Italy’s Actions for Human Rights
Italy's actions to protect human rights in the world have encompassed campaigning for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, promoting the rights of women and girls —specifically through campaigns against female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages—, safeguarding and promoting children's rights, defending freedom of belief and religion and protecting the rights of religious minorities.
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.
Italy attaches the highest priority to the international campaign for a moratorium on capital punishment. Thanks to the joint commitment of institutions and civil society, 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.
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 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 December 2016, Italy adopted its Third National Action Plan for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at a national level. Drawn up with the active contribution of the civil society, the 2016-2019 Plan contains qualifying initiatives to be carried out at the national and international levels. 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 the WPS Agenda.
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.
The international agenda for the protection of the rights of children in armed conflict nowadays also includes initiatives aimed at strengthening the protection of schools and hospitals in areas of conflict, in order to ensure continuity of education and the delivery of effective care to the victims of 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 has called for renewed action by the international community to defend cultural and religious heritage, a key element to secure respect for the freedom of religion and to protect the historical and cultural identity of a society. Italy fully supports the action undertaken by UNESCO to safeguard the cultural heritage of areas of conflict and crises through the establishment of a rapid intervention mechanism proposed by Italy. Within the coalition United4Heritage, in February 2016, Italy and UNESCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding which makes the services of the Italian Task Force (which includes the Carabinieri division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage) available to UNESCO.
In 2017, Italy supported and promoted initiatives on freedom of religion and belief within its G7 Presidency and its mandate as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. In particular, in March 2017, together with France, Italy promoted a Security Council Resolution on the protection of cultural heritage and the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural heritage goods. Resolution 2347 was adopted unanimously on March 4, 2017. The resolution lays out important provisions which, if implemented by all the actors in the international community, will help combat ethnic and religious violence and streamline processes of pacification and national reconciliation in the long term.
Human Rights Education
Italy supports multilateral initiatives aimed at strengthening the promotion of human rights education. Human rights education is a fundamental instrument through which individuals are made effectively aware of their rights and the means they can use to protect them. Human rights education helps promote respect for human dignity, fosters the building of a culture of dialogue and mutual understanding, strengthens the solid protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms by state institutions and civil society. Education (which takes place in formal and informal education institutions) and training (for the people responsible for protecting and promoting human rights as part of their job profile) concern all life stages.
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.
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.
EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters- homepage_en/3958/EU%20Guidelines%20on%20Human%20Rights%20Defenders
OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines on the Protection Human Rights Defenders: https://www.osce.org/odihr/guidelines-on-the-protection-of-human-rights-defenders