The Sigonella airbase in Sicily, Italy, is of strategic importance for US drone operations, in particular in North Africa. Based on a – publicly undisclosed – agreement between Rome and Washington, it is understood that the US can operate armed drones from Sigonella, subject to formal authorization by the Italian Commander. This would make Italy directly complicit in drone attacks.
ECCHR filed requests under Italy's 2016 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking access to information on the legal framework regulating the presence and use of US drones at and from Sigonella. In each case the authorities either denied the request or failed to respond. In July 2017, ECCHR filed a judicial complaint to the administrative tribunal (Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale, TAR) in Rome to obtain access to the documents. In December 2018, the TAR declared the complaint inadmissible on procedural grounds. In March 2018, ECCHR appealed this decision to the Supreme Administrative Court (Consiglio di Stato).
The US program of targeted killings by drone in many cases violates international law, including strict rules on the use of force and self-defense (ius ad bellum), principles and customs of war (ius in bello), and fundamental human rights (namely the right to life and physical integrity). The practice of using lethal force against individuals outside of any armed conflict, or – in the case of attacks conducted during an armed conflict – without determining their status (whether military targets or civilians) results in egregious violations of human rights and international (humanitarian) law.
Questions and answers regarding the FOIA request in Italy.
A public administration body must respond to a request for information within 30 days; if it fails to do so, or denies access, according to Article 5 par. 7 of Legislative Decree 33/2013 the applicant can file a request to a higher authority ("Responsabile della prevenzione della corruzione e della trasparenza") within the administration to have the decision reviewed within a maximum of 20 days. This authority denied ECCHR's requests for review in this case. ECCHR then filed a complaint to the administrative tribunal (TAR) and ultimately appealed to the Italian Supreme Administrative Court.