(Milan) – The Italian chamber of deputies should adopt the strongest possible measures against discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said today. A bill to reform existing anti-discrimination legislation is scheduled for debate in the chamber on July 26, 2013.
“Italy lags behind many of its neighbors in recognizing that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong,” said Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for Italy to send that message loud and clear.”
The bill would amend a pillar of Italy’s anti-discrimination legislation, the Mancino Law of 1993, to make it an offense to instigate or commit discrimination or acts of violence on the grounds of “homophobia or transphobia.” Existing Italian law prohibits such acts on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religion.
The bill is the result of an eleventh-hour compromise in the chamber’s Justice Commission to ensure debate on the issue on July 26, the only window of opportunity for months to come under the chamber’s current calendar.
The Mancino Law gives judges the discretion to increase sentences by up to half, for crimes committed “with the purpose of discrimination or hatred based on ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion.” The bill had initially envisioned increasing penalties for crimes committed with the aggravating circumstance of hatred based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But about 400 amendments were proposed, most designed to weaken or effectively annul the measures.
The enhanced penalty provision in the bill was dropped to reach the compromise text. Members of parliament from the Left Ecology Liberty party and the Democratic Party, including Ivan Scalfarotto, the bill’s sponsor, have pledged to offer an amendment to reintroduce the increased sentences if there are aggravating circumstance for homophobic and transphobic crimes.
“Enhanced penalties for hate crimes are important to send the clear message that such crimes are absolutely unacceptable,” Sunderland said. “Crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are just as hateful as those targeting people because of the color of their skin, and Italian law should reflect this.”
Human Rights Watch documented problems with the application of the aggravating circumstance provision in a 2011 report on the state response to racist violence in Italy. Prosecutors and the courts have often interpreted the law to apply only to cases in which racial hatred was the sole motivation. That has resulted in the prosecution of serious racist crimes as though they were ordinary offenses if the suspect appeared to have multiple motives for the attack, such as robbery.
The approach of the courts is evolving, but Human Rights Watch research found that the restrictive wording of the statute, which speaks of hate “purpose” rather than “motivation,” and its failure to acknowledge explicitly the possibility of mixed motives, is problematic. In the long-term, Parliament may also need to amend the face of the law to clarify that it applies in cases of mixed motives, Human Rights Watch said.
Similar attempts to introduce clear LGBT anti-discrimination measures have foundered in the face of fierce opposition, in 2009 and again in 2011.