Italy condemned for Genoa G8 'torture'

ECHR urges introduction of anti-torture law

(ANSA) - Strasbourg, April 7 - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Tuesday condemned Italy and called for legislative changes after "torture" during a police raid in July 2001 on anti-globalization protestors at the Diaz school during a Group of Eight summit in Genoa.
    The court condemned Italy not only for what happened to the demonstrators, but also because it said the country lacks appropriate legislation to punish the crime of torture.
    In response, a member of Matteo Renzi's ruling Democratic Party (PD) said an anti-torture bill mandating sentences of up to 12 years would now be hastened.
    The Diaz raid is perhaps Italy's most notorious case of police brutality.
    In the night assault on the Diaz school, hundreds of police attacked about 100 activists and a few journalists, wounding 82 and seriously injuring 61 - three critically and one, British journalist Mark Covell, left in a coma with rib and spinal injuries.
    Officers planted evidence including two Molotov cocktails and hammers and knives from a nearby construction site to justify the raid.
    Amnesty International called the event "the most serious suspension of democratic rights in a Western country since the Second World War".
    In its ruling Tuesday, the ECHR upheld a complaint from a 62-year-old Italian, Arnaldo Cestaro, who was brutally beaten that night and still suffers from the injuries he sustained.
    It noted that none of the officers who actually inflicted the beatings are serving jail time, because of the statute of limitations, and urged Italy to rectify this, especially by introducing the crime of torture.
    The head of an association campaigning for inmates' rights, Patrizio Gonnella of Antigone, hailed the ruling and said it was now "high time" for parliament to pass a bill on torture which has been bogged down in parliament for over two years.
    Gonnella was echoed by Paolo Ferraro of the far-left Communist refoundation party and veteran Radical Party heavyweight Marco Pannella who both called the case "shameful" and called for "urgent action to finally punish those responsible".
    Ferraro said the episode was one of the "blackest" in Italian history and had resulted in "impunity" while Pannella called for "mass mobilisation against this infamy".
    The Green Italia movement said the ECHR ruling "puts down in black and white what a distorted sense of loyalty to the State has always denied, that there was a deliberate plan to inflict institutional violence and a definite chain of command to implement this".
    In the aftermath of the event it took a long time to bring any police to justice.
    Eventually 17 officers were convicted of fraud for planting evidence and making false statements while others were convicted for inflicting disproportionate violence - but those brutality convictions subsequently timed out.
    In January last year three top policemen were placed under house arrest to serve the remainder of their sentences for the Diaz raid.
    The three, including the former No.3 in the Italian police force, Francesco Gratteri, and the ex-head of the Digos anti-terrorism police in Genoa, Spartaco Mortola, received custodial sentences which were never enforced, like all the other police convicted.
    They have recently served out the remaining year of their terms at home - cut to nine months for good behaviour.
    The trio, also including retired former inspector Giovanni Luperi, had appeals to do the time performing community service turned down.
    At the time, the house-arrest terms were greeted as "at least something" by Vittorio Agnoletto, spokesman for the Genoa Social Forum, an anti-globalisation group bunking at the school whose peaceful protests were hijacked by violent anarchists during three days of mayhem that saw a protester shot dead by a policeman he was attacking.
    Agnoletto and others have claimed some of the violence from the so-called 'black bloc' was started by agents provocateurs.
    "After almost 13 years, three of the highest-ranking policemen have been arrested for the 'Mexican butchery' of that night at the Diaz school in July 2001," Agnoletto said in January 2014.
    On Tuesday Agnoletto hailed the EHCR ruling, saying it had highlighted the inability to punish culprits because of the lack of a specific anti-torture law.
    "The consequences were light penalties for those responsible, none of whom spent even a day in jail and all remained at their posts, with many of those convicted actually being promoted," said the anti-globalisation leader.
    Agnoletto described as "fitting and shareable" the court sentence but said it was also an "announced disgrace". "To the indifference of Italian politicians the European Court rightly condemns us for failing to respect fundamental human rights," said Agnoletto.
    "Fourteen years on from the G8 summit in Genoa and over 30 years after the signing of the international convention against torture this crime has still not been introduced into our criminal code," Agnoletto continued. "Consequently those responsible received only mild punishment, none of them spent even a day in jail and all - except those removed automatically by the judges - remained in their posts and many of those convicted even received promotions," he said. "A police force that acts within a legal framework should not fear the institution of the crime of torture; otherwise this would mean taking for granted that in performing their duties the forces of law and order act against and above the law, and this is unacceptable in any state of law," Agnoletto continued. "Now an ad hoc law can no longer be delayed and the silence of the government over such a sensitive issue is unacceptable," he concluded. Officials have repeatedly rejected appeals for a parliamentary inquiry into the July 2001 G8 summit violence, the raid and the subsequent brutal mistreatment of protesters, including rape threats, at a Genoa barracks.
    The incidents are depicted in the acclaimed 2012 film Diaz - Don't Clean Up This Blood.
    The national police chief at the time, Gianni De Gennaro, was appointed head of State-controlled defence and aerospace giant Finmeccanica in July 2013.
    De Gennaro, who ordered the raid to redeem the image of a police force that took a battering during the days of anarchy, was cleared of making subordinates commit perjury.
    De Gennaro was the only ranking officer to escape nominal punishment.
    Several foreign governments voiced concern after the scale of brutality emerged.
    The then Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi defended the police's actions while successive governments of all stripes played them down.
    An Italian prosecutor in the case said Tuesday the verdict was "only to be expected".
    "What happened at the Diaz school was a distillation of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights," said Enrico Zucca.
    "What wasn't to be expected was the attitude of all the governments and competent ministers who continually ignored what Italian justice had itself established," he added.
    "Ears are deaf because they don't want to listen," he said.
    When prosecutors said police brutality at summit had included "torture" they were "considered mad", he said.
    "We had merely cited the principles of the European Court of Justice," said Enrico Zucca.
    "What happened is extremely serious for Italy because it saw the involvement of top-ranking police officials," the prosecutor continued.
    "The picture is very distressing because most of the abuses have not been prosecuted. We need to be able to prevent events of this nature and in Italy there are no antidotes within the respective corps," Zucca said. Genoa Mayor Marco Doria also hailed the ruling. "The Strasbourg court's sentence recognises the tragic reality of the violence perpetrated at the Diaz school and lays bare the responsibility of a legislation that does not envisage the crime of torture, and therefore leaves the guilty substantially unpunished," he said.
    In response to the outcry, PD MP Emanuele Fiano said parliament could begin examining a law introducing the crime of torture this week.
    "The ruling by the Strasbourg court reopens a wound that has never fully healed," Fiano said.
    "For this reason we are about to introduce the crime of torture taken precisely as specific and aggravating malice in those who use violence without justification or to extort statements and inflict punishments," he continued. "With this law, which we will start voting this week, we also want to heal the wound for our state of law represented by the events of Genoa," Fiano concluded. The chair of the House justice committee, Donatella Ferranti of the PD, said she hoped that "this bill will swiftly be approved by all sides in both houses". Cestaro himself, the victim who brought the suit, said: "This ruling is a very important thing. It must be applied immediately. "The law on torture is fair. What I saw is a shameful thing in a democratic system".
    Casting his eye back onto the night of the raid, he said: "it was a massacre...all those kids calling for their mothers".
    Urbino University psychoanalyst Antonello Colli said the events in Genoa "left their mark on a whole generation, not just on the young people who suffered directly".
   

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