The Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) of the Council of Europe has issued its first report on Italy showing that victims of human trafficking are being convicted for criminal offences, often linked to irregular migration. The GRETA group urges Italy not to convict victims of human trafficking for their involvement in unlawful activities, to the extent that they were compelled to do so.

Italian law lacks a specific norm prohibiting the punishment of trafficking victims in line with article 26 of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Nonetheless, the Italian legal framework provides that a person is not punishable for a criminal offence committed in a ‘state of necessity,’ i.e. when the person has been forced to commit the offence under violence or threat. This applies to victims of human trafficking obliged to do something illegal, as long as the victim has been officially identified and when the exploitation has been proven in a criminal procedure against the traffickers. However, GRETA is concerned by reports showing that when the exploitation is not officially demonstrated, victims of human trafficking are convicted of criminal offences, in cases of pickpocketing or drug smuggling. Furthermore, the non-punishment clause is often not applied for offences such as illegal entry or presence in the state territory, which are typically linked to the situation of being trafficked.

While GRETA commends the steps taken by Italy in combatting trafficking in human beings, such as the possibility for victims of trafficking to receive a residence permit in order to get assistance and be involved in social integration projects, the GRETA group is concerned by the absence of coherent national identification and referral mechanism for victims of trafficking. GRETA urges Italy to introduce such mechanisms and emphasises that “particular attention should be paid to detecting victims of trafficking among unaccompanied minors, irregular migrants and asylum seekers.” The Group of Experts further urges Italy to improve coordination among the public bodies and civil society organisations involved in the fight against trafficking in human beings. It also encourages Italy to develop country-wide awareness-raising activities on all forms of human trafficking.

Regarding investigation and prosecution of trafficking in human beings, GRETA reports that in 2011, 228 criminal proceedings were initiated against 774 suspected perpetrators; in 2010, 229 proceedings against 479 suspected perpetrators; and in 2009, 271 proceedings against 1,072 suspected offenders. Despite these high numbers, GRETA denounces that only 14 suspected perpetrators were convicted in 2010 and 9 in 2011. GRETA urges the Italian authorities to take all the possible steps to fight human trafficking, such as ensuring that all crimes related to human trafficking are duly investigated, perpetrators are promptly and effectively prosecuted, and proportionate and dissuasive sanctions are adopted

The report on Italy was adopted on July 2014 and published on 22 September 2014. The GRETA group monitors the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by the States Parties.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 26 September 2014.
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