View Adopted: 2019.11.06
The authors of the communication are two nationals of Italy, who claimed that the state party has violated their rights under article 25(a) and (b) of the Covenant. The authors are members of an Italian political non-violent movement, called the “Italian Radicals”.
In April and May 2013, the authors filed requests with the registry of the Court to hold six national referendums, aimed at repealing legislative provisions relating to immigration, narcotic drugs, divorce and public funding for political parties and for religious institutions. The authors however found procedural deficiencies in the public system meant that they struggled to find the staff needed to complete the referendum processes.
The central issue of the complaint relates to the requirement under Italian constitutional law for the initiation of a referendum to have at least 500,000 signatures of Italian citizens filed with the competent authorities, in order to have a referendum placed on the ballot. Each signature must be collected in person on specific forms, and must be dated, signed and stamped by public officials. All signatures or pages of such, must be authenticated by a public official, such as a notary, a justice of the peace, court registrar, or municipal secretary. The organisers must also collect a certificate for each signatory, issued by the municipality in which the voter is registered, verifying the signatory’s registration. Such public officials must also be compensated for their time.
In July 2013 the authors sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, detailing the obstacles they were facing and therefore their inability to authenticate the required number or signatures nor pay for the public officials required.
The authors claimed that the laws and procedures put in place to hold referendums in Italy are unduly restrictive, arbitrary and unreasonable, on the basis that they are not justified by necessity, reason or accepted lawful principle. The authors stressed that domestic Italian laws should be interpreted in light of the Committee’s guidance in general comment No. 25 (1996) on the participation of public affairs.
The authors asserted that as they stand, they merely pay lip service to the constitutional right to initiate referendums, resulting in a violation of article 25(a) and (b) of the Covenant.
The Committee noted the authors claim that although States parties do not have the obligation to organise referendums, when they do provide for ways in which citizens can directly participate in public affairs, they have an obligation to ensure that citizens can participate effectively. On this basis, the authors argued that the laws and procedures for initiating referendums are unduly unreasonable, and further the state party’s counter-argument that Italy is a parliamentary representative democracy, and the instrument for initiating a referendum is only one of the methods through which citizens may take part in public affairs. Further, that 71 referendums have been initiated since 1946.
The Committee noted that procedural obligations on state parties included the obligation not to impose unreasonable restrictions on the right to directly participate in public affairs by voting, as well as other forms available to citizens, however article 25(a) of the Covenant does not require State parties to adopt modalities of direct democracy, such as referendums. However, the Committee noted that due to article 75 of the state party’s Constitution, the right to organise a referendum is currently an available right – and therefore the state party must not place unreasonable restrictions on this right.
The Committee then assessed each of the procedural aspects to ascertain whether they constitute lawful restrictions for the purposes of article 25 of the Covenant, in light of guidance in general comment No. 25 (1996) providing that where a mode of direct participation by citizens is established, no distinction may be made between citizens and no unreasonable restrictions may be imposed.
 Note: Committee recalled its general comment No. 18 (1989) on non-discrimination, according to which “discrimination” should be understood to imply any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any grounds such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights and freedoms (para. 7).
The Committee noted that the state party is under an obligation to provide the authors with an effective remedy, including making full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated, including:
The Committee requested the state party provide a follow up information on measures taken within 180 days (of before 6 May 2020).