September 4, 1974|
Partanna, Sicily (Italy)
|Died||July 26, 1992
|Cause of death||Suicide after the murder of her protector Paolo Borsellino|
|Known for||Government witness against the Sicilian Mafia|
Rita Atria (Partanna, September 4, 1974 − Rome, July 26, 1992) was a witness in a major Mafia investigation in Sicily, breaking the Omertà - code of silence. She committed suicide in July 1992, a week after the Mafia killed the prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, with whom she had been working.
Rita was born into a Mafia family in Partanna in Sicily. In 1985, at the age of eleven, she lost her father, Vito, a shepherd, who was shot dead by a hit man from a rival Mafia family. Atria’s brother, Nicolò, vowed to avenge his father and probably knew who the murderer was.
After her father's death, Rita became closer to her brother and to his wife, Piera Aiello. Since her brother was also a Mafioso, Rita was privy to detailed information on the doings of the Mafia in Partanna. She also dated a boy who moved in the criminal underworld. In June 1991, the Mafia killed Nicolò Atria. A month later her brother’s widow went to the police and talked – deciding to collaborate with the judicial authorities.
At 17 years of age, Rita decided in November 1991 to follow in her sister-in-law's footsteps, hoping to obtain justice for these murders from the legal system. The first person to receive her testimony was the magistrate Paolo Borsellino, to whom she bonded as a father. She named the heads of the most powerful families and told Borsellino about the war between the Mafia families of Partanna, in which 30 people died. She also named the men who had killed her father and her brother.
Her mother threw Rita out of the house when she found out that her daughter was collaborating with the police. She did not care that her own son's killer was to be brought to justice; in her opinion – and the deep-rooted Mafia culture she belonged to – the police were on the wrong side of the law. Rita was relocated to a safe house in a seventh-floor flat on the outskirts of Rome, where the only people she knew were her police guards. Borsellino became her lifeline.
The evidence given by Rita and Piera, together with other testimony, led to the arrest of various Mafiosi and to the launch of an enquiry into the politician Vincenzo Culicchia, who had been mayor of Partanna for thirty years. Evidence from another woman, Rosalba Triolo, from the rival Mafia factions in Partanna, independently confirmed the testimonies of Rita and Piera.
Abandoned by friends and family, both Rita and Piera Aiello had turned to Borsellino for emotional support. They referred to him as "Uncle Paolo" and phoned him whenever they needed him. He visited them whenever he was in Rome, even after they had finished their depositions. Borsellino used to pinch Rita on the cheek and poked fun at her tough, streetwise behaviour, calling her a "mafiosa with a skirt."
On July 19, 1992, a Mafia bomb killed Borsellino, less than two months after his colleague Giovanni Falcone had been killed. Italy was in shock. Rita wrote in her diary: "You have died for what you believed in, but without you, I too am dead." A week later Rita locked herself into the apartment and wrote a note, which said: "I am devastated by the killing of Judge Borsellino. Now there's no one to protect me, I'm scared and I can't take it any more." Then she threw herself out of the window.
Many people regard Rita as a heroine because of her willingness to sacrifice everything, including the affection of her mother (who after her daughter's death destroyed her tombstone with a hammer) in order to pursue justice. She grew from a desire for revenge for her losses to one for justice. Like Piera, Rita was not a Mafia penitent (pentito), as she had not committed any crimes to repent. Because of this, her collaboration assumes a higher value; and she is correctly referred to as a "witness for justice", a title that has been legally recognised in Italy by the law of 13/2/2001 n. 45.
Rita wrote in her diary: "Before fighting the Mafia you must first examine your own conscience, and then, after you have defeated the Mafia inside yourself, you can fight the Mafia that's in your circle of friends. We ourselves and our mistaken way of behaving are the Mafia."
On July 25, 2008, Piera Aiello was nominated as the president of the anti-mafia association called "Rita Atria".
In 2007, Amenta reworked the documentary into the film The Sicilian Girl ("La siciliana ribelle") with Veronica D'Agostino as Rita. Rita's family has condemned the film. Rita’s niece, Vita Maria Atria, and the Rita Atria Anti-Mafia Association, complained that faces and voices in the 1997 documentary were not sufficiently altered as agreed, endangering her and her mother. In addition Amenta had not returned family footage "entrusted to him in good faith" for the documentary, according to Rita's niece. Vita Maria Atria, who has been in hiding since 1992, said she was tired of "seeing speculation about her aunt's memory." She said: "I don't believe that any of this helps to commemorate my aunt, but only serves economic ends which I really do not consider appropriate."
- Longrigg, Clare. "Where talking is met with deadly silence", The Independent, September 21, 1992. Accessed July 19, 2014.
- Stille, Excellent Cadavers, pp. 325-26
- (in Italian) Rita Atria – la sua storia in breve, Associazione antimafia Rita Atria
- Pickering-Iazzi, Mafia and Outlaw Stories from Italian Life and Literature, p. 166
- Apperly, Eliza. "Italy anti-mafia film sparks anger with relatives", Reuters, March 26, 2009. Accessed July 19, 2014.
- Pickering-Iazzi, Mafia and Outlaw Stories from Italian Life and Literature, p. 161
- (in Italian) La mia storia inizia quando all'età di 14 anni conobbi Nicolò Atria ("My story began when at age 14 I met Nicolò Atria"), Associazione antimafia Rita Atria
- "Movie Review: The Sicilian Girl (2009): An Angry Soul From a Hard Island", The New York Times, August 3, 2010
- "One Girl Against the Mafia", UNAFF 99
- Pickering-Iazzi, Robin (2007). Mafia and Outlaw Stories from Italian Life and Literature, Toronto: University of Toronto Press ISBN 0-8020-9561-5
- Stille, Alexander (1995). Excellent Cadavers. The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, New York: Vintage ISBN 0-09-959491-9