments or were hosted in public facilities. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city.
The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2020, 11,500 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,000, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. More than half of persons living in authorized camps were minors. Their average life expectancy was approximately 10 years lower than that of the rest of the population. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, or when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
On March 10, police arrested 29 persons and investigated another 64 suspected of exploiting minors by forcing them to commit robberies and other crimes in Rome. The press reported that most of the victims, who were Romani and younger than age 14, did not attend school.
On September 1, authorities reported a case of a mother abusing an 11-year-old child living in a facility shared by some Romani families. The victim was prevented from attending school and forced to collect reusable items from dumpsters. In 2020 the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered a 41 percent increase in the number of reports of abused minors. In 2020 there were 13,527 reports of missing minors, approximately 70 percent of whom were foreigners. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor. Forced marriage for religious reasons is also penalized. On April 30, a Pakistani woman disappeared in Reggio Emilia after a meeting with her parents, who had attempted to force her to marry a cousin in Pakistan. Prior to her disappearance, she had contacted local social service centers and moved to a protected community. Her parents returned to Pakistan after her disappearance.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting child sexual exploitation, the sale of children, child sex trafficking (offering or procuring a child for commercial sex), and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 4,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 160 in 2019 to 105 in 2020.
On July 26, police arrested a janitor working at a primary school in Brescia on charges of engaging in sexual acts with children. The man also allegedly engaged in child sex trafficking by attempting to force some of the child victims into commercial sex.
There were reports of child pornography. In July authorities arrested four persons and investigated three others in Lombardy for producing videos and photos of exploited minors having sexual intercourse with adults and animals. In 2020 Postal Police reported 1,578 cases of online pedophilia, representing a 232 percent increase compared with 2019. Save the Children Italy reported that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, who were often forcibly trapped unprotected in overcrowded apartments without access to health care.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the age gap with the partner is less than three years.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 5,101 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 8,382 unaccompanied minors, of whom 97 percent were boys. It also stated that 325 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation, including trafficking.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in imprisonment from six months to two years, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia were sold online.
Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including physical violence against Jews, vandalism of Jewish-owned business and synagogues, and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism, part of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, reported 123 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 17, including acts of violence. In March a food delivery rider in Rome stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming anti-Semitic insults. On May 23, three men wearing Palestinian and Algerian flags assaulted and spit on a Jewish man in Milan. The victim required hospitalization. In August a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are murderers!”
On April 29, an estimated 800 neo-Nazis marched in Milan, with groups of persons performing the Nazi salute. On June 7, antiterror police dismantled a far-right extremist group, the Roman Aryan Order, and arrested 12 persons. Police seized photographs of Hitler, swastikas, and a book listing Jewish surnames.
Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On February 19, a Holocaust survivor’s attempt to encourage older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in anti-Semitic comments on social media. On August 18, the center reported 41 cases of insults on the internet and five cases of graffiti against Jewish residents. Most incidents occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Rome, and Busto Arsizio.
More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and the law require authorities to guarantee access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation to persons with disabilities on an equal basis. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges, and government information was not always provided in accessible format. On March 10, the NGO Associazione Coscioni reported that a court ordered the Sperlonga municipality to remove physical barriers preventing persons with disabilities from visiting the historic center of the city. The press reported several cases of escalators and elevators out of order in public buildings and persons with disabilities being denied access to public transportation and other services.
On July 28, police arrested three persons accused of having raped a woman and committed violence against other residents in a nursing home in Serradifalco.
NGOs advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech. The website Gay.it received 70 reports of discrimination against gay men between January and July compared with 64 registered in 2020.
The press reported isolated cases of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 24, a Milan court sentenced a former banker to 18 years in prison for killing a transgender escort from Brazil. When LGBTQI+ persons reported crimes, authorities consistently investigated them but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.