Statewatch News online: France to extradite Italian exiles

Support our work: become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.

France to extradite Italian exiles

Roberto Castelli, Italian Justice Minister met his French counterpart Dominique Perben in Paris on 11 September 2002 to discuss the position of Italian refugees sought by Italian authorities for crimes dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. The Italians have been living in France without risking extradition due to former president Mitterand´s decision in 1985 that those who had turned their back on "that damned machine of terrorism" would not be extradited, except for exceptionally serious cases, that would be examined by French judicial authorities on a case by case basis. The French government of the time, as well as other external observers, including Amnesty International, said that defendants were denied a fair trial under Italian emergency legislation, in force in Italy since 1976.

The French government extradited Unita Comuniste Combattenti (a Brigate Rosse off-shoot) suspect Paolo Persichetti to Italy on 25 August 2002, indicating that the policy that has been operating since 1985 may be reviewed. Persichetti fled to France after he was sentenced to 22 years in prison by the appeal court for "moral participation" in the murder of general Licio Giorgeri in 1987. He had been found innocent in the first trial. The 40-year-old rebuilt his life as a teacher in the Paris VIII university in Saint Denis, and spent a year in prison in Paris in 1994-1995 while the French authorities studied an extradition request that was turned down.

Following his extradition he is in Rebibbia prison in Rome, with 17 years left to serve. In a letter to Il manifesto newspaper on 13 September, Persichetti claims that his extradition was a result of "base ingredients" such as "a new justice that is only concerned with knocking down barriers, controlling territory, annihilating protections and guarantees", a post 11 September environment where "scapegoats carry out a reassuring function" and an Italian situation in which, following events in Naples and Genoa, police and anti-terrorist units have been discredited.

French-Italian cooperation in the fight against terrorism will result in the establishment of a working group that will meet at regular intervals. Perben agreed that, on request from Italy, the working group would analyse cases involving crimes committed after 1982 in relation to possible extradition. However, cases involving persons who committed the crimes in question before 1982 would be exempted, unless they involved "exceptionally serious crimes", and the cases under scrutiny would be examined, according to Perben, "in the light of the European Convention of Human Rights and of the conditions under which the trials in Italy took place, the crucial factor for a French decision." He acknowledged the policy shift, claiming that "We want to show our solidarity with European countries in the fight against terrorism".

Any changes in the policy would only apply to cases involving crimes committed between 1982 and 1993. In fact, cases following 1993 will be retroactively covered by the European arrest warrant on 1 January 2004. The arrest warrant, that will come into force in five EU countries (France, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg and Spain) that agreed early implementation on 1 January 2003, and establishes automatic extradition, abolishing any assessment by extraditing authorities of judicial decisions by courts in EU member states requesting extradition beyond the formal procedural scrutiny of extradition requests. The European arrest warrant will apply to a growing list of crimes (they are currently 32).

An appeal by Italians addressed to French public opinion opposed to extraditions stresses that events are being de-contextualised and on the fact that "emergency legislative and judicial measures" introduced "in an attempt to put out a protest movement" numbering hundreds of thousands of adherents resulted in "summary judgments, extensive use of informants, coercive means to extract confessions, sentences exceeding any rules of proportionality", and lead to the criminalisation of far more left-wingers than armed groups were ever comprised of.

The longstanding controversy between France and Italy regarding the extradition of left-wing Italian militants sentenced in Italy under emergency legislation highlights the danger of abolishing exceptions to extradition (such as the political offence or dual criminality exceptions) that are in force under the current extradition regime. It is a particular concern that this should happen at a time when many EU countries have emergency [anti-terrorist] legislation curtailing the rights of defendants, which is becoming stricter and more widely used following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

The UK, for example, has derogated from Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (no detention without trial) and has introduced norms of detention for foreigners that its own Special Immigration Appeals Commission has found to be discriminatory in the light of Article 14 of the ECHR, on grounds of national security. All EU countries have to adopt the Framework Decision on the combating terrorism, which includes a definition of terrorism.

Corriere della Sera 25.8.02, 11.9.02; Il manifesto, 29.8.02, 6.9.02, 7.9.02, 13.9.02; L´Unita 3.9.02; Liberation 3.9.02; www.wumingfoundation, 30.8.02; Misteri d´Italia newsletter nos. 51 & 52.

France: Italian political refugees

Statewatch, vol 3 no 4, July-August 1993

There are around 200 Italian political refugees in Paris over ten years after they fled from Italy to escape trial and imprisonment. They remain in France without rights and placed in limbo by protracted legal battles over their extradition. These people form the remnants of an almost forgotten period of Italian political struggle in the 1970s. The new social movements which grew up in the 1960s led, in the 1970s, to many forms of extra-parliamentary action. Semi-legal forms of activity were termed auto-riduzione, involving for example mass reduced payments of bus fares and rents. At the other end of the spectrum more than two hundred clandestine armed groups operated in Italy during the 1970s.

Between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s over 20,000 "political offenders" were arrested and put on trial. In 1983 some 4,000 were in prison and 200 are still serving sentences. Many fled the country when bailed, others perceiving their imminent arrest also fled. More than 400 gathered in Paris a traditional home for political refugees where, ironically, many Italian communists and socialists had found a home when escaping the fascist regime in the 1930s.

Both the Italian and French constitutions exclude extradition for people charged with political offences. The Italian constitution says that "repressive cooperation" cannot take place between countries not sharing the same notion of political illegitimacy. On the other hand it stresses that offences committed with the purpose of undermining the principles of liberty and democracy are not regarded as political. While Article 26 of the Italian constitution states that extradition has a political nature when "related to a non-political offence, [it] is aimed at the political prosecution of the individual". The international principle that when extradition is not legally possible the individual concerned is guaranteed political asylum is also recognised in the Italian constitution.

The Italian authorities' proceedings for extradition met with some difficulties. The claim that the people were undermining liberty and democracy was hard to justify as this was aimed at stopping any resurgence of fascism - many of the refugees in Paris had a record of violent anti-fascist activity. It was equally difficult to argue that the offences were non-political. The Italian Penal Code (article 13) also recognises that the offence must be recognised as such by both countries, so charges such as "subversive association" or "armed organisation" have no judicial meaning in French law. But in rejecting the Italian requests for extradition the French authorities were obliged to grant political asylum. However alongside the legal process there emerged an "understanding" between the Association of Italian Refugees and the Ministry of Justice. They would not be extradited provided they "kept a low profile" but, so as not to embarrass French-Italian relations, neither would they be granted political asylum.

The effect on the Italian refugees varied. Some going to the French-Italian border to see friends and relatives were arrested by the French police and handed over; some were given one-way tickets to African countries where there was no extradition treaties; ten were taken over the border to Spain which duly extradited them; and thirty returned to Italy spontaneously to serve their sentences.

Those that remained are street-sellers, builders and decorators, and teachers but with little security of employment because of their status. Some have distanced themselves from their past. Through the "export" of the concepts of "dissociation" and "repentance" from the Italian terrorist laws a number of the refugees have become "respectable" and hold secure jobs, the majority in academic institutions, in France. "Dissociation" meant publicly renouncing previous acts and the politics of their groups, "repentance" giving names and addresses and evidence against those involved in offences.

"Sentenced to normality: The Italian political refugees in Paris", by Vincenzo Ruggiero in Crime, Law and Social Change, vol 19, no 1, 1993.

Statewatch News online | Join Statewatch news e-mail list | Statewatch subscribers websites

Our work is only possible with your support.
Become a Friend of Statewatch from as little as £1/€1 per month.


Spotted an error? If you've spotted a problem with this page, just click once to let us know.

Report error