Italy confirmed today that its soldiers tortured Somalis while on a peacekeeping mission to the African state, but an official report said the abuses were not widespread and senior army officers were largely blameless.
The report was produced by a five-member commission of inquiry set up in June after the press printed allegations of rape, murder and brutality by Italian soldiers serving in a U.S.-led humanitarian mission to Somalia from 1992 to 1994.
Ettore Gallo, a former president of Italy's Constitutional Court who headed the inquiry, said at a news conference that, while some soldiers had committed crimes, the Italian army as a whole behaved extremely well in dangerous circumstances.
"I'm proud to say that our Italian soldiers always gave precedence to the humanitarian nature of the mission . . . and in this respect was the best force" in Somalia, Gallo said.
But the commission's 46-page report criticized failures in army command lines and recommended better training for recruits. It also suggested that magistrates and human rights experts travel with soldiers on future peacekeeping missions to guarantee that international law is upheld.
Two generals who led the Italian forces to Somalia resigned in June following publication of graphic reports of sexual violence against a Somali woman, electric torture of a young man and allegations that an officer had murdered a young boy.
Gallo, who presented the inquiry's report to Prime Minister Romano Prodi today, said Gen. Bruno Loi and Gen. Carmine Fiore could not be held responsible. "How can the head of the whole operation know what every junior officer is up to?" he asked.
He said charges that a senior Italian officer had raped and murdered a small boy were not believable, but added that other stories were credible, including that of a woman who said she was sexually abused with a stick of explosive.
"If she had been Italian or French or German this would not have happened," Gallo said.
The commission also absolved Italy's elite Folgore paratroop regiment, which was stationed in Somalia, although it said there had been a breakdown in communication within the army hierarchy.
"The commission came to the conclusion that the criminal events were not just the result of rotten apples' that you find in any structure, but were rather the consequence of a stretched line of command and amused compliance toward such high jinks by some junior officers," the report said.
It added that a lack of discipline meant that drugs and prostitutes had circulated freely in some quarters.
The Italian commission, three men and two women, included two generals. The panel interviewed 145 people and traveled to Africa to meet Somalis who said they were tortured by Italians or had witnessed such abuse.