Italy gets tough, cites Vienna pact
SC rebukes envoy lawyer, says no immunity
Italy’s tough stand was revealed on Monday before the Supreme Court, which had directed its ambassador not to leave the country in view of Italy’s refusal to return two marines to face the case on killings of two fishermen.
In a note verbale sent to the Ministry of External Affairs on March 15, Italy reminded India of the Vienna Convention, putting an obligation on it to protect diplomatic agents.
Separately, the government may find itself in a tricky situation if Rome’s envoy to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, flouts the Supreme Court’s order and tries to leave India, even if it is for an official tour to Nepal, another country where he represents Italy.
The note verbale said, “Any restriction to the freedom of movement of the ambassador to Italy to India, including any limitation to his right of leaving the Indian territory, will be contrary to the international obligations of the receiving state to respect his person, freedom, dignity and function.”
During the hearing on Monday , the Supreme Court took a strong view of the stand taken by Italy and its ambassador in declining to send back their marines.
A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir directed the Indian authorities to ensure that the Italian ambassador “does not leave the country,” while observing that the envoy “enjoys no immunity.”
The court, however, preferred to wait till March 22 , the day on which Marines are supposed to return after spending four weeks' stay granted to them for casting votes in a general election in their country. It posted the matter for further hearing for April 2 .
Attorney General G E Vahanvati informed the apex court about the fresh note verbale which pointed out that India was a signatory of the Vienna Convention on April 18, 1961.
“The embassy of Italy expects therefore that the MEA will ensure full compliance with the privileges and immunities contemplated in the convention, and provide reassurance that no Indian authority shall impose or implement restrictive measures on the personal freedom of His Excellency the ambassador,” the note said.
“Italy is confident that the MEA shall adopt whatever necessary any measure aimed at protecting the personal safety of his Excellency the ambassador, of the diplomatic and administrative personnel and the security of the premises of the Italian and diplomatic mission in New Delhi as well as those of the Italian consular mission in Mumbai and Kolkata,” it added.
During the hearing, the stand taken by Italy and its ambassador, however, came under sharp attack by the court after senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi submitted that he was appearing for the Italian ambassador, who acted on behalf of his government.
“We did not expect you to behave in this manner. What do they think the courts in India are? What is our judicial system? We have lost our trust in you. A person who comes to court and gives an undertaking cannot go on like this,” the bench said.
To Rohtagi’s contention that there was a complete immunity to the ambassador, the bench said, “The person who has come to this court as a petitioner, we don't think he has any immunity. He has no immunity.”
Rohtagi also referred to the Vienna convention but was cut short by the bench, which extended its March 14 order till the next date of hearing, imposing restriction on movement of the envoy.
Twin charge may put India in a spot
The government may find itself on a sticky wicket if Italian envoy Daniele Mancini flouts the Supreme Court’s order to stay put in India, even if it is only on an official engagement in Nepal, another country where he represents Italy. The Italian ambassador to India is concurrently accredited as his country’s envoy to Nepal.
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