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Revue internationale de droit pénal

2009/3 (Vol. 80)

  • Pages : 256
  • ISBN : 9782749116266
  • DOI : 10.3917/ridp.803.0435
  • Éditeur : ERES

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Giuliano Vassalli was one of the great jurists of the post-World War II period, who had three distinguished careers simultaneously. He combined an academic career with public service and a private practice as a criminal defense lawyer in many causes célèbres. His accomplishments in all three areas were exceptional.


The son of a well-known professor of civil law at the University of Rome, Filippo Vassalli, he followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the academic system in 1938 where he had appointments to the Universities of Urbino (1938-1941), Pavia (1940-1942), Padova (1942-1943), Genova (1945-1956), and Napoli (1957-1960), before becoming the senior professor of criminal law at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, from which he retired in 1983 with the title of emeritus. During his academic career he published several monographs and numerous articles, his latest book being FORMULA DI RADBRUCH E DIRITTO PENALE (2001), which received much acclaim for its combination of legal, historical and philosophical perspectives on post-World War II prosecutions. In recognition of his academic standing, in 1990 he was elected to the prestigious Italian Academia dei Lincei as one of the social sciences’ representatives.


During and after his academic career, he held several public positions starting as a member of Parliament in the Fifth Legislature from 1968 to 1972 ; then as a member of the Senate during the Ninth Legislature from 1983 to 1987, where he served as chairman of the Judicial Committee ; and then he served as Minister of Justice from 1987 to 1991. In this capacity he was instrumental in achieving important reforms, including the entry into effect in 1989 of the Italian Code of Criminal Procedure, and leading the reform of the anti-narcotics legislation and the adoption of legislation providing free legal assistance for indigent persons. In 1991, he was asked to be a candidate for his country’s presidency, but declined for personal reasons. That same year, he became a judge of the Italian Constitutional Court, then vice-President from 1996-1999, and then President for a few months, before his retirement from the Court in 2000.


He was well known in international academic circles particularly as a member of the Conseil de direction of the AIDP from the early 1960s, as well as a member of the Conseil of the Societé internationale de défense sociale and as a member of the board and honorary president of the Siracusa-based Istituto Superiore Internazionale di Scienze Criminali (ISISC).


Those who knew him will remember a man of vast knowledge and exceptional courtesy, who was always affable, available and accessible. So sensitive he was to others, that he personally typed or handwrote notes to anyone who would send him a publication or write to him on any matter. He was a figure of the Age of Enlightenment.


He leaves behind him six children, two of whom are in the legal profession : Filippo, who bears his grandfather’s name and who has a practice in international commercial law, and Francesco, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a Professor of Commercial Law at the University of Rome, making him the third generation of Vassalli professors. The others are Natalia, a Roman notary public ; Alessandro, a clinical psychologist in Milano ; and Luca, an ENT specialist in California. He has five grandchildren. There are times, I am sure, that they all must have felt the absence of a father, as do many children whose parents are deeply involved in demanding careers. But their privations are what made it possible for him to have accomplished so much. As a consequence, they share in his accomplishments which reflect on them as well.


As it is commonly known, behind all great men stand great women, and his late and beloved wife, Carla, was indeed such a great woman. She not only stood beside him and supported him in his private and public life, but she also contributed her wisdom and insight into many important decisions made during his career. More importantly, if not for her, he would have had a short-lived career that would have ended in 1945, a few months before the Allies signed the Armistice Agreement with Italy. At that time, he was held prisoner by the Gestapo in the infamous Via Tasso prison in Rome for a period of three months. His release came at the request of Pope Pius XI based on an intercession by Cardinal Montini, who later became Pope Paul VI. The Cardinal was a friend of Mrs. Carla Vassalli’s family and she personally sought his help. The reason for Giuliano Vassalli’s incarceration was his role in the liberation movement which he joined in 1944. During that time, he served as a member of the military council of the Committee on National Liberation, as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the clandestine socialist party, of which he remained a member until its virtual dissolution in the latter 1980s.


It was my privilege to have known him as a close personal friend for over 35 years during which we shared many close moments as well as many personal experiences. I learned much from him and benefited from his wisdom, as did many others. His absence is deeply felt by me, as it is by many who have known him in his country and in different parts of the world. Few people ever leave behind them such a legacy of accomplishments and almost universal appreciation and respect by others.


In 1991 I co-edited with Professors Stile and Latagliata two volumes of studies in honor of Giuliano Vassalli, published by Giuffre Editors in Italy. In the Introduction I wrote :


“Nell’onorare Giuliano Vassalli onoriamo questi valori fondamentali di umanesimo universale, e riaffermiamo il nostro credo che il Diritto è il migliore mediatore tra individui e tra individuo e società, e che è il modo piu proficuo per risolvere conflitti inter-personali e intersociali, per assicurare un modicum di giustizia umana in questo modo che ha visto tante ingiustizie e tante sofferenze nel corso della storia. E così nell’onorare Giuliano Vassalli onoriamo tutti coloro che condividono le sue convinzioni umanitarie e dedicano le forze a realizzare la grande opera, che sappiamo non sarà mai compiuta : la civiltà umana in terra.”


A devoted and loving friend,

Pour citer cet article

Bassiouni Cherif M., « In memoriam Giuliano Vassalli, 25 April 1915 - 21 October 2009 », Revue internationale de droit pénal, 3/2009 (Vol. 80), p. 435-437.

DOI : 10.3917/ridp.803.0435

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