Serious police violence against protesters at the G8 summit is torture and inhuman and degrading treatment

JUDGMENT 

Azzolina and others v. Italy 26-10-2017 (no. 28923/09 and 67599/10)

Blair and others v. Italy (no. 1442/14, 21319/14 and 21911/14) 

SUMMARY 

Genoa July 2001. G8  Summit and mass demonstrations against globalization. Hundreds of injuries, verbal insults, tear gas sprains and serious police violence constitute acts of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. Insufficient investigation and impunity for perpetrators. Infringement of Article 3 of the ECHR.

PROVISION

Article  3

PRINCIPAL FACTS 

The applicants in these five cases are 59 individuals of various nationalities.

The Italian city of Genoa hosted the 28th G8 Summit from 19 to 21 July 2001. An anti-globalisation summit was also staged in the city at the same time and was attended by between 200,000 and 300,000 people. A large number of demonstrations were organised during that event, some of which led to clashes between the law-enforcement agencies and demonstrators. These confrontations caused hundreds of injuries on both sides. Whole neighbourhoods of the city were also severely damaged.

Arrangements were put in place to deal with the individuals arrested during the demonstrations. In particular, two temporary centres, the Forte San Giuliano and Bolzaneto barracks, were used as holding areas for arrestees before their transfer to various prisons.

The applicants, who were arrested and taken to the Bolzaneto barracks between 20 and 22 July, stayed there for one or two days before being transferred. They alleged that they had been subjected to violence there at the hands of the police and the medical staff. In particular, they claimed to have sustained bodily injury and insults, been sprayed with irritant gas, had their personal effects destroyed and been subjected to other forms of ill-treatment. They had not been provided with appropriate treatment for their injuries at any stage, as the violence had continued during the medical examinations.

Following these events the Genoa public prosecutor’s office commenced criminal proceedings against 145 individuals, including a deputy police commissioner, police officers and medical staff. On 14 July 2008, 15 of the defendants were sentenced to between nine months’ and five years’ imprisonment and were temporarily barred from holding public office. Ten of them were granted stays of execution of sentence, three were granted complete remission of sentence and two were granted a three-year remission of sentence. The court held that inhuman and degrading treatment had demonstrably been inflicted, but that the difficulties with identifying the perpetrators and  he fact that Italian criminal law lacked any criminal offence of torture had complicated the process of convicting the guilty parties. An appeal judgment of 5 March 2010 overturned the aforementioned judgment in part, on the grounds that a number of offences had become statute-barred. However, the Court of Appeal emphasised that the credibility of the witness statements and the seriousness of  the violence were beyond doubt and held that the sustained, systematic abuse suffered by the applicants had been intended to break down their psychological and physical resistance and had had serious consequences for the victims, with after-effects persisting long after the end of their detention. On 14 June 2013 the Court of Cassation upheld that judgment, observing that virtually all
the offences had become statute-barred.

THE DECISION OF THE COURT 

Following a friendly-settlement agreement with the Italian Government the applications were struck out of the list with regard to four applicants in the case of Blair and Others v. Italy and seven applicants in the case of Azzolina and Others v. Italy. These eleven applicants each received 45,000 euros (EUR) in respect of pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage and the costs and expenses incurred in the domestic proceedings and before the Court.

Article 3

In the case of Azzolina and Others v. Italy the Italian Government raised several preliminary
objections. They maintained in particular that, as a result of the judicial proceedings before the
domestic courts, the applicants had obtained at least partial recognition of the alleged violations and
been granted compensation in the form of damages. As a result, they could no longer claim victim
status. Furthermore, as the proceedings were still pending, they had not exhausted domestic
criminal remedies.

The Court considered that the applicants, who had lodged their applications more than eight years
after the events, could not be criticised for not awaiting the judgment of the Court of Cassation,
especially in view of the application of the statute of limitations and the remissions of sentence. It
decided to join to the merits the Government’s preliminary objection that the applicants no longer
had victim status following the proceedings before the domestic courts, and the objection of failure
to exhaust domestic civil remedies.

Ill-treatment of the applicants

The Court noted that the ill-treatment of the applicants had been established by the domestic courts
in detailed and thorough fashion, and that the witness testimony had been corroborated by the
statements of police officers and public officials, the defendants’ partial confessions, the medical
reports and the court-ordered expert reports. The Court therefore considered that the physical and
verbal abuse to which the applicants had been subjected, and the after-effects arising from it, were
established. It observed that this treatment had occurred over a significant period of time without
the intensity of the violence diminishing. Furthermore, it had taken place in an overall context of
excessive and indiscriminate use of force that had been manifestly disproportionate.

Lastly, the Court highlighted the serious breach on the part of members of the police force of their
professional duty to protect persons, in a situation where the applicants, having been placed in
police custody, had been particularly vulnerable. All of these factors, in the Court’s view, had
combined to make the applicants’ place of detention a place of “lawlessness” in which their most
fundamental safeguards had been withheld.

Consequently, since the acts of violence to which the applicants had been subjected were to be
considered as acts of torture, the Court found a violation of Article 3.

The ensuing investigation

While recognising the efforts made by the domestic courts in the investigation, the Court noted that
the lack of cooperation by the police, coupled with the fact that the applicants had not been allowed
to look at the police officers while they were in detention, had made it difficult if not impossible to
identify most of the perpetrators, who had therefore gone unpunished. The Court observed that of
45 persons committed for trial, the Court of Cassation had upheld the conviction of only eight police
officers or senior officials, and that all the persons convicted had been granted either a remission of
sentence or a stay of execution, with the result that, in practice, nobody had spent a single day in
prison for the ill-treatment of the applicants.

The Court stressed that the length of the proceedings and the application of the statute of
limitations to most of the offences had not been caused, in the present case, by prevarication or
negligence on the part of the prosecuting authorities and the domestic courts, but by structural
shortcomings in the Italian legal system. The problem stemmed from the fact that no existing criminal offence was capable of encompassing the issues raised by possible acts of torture against
individuals.

In its judgment of 7 April 2015 in the case of Cestaro v. Italy the Court had already found the
domestic criminal legislation to be both inadequate and lacking in preventive effect. It had ruled that
Italy should equip itself with legal instruments capable of imposing the appropriate sanctions on the
perpetrators of acts of torture or ill-treatment and of ensuring that they did not benefit from the
statute of limitations or obtain a remission of their sentence. In the present case the Court took note
of the entry into force on 18 July 2017 of new legislation introducing the offence of torture into
domestic law.

With regard to disciplinary measures the Court observed that the police officers concerned had not
been suspended from duty during the trial, nor was it clear from the Government’s observations
whether they had been the subject of disciplinary action. The Court reiterated that where State
agents had been charged with offences involving ill-treatment, it was important that they should be
suspended from duty while being investigated or tried and should be dismissed if convicted.
In sum, the Court considered that the applicants had not had the benefit of an effective official
investigation. It therefore found a violation of Article 3.

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

In the case of Blair and Others v. Italy the Court held that Italy was to pay EUR 10,000 each to
Ms Menegon and Mr Spingi and EUR 70,000 each to the remaining 22 applicants in respect of
non-pecuniary damage, and EUR 40,320 in respect of costs and expenses to 13 of the applicants in
application no. 21911/14.

In the case of Azzolina and Others v. Italy the Court held that Italy was to pay, by way of
non-pecuniary damage, EUR 85,000 to Mr Azzolina and EUR 80,000 each to the 23 remaining
applicants(echrcaselaw.com editing). 


ECHRCaseLaw

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