The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Italy is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Italy is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.

At regional level, Italy is a state party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Constitutional Provisions

According to Article 17 of the 1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic: "Citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and unarmed." In addition:

No previous notice is required for meetings, including those held in places open to the public. In case of meetings held in public places, previous notice shall be given to the authorities, who may prohibit them only for proven reason of security or public safety.

National Legislation

Legislation dating back to the 1931 Consolidated Law on Public Security establishes that notification must be given at least three days in advance. Media is guaranteed access to public assemblies, but the authorities can establish time and place limitations. Security forces can legally disperse a protest if is considered seditious, damaging to the prestige of the authorities, or threatening to the public order or the safety of citizens.

The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies

The Use of Force

International Legal Rules

Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:

In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.

National Legislation

The right to use force to disperse unlawful assemblies is contained in the Consolidated Law on Public Security,Art. 24, Consolidated Law on Public Security.a body of law elaborated in 1931 by the then Fascist government. This body of law regulates the possibility of police forces to act in the interest of public safety.

The Use of Firearms

International Legal Rules

According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life. 

National Legislation

With respect to police use of firearms, Article 53 of the 1975 Penal Code (Lawful Use of Arms) provides that 

a public officer shall not be punishable if, for the purpose of performing a duty of his office, he uses or orders the use of arms or other means of physical coercion when he is compelled to do so by the necessity of repelling violence or overcoming resistance to authority or to prevent the crimes of massacre, shipwreck, sinking, aviation disaster, railway disaster, willful homicide, armed robbery, and false imprisonment. 

It is, however, explicitly stated that the law "shall define the other cases in which use of arms or other means of physical coercion is authorized". In fact, the use of firearms has been left to judicial interpretation.

State Compliance with its Legal Obligations

Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies

In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Italy, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.

Regional Jurisprudence

There has been no finding by the European Court of Human Rights of a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by Italy in recent years.

Referring to the Europride of June 2011 and its counter-demonstration, in 2014, in the context of the Universal Periodic Review of Italy under the UN Human Rights Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) stated that Italian law enforcement authorities did not adequately facilitate simultaneous assemblies. OSCE ODIHR indicated, although counter-demonstrations might give rise to public safety and security considerations, any restrictions imposed on assemblies should only be based on legitimate grounds and objective evidence under international human rights law.

Downloads

1948 Constitution of the Italian Republic (English version) - Download (255 KB)
1931 Consolidated Law on Public Security
Dritsas and others v. Italy (2011) (French original) - Download (462 KB)
OSCE-ODIHR_UPR of Italy (2014) - Download (172 KB)