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Italy and Human Rights

Italy’s human rights actions

In line with the priorities of Italy’s 2019-2021 mandate in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Italy’s human rights actions focus, in particular, on several priority issues: the fight against all forms of discrimination; a universal moratorium on the death penalty; the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights (including campaigns against female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages); the protection and promotion of children’s rights (especially of vulnerable children); the protection of freedom of religion and belief and the rights of members of religious minorities; the fight against human trafficking; the promotion of the rights of disabled persons; the protection of the cultural heritage; the protection of human rights defenders.

At the same time, Italy has also committed to multiple other initiatives for the protection and promotion of human rights in line with the obligations undertaken at the international level to support civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These initiatives have included the fight against racism, xenophobia and all forms of intolerance, anti-Semitism, discrimination —including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity—, the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, human rights education, promoting democracy and the rule of law, promoting freedom of opinion and expression and focussing on issues related to migration.

Death penalty

Italy attaches the highest priority to the international campaign for a moratorium on capital punishment, in the firm belief that the death penalty is an unacceptable violation of human dignity and has no added value in terms of the safety of citizens or the deterrence of crime, determining the dramatic irreversibility of any possible miscarriage of justice. Italy has promoted several initiatives in favour of a universal moratorium on the death penalty since the 1990’s. In December 2007 these initiatives led to the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the first resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution was approved with 104 votes in favour, 54 against and 29 abstentions. Italy renewed its commitment to this cause the following year when it promoted, together with an interregional alliance formed by countries from all over the world, a second resolution on the moratorium. The resolution was approved by the General Assembly with a greater number of votes in favour and fewer votes against. Since then, resolutions on the universal moratorium on the death penalty have been approved by the UN General Assembly every two years. The last resolution on the matter was adopted by the General Assembly in plenary session in December 2018 with 121 votes in favour, 35 against and 32 abstentions, thus recording the highest number of favourable votes since the resolution was introduced in the General Assembly.

In July 2014, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI) set up a task force with representatives from civil society organisations to coordinate Italy’s action and make it more effective in raising awareness among third countries to garner their support for the UN resolution on the universal moratorium before it was voted on by the Third Committee (the Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs) and subsequently in the General Assembly’s plenary session in New York.

Italy also actively participates in the negotiations within the framework of the biennial resolution for the abolition of the death penalty, in the United Nations Human Rights Council, regularly co-sponsoring it. The importance of moving towards the abolition of the death penalty is also regularly raised in bilateral dialogue with third countries, also in coordination with other EU countries.

Fight against other forms of discrimination

The principle of non-discrimination, in law and practice, and respect for the dignity of every individual constitute the core of Italy’s international action in support of the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide. Italy supports and promotes numerous international initiatives in the fight against discrimination, attaching great importance to the fight against hate speech, online and offline. Italy traditionally supports, in particular, the resolutions of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the fight against all forms of racism, xenophobia and intolerance, as well as all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Italy is part of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), a platform for international cooperation promoting the exchange of information and good practices on the rights of LGBTI persons. Italy is also part of the Global Equality Fund (GEF), an international fund set up in 2011, on the initiative of the US, to finance projects for protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people.

Women’s Rights

A country’s political, civil, social and economic development cannot take place without the full participation and involvement of women on an equal basis in decision-making, government choices and  training and educational processes. Despite the significant progress made in recent decades, women and girls continue to be victims of physical and psychological violence, exploitation and heinous trafficking in many areas of the world.

Italy is strongly committed both bilaterally and multilaterally to the promotion of gender equality and female empowerment. Italy is part of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), actively participates in the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and supports the numerous initiatives promoted on these issues each year within the UN. Italy has played an active role in pushing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) which came into force in August 2014 and continues to encourage the widest support for this Convention.

Italy often puts forth specific recommendations to third countries regarding women’s rights and to combat violence against women in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which monitors the human rights situation in UN member states every four years in Geneva.

Italy is actively engaged in international campaigns for the eradication of female genital mutilation (FGM) and early and forced marriages, not only via its diplomatic and negotiation channels but also through development cooperation. It promotes and actively participates in negotiations regarding the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council resolutions on these issues.

Italy supports international initiatives for the prevention of sexual violence in conflicts and emergencies, specifically the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflicts Initiative and the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies. Within the framework of the zero tolerance policy towards acts of sexual exploitation and abuse, in September 2017 Italy joined the “Circle of Leadership” launched by the UN Secretary General Guterres to combat sexual abuse by UN civilian and military personnel and has signed the Voluntary Compact, through which it politically commits to roll out measures to prevent and combat sexual exploitation and abuse.

Italy is also active in its support for the Women, Peace and Security Agenda with actions fostering women’s participation in conflict resolution and the promotion of durable peace as well as initiatives that encourage the full and active participation of women in conflict prevention, management and resolution and post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Italy has supported the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 31.10.2000 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) since it was first presented and has pushed for its full implementation as well as that of similar resolutions put forth within the UN, EU and NATO in following years. The WPS Agenda was included as one of Italy’s priorities within its mandate as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and its G7 Presidency in 2017. Implementation of the Agenda has also been promoted within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during Italy’s 2018 Presidency. Italy is part of the WPS National Focal Points Network and the European Union’s Informal Task Force on UNSCR 1325. As part of Italy’s mandate in the Security Council, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, together with the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and Women in International Security Italy (WIIS Italy), has launched a Mediterranean Women Mediators Network (MWMN) that will continue to work even beyond the time limit of the mandate. The Network, founded at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation headquarters on October 26, 2017, is among the activities laid out in Italy’s Third National Action Plan for the  Implementation of UNSCR 1325.

In the two years since the launch event, the Network has grown in terms of participation and skills, also thanks to training courses organised for mediators and the numerous networking opportunities offered. The Network has started to consolidate at the local level, with the opening of the first Antennas in Cyprus (17 May 2019) and Turkey (29 June 2019) and the start of preparations for setting up Antennas in other Mediterranean countries. One of the main successes achieved so far by MWMN, recognised on several occasions by various partners and by the United Nations itself, is the participation of the Network’s Libyan mediators in the Palermo Conference for Libya, in support of the 4 official women delegates attending. Collaboration with the United Nations (in particular, with the Office of the Secretary General, DPPA, Mediation Support Unit and UNWomen) and similar regional networks has also been strengthened, leading, among other things, to the creation of the Global Alliance of Regional Networks of Women Mediators, officially launched on 26 September last in New York, on the sidelines of the General Conference opening the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations. The event was jointly organized by the existing Regional Women Mediators Networks (the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network; FemWise – Africa, part of the African Union’s peace and security architecture; the Nordic Women Mediators; Women Mediators across the Commonwealth, launched by the United Kingdom) and the countries and regional organisations that support them, including Italy. The creation of the Global Alliance aims to increase the participation and influence of women in peace processes, at all levels, through shared and concerted actions between networks that have specific characteristics, but pursue the same goals. The Alliance, which will maintain an informal nature, is therefore destined to embody a collective voice and to amplify the effectiveness of the actions by the individual networks, which will maintain their identities and characteristics.

On 3 and 4 December 2019, in collaboration with UNWomen, Italy organised a high-level seminar at the Foreign Ministry on “Strengthening women’s participation in peace processes. What roles and responsibilities for Member States?”. This event represented a fruitful discussion on the causes of the limited participation of women in peace processes; identifying concrete and innovative solutions to overcome them; undertaking specific commitments to ensure the effective and meaningful involvement of women in peace negotiations. The Seminar was also an important opportunity to confirm and enhance the role and commitment of our country in this specific sector and, more generally, for implementing the WPS Agenda, making it possible to highlight the most significant results achieved in recent years, with regard to concrete and specific projects implemented and/or promoted by Italy. With this in mind, we announced at the event our firm support for the “Commitment 2025” initiative, recently launched by Spain and Finland, which is in line with the Italian priorities. The Seminar was attended by all the mediators and experts in mediation that are part of MWMN, as well as government representatives of Member States; high-level representatives of the United Nations and regional organizations (EU, AU, ECOWAS, OSCE, NATO, League of Arab States); representatives of other regional networks of women mediators; representatives of civil society.

At national level, in December 2016, Italy adopted the third National Action Plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. The Plan covers the 2016-2020 period and was drawn up with the active contribution of civil society. Including 7 Objectives and 44 Actions, it envisages qualifying initiatives on a national and international level. Ad hoc funds have been allocated by Parliament for the implementation of the Plan. Italy has thus become one of the few countries that ensure governmental contribution for the implementation of Agenda 1325 (2000).

At national level, in December 2016, Italy adopted the third National Action Plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. The Plan covers the 2016-2020 period and was drawn up with the active contribution of civil society. Including 7 Objectives and 44 Actions, it contains qualifying initiatives at national and international level. The Italian Parliament has earmarked ad hoc funds for the implementation of the Plan and Italy is now amongst the few countries that ensure a government contribution for the implementation of Agenda 1325 (2000).

Children’s Rights

Children are one of the vulnerable groups most exposed to human rights violations, especially in areas with armed conflict, post-conflict settings and in situations of underdevelopment, extreme poverty and social tensions.

Among the numerous initiatives to protect childhood and to promote the rights of minors taken at multilateral level, special mention should be made of the annual Resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly and of the Human Rights Council on the rights of the child, that were presented by the European Union jointly with the Group of Latin American Countries.

Italy supports initiatives aimed at protecting the rights of children in armed conflicts, implementing the principles laid out by the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict of 2000. Italy’s commitment in this area led to the adoption in the EU of the Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflicts and, within the UN, the inclusion of specific provisions for the protection of children in the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations.

Italy was one of the first signatory countries to the “Safe School Declaration”, adopted in Oslo in 2015 with the aim of protecting education even in the context of armed conflict. It is constantly raising awareness of the Declaration, promoting it in all the relevant forums of the General Assembly and in the Security Council, and actively participating in all International Conferences on the Declaration (most recently, Palma Di Majorca in June 2019).

At the 33rd International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent (Geneva, 9-12 December 2019), Italy presented a solemn commitment open to other countries (the so-called “open pledge”) to take all necessary actions to ensure that children can live in safety and enjoy their fundamental rights even in situations of conflict. The commitment promoted by Italy is aimed at preventing violence against children, also through initiatives aimed at providing continuity in education and facilitating access to humanitarian operations for children in conflict zones, as well as through awareness campaigns against the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

Freedom of Belief and Religion

Given the several challenges affecting the peaceful coexistence of different religious groups in many parts of the world, Italy has been working with determination for a more effective international action for the protection of freedom of religion or belief and the rights of religious minorities.

Every year Italy, together with other EU Member States, promotes a Resolution at the UN General Assembly and at the Human Rights Council on the freedom of religion or belief, condemning all forms of religious intolerance and discrimination. At European level, mention should also be made of the “EU Guidelines on the freedom of religion or belief” adopted in 2013, aimed at intensifying the European Union’s action against Third Countries in the field of freedom of religion. At the initiative of Italy, the Guidelines also refer to the right to collectively exercise freedom of religion aimed at protecting minority religious groups.

Italy is also a member of the International Contact Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief (ICG – FORB), an inter-regional platform of more than twenty countries created in 2015 to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in the world, by promoting good practices, identifying restrictive rules and practices regarding freedom of religion or belief, and the rights of religious minorities, and collaborating with a number of non-governmental partners, including religious organisations, civil society and universities.

Within the framework of international action to combat anti-Semitism, Italy has been participating since 1999 in the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), established in 1998 upon the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Initially, it was the “Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research”, turned in 2000 (with the “Stockholm Declaration”) into an intergovernmental body with the same mandate. In 2018, Italy assumed the (annual) Presidency of the IHRA, hosting in Rome (May) and Ferrara (November), the two traditional Plenary Sessions of the Alliance, attended by 34 Member Countries, 9 Observer Countries and International Organisations with the rank of Permanent Observers (including the United Nations, the Council of Europe, OSCE, UNESCO and, from 2018, the European Union).

The Italian Delegation to the IHRA is appointed by decree of the Minister of Education. Traditionally headed by a diplomatic official (currently His Excellency Ambassador Luigi Maccotta, Minister Plenipotentiary), it counts among its members the National Coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism (Prof. Milena Santerini), officials of the Ministry of Education, experts/representatives of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The experts of the Italian Delegation edited the translation into Italian of the Guidelines adopted by the IHRA in 2020 for ” Recognising and debating the Distortion of the Shoa “, supplementing them with a preface by Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi and an introduction focused on the Italian situation.

Protection of cultural heritage

Italy promotes renewed action by the International Community in defence of the cultural heritage, which is the cradle of every civilization and the foundation of the historical identity and prosperity of societies. The right of access to and enjoyment of cultural heritage contributes to ensuring stability, peace and international security, and the destruction of our heritage, besides being a violation of international law, has a harmful impact on the stability and coexistence of peoples and communities. In this regard, our country fully supports the action taken by UNESCO to protect the cultural heritage in crisis areas, through the creation – on the basis of an Italian proposal – of a mechanism for emergency interventions and, in February 2016, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO, which, within the framework of the “United4Heritage” coalition, provides an “Italian Task Force” to UNESCO, with the participation of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (TPC).

In 2017, Italy supported and promoted initiatives on this issue also within the G7 Presidency and its mandate as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and during the Italian Presidency of the OSCE in 2018. In particular, in March 2017, Italy, together with France, promoted a Security Council Resolution on the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against the illegal trafficking of cultural goods. Resolution 2347, adopted unanimously on 4 March 2017, contains important provisions which, if implemented by all players within the international community, will help combat ethnic and religious violence, also facilitating, in the longer term, the peace-building and national reconciliation processes. 

Rights of the disabled

Italy is strongly committed to protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities, with a special focus on disabled people in emergency and post-conflict situations. The Italian commitment is aimed, in particular, at removing any attitudinal and environmental barriers preventing the full and effective participation of disabled people in society. Italy is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, encouraging the widest possible adherence to the Convention and promoting its fundamental principles globally. We are committed to the development and implementation of awareness programs designed to improve the understanding of the needs of people with disabilities, also through numerous Italian Cooperation initiatives.

Fight against human trafficking

Human trafficking is a serious violation of human rights – to the point of representing a crime against humanity – and represents a serious threat to international peace and security. Italy is strongly committed to the issue, based on an approach centred on victims and their rights, with a special focus on the most vulnerable groups, including women and children. The Italian action, implemented in partnership with civil society and the United Nations, forcefully prioritises prevention and protection, including the legal protection of victims. We are party to the United Nations Convention against Organised Crime and its Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, promoting the widest possible adherence to this Protocol. Within the United Nations, we strongly support the activities and initiatives of the Special Rapporteur on the fight against trafficking in persons. Italy is also a party to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (the so-called Warsaw Convention) and supports the activities of the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on the subject (GRETA) which, among other things, also monitors the implementation of the Convention.

Human Rights Defenders

According to the definition contained in EU Guidelines, “human rights defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human rights defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realisation of economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights defenders also promote and protect the rights of members of groups such as indigenous communities.”

Italy recognises the central role that human rights defenders play in promoting a culture of respect of human rights and in supporting the victims of rape and abuse and is firmly convinced that an active civil society contributes to building inclusive, stable and prosperous societies. Italy is committed to defending the safety and rights of human rights defenders and will continue to actively support them and enhance its efforts against all forms of retaliation against them. In this respect Italy, in close coordination with its EU and OSCE member partners, promotes the enforcement of EU and OSCE guidelines on the matter, which constitute important working instruments for the whole diplomatic and consular network

During the Italian OSCE Chairmanship 2018, we hosted an international workshop at the Foreign Ministry dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders.

EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders: homepage_en/3958/EU%20Guidelines%20on%20Human%20Rights%20Defenders

OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: 

Human rights education

Italy supports multilateral initiatives aimed at strengthening the promotion of human rights education, thus contributing to promoting respect for human dignity, fostering the development of the culture of dialogue and mutual understanding, contributing to strengthening the effective protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the State and civil society.

Among these initiatives, the R2P in Schools project, designed by Italy as part of its mandate in the UN Security Council, was launched in January 2018. The project, carried out by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with the Italian Ministry of University and Research, seeks to promulgate the principles of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) in schools and raise student awareness about the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and the importance of establishing and implementing international principles to protect the civilian population.

Business and human rights

Italy, together with the other EU Member States, is strongly committed internationally to supporting Business and Human Rights. The basis of the EU’s commitment are the “United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”, approved in 2011 by the Human Rights Council. In light of these principles, the EU has adopted both voluntary instruments and a set of binding rules on due diligence and access to remedy.

In 2016, Italy was among the first countries in the world to adopt – through a complex multi-stakeholder process – a five-year National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles. In 2018, Italy carried out a very innovative mid-term review of the document, consistently adopting an inclusive approach based on extensive consultations with industry experts and representatives of the business world, trade unions and non-governmental organizations. The wide-ranging Plan features over fifty measures and its implementation is managed by a steering group.

In 2014, preliminary discussions commenced in the Human Rights Council on the possibility of developing a legally binding international instrument on the human rights responsibilities of transnational corporations and enterprises.