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Italy: blocking investigation of Matteo Salvini would undermine the rule of law, urges ICJ

GENEVA: The ICJ today called for the Italian Senate to allow for the investigation of the Minister of Interior and Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, Matteo Salvini, for his role in the alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty of some 177 persons, including potential refugees, held for five days on the “U-Diciotti” boat last summer.
The ICJ said that the Italian Senate’s Commission on Elections and Immunities should recommend the authorization of the criminal investigation to the full Senate, where Matteo Salvini also sits as a Senator.
“The decision on investigation of gross human rights violations such as mass and arbitrary deprivation of liberty should not be subject to political scrutiny but be left to the assessment of the judiciary,” said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser for the ICJ Europe Programme.
The indictment for “kidnapping” against Minister Salvini has already been approved at the judicial stage by the Tribunal of Ministers of Catania, which affirmed that Minister Salvini is alleged to have abused his administrative power in this matter for the political goal of negotiating resettlements with other European countries.
“No human being should effectively be made hostage for the purpose of political negotiations,” said Massimo Frigo.
“It does not matter which country may have been primarily responsible for the rescue at sea. No authority may arbitrarily restrict of the right to liberty of 177 human beings,” he added.
The ICJ considers that it is highly problematic for the principle of the rule of law that the decision on prosecution for a crime underlying a gross violation of human rights, such as kidnapping, be entrusted to a political body.
This decision should be left to the judiciary based on legal and not political grounds.
Under international human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, States have an obligation to investigate, prosecute, try and, if found guilty, convict persons responsible of gross violations of human rights, among which counts the arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
This applies to all State officials, irrespective of their position of authority.
Massimo Frigo, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser, t: +41 22 979 38 05 ; e: massimo.frigo(a)icj.org
The Italian “U. Diciotti” boat was at the centre of a political scandal last August when the Minister of Interior Matteo Salvini refused disembarkation of 177 people for several days in order to negotiate their resettlement with other European countries.
While the boat entered Italian waters on 20 August, they were eventually disembarked in the night between Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 August after some countries and the catholic church made some nominal declaration of resettlement or reception.
Minister Salvini was later accused of “kidnapping” for having arbitrarily deprived of their liberty the 177 persons on board the “U.Diciotti”. While the prosecutor in the case asked for the dismissal of the charges, the Tribunal of Ministers, composed of ordinary judges, that is responsible for the legal assessment of the indictment, held the indictment to be in accordance with the law and that sufficient suspicion existed to warrant an investigation.
According to article 96 of the Constitution and articles 8-9 of the Constitutional Law no. 1 of 16 January 1989, it is up to the Parliament  to authorize the investigation and prosecution of a Minister. The decision would therefore be up to the Senate in the case of Minister Salvini, as he is a Senator. The Senate may refuse by absolute majority, if it considers “that the person has acted for the protection of a State interest that is constitutionally relevant or for the pursuance of a preminent public interest in the function of Government” (unofficial translation). No appeal is possible against this decision.
Reportedly, the President of the Council of Ministers, Giuseppe Conte, the Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, Luigi Di Maio, and the Minister Danilo Toninelli, have submitted observations to the Senate’s Committee holding that the decision in the case was the reflecting the line of the whole Government and not only of the Minister of Interior.

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