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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 07:59 GMT
UN tells Berlusconi to respect judges
Funeral of anti-mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by car bomb in 1992
Italian judges oppose plans to take away their escorts
A senior official from the UN's human rights commission has urged the Italian Government to respect the independence of the judiciary.

Param Cumaraswamy, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, was speaking after accusations that the government was trying to impede the prosecution of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on bribery charges.


Confrontation of this nature could undermine the rule of law in Italy

Param Cumaraswamy
UN special rapporteur

Hundreds of Italian magistrates took strike action nationwide last month in protest at the government's actions, which include controversial plans to remove police escorts.

Mr Berlusconi denies charges of bribery, tax evasion and false accounting and says he is the victim of leftist prosecutors opposed to his government.

In his appeal to Mr Berlusconi's government, Mr Cumaraswamy quoted UN basic principles which stress that all state authorities have a duty to "respect and observe the independence of the judiciary".

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi accuses judges of political bias

Governments also had a duty to avoid "any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process".

The UN rapporteur asked to make an urgent visit to Italy "in order to study the causes of, and assist in finding a solution to, the present confrontation".

The issue, he said, threatened to "undermine the rule of law in Italy".

Court action

Mr Cumaraswamy said Italian magistrates were also concerned at planned reforms of the judiciary, seeing them as a move to bring prosecutors under the control of the executive.

In a country where members of the judiciary have been assassinated in recent years, the magistrates were also protesting against the removal of police escorts from prosecutors and judges.

As evidence of his concerns, the UN's special rapporteur drew attention to reports that the Italian Government was considering legal action against Judge Francesco Saverio Borelli, Milan's most senior judge, after he made an allegation of political interference in current trials.

Mr Borrelli, who led the "clean hands" corruption investigations in the 1990s, accused the government of demonising the judiciary and pushing through dangerous reforms.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola responded by saying he would sue over the remarks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Forza Italia MEP Jas Gawronski
"I think it is quite normal there is this attention"
Franco Pavoncello of John Cabot University in Rome
"I do not really think Italians are bothered about their image abroad"
Beppe Severnini of the newspaper Corriere de la Sera
"The government will not like it"
See also:

12 Jan 02 | Europe
Berlusconi defends his EU record
08 Jan 02 | Europe
Berlusconi says Italy backs EU
23 Oct 01 | Europe
Berlusconi on the warpath
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