Sonia slams Italy for not returning marines
Congress president and ruling United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday slammed Italian Government for its decision not to send back the two marines to stand trial in India and thus reneging on its own commitment.
“The defiance of the Italian Government on the question of the two marines and its betrayal of a commitment to our Supreme Court are outright unacceptable,” said Gandhi, addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party. This was the first time she publicly criticized the Italian Government after its decision not to send back the marines put the UPA Government in a tight spot and even prompted the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to indirectly refer to her own roots in Italy.
Gandhi’s criticism of Italian Government came hours after Rome stated that New Delhi’s lack of response and rejection of its repeated calls for consultations among diplomats and legal experts of the two countries had changed the circumstances under which Rome’s envoy to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, had filed the affidavit in the Supreme Court taking full responsibility to ensure return of the two marines.
“No country can, should, or will be allowed to take India for granted. All means must be pursued to ensure that the commitment made by the Italian Government to our Supreme Court is honoured,” said Gandhi, who is understood to have asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ensure that India did not appear soft in the stand-off with Italy – ostensibly to blunt the tirade by the Opposition.
Prime Minister had earlier warned Italy of ‘consequences’ if it did not send back the marines in accordance with its envoy’s commitment to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Monday extended the ban on the Italian Ambassador’s travel out of India till April 2 last. The apex court also observed that since Mancini himself had given an undertaking to the court taking on behalf of the Italian Government the full responsibility to ensure the return of the two marines, he could no longer invoke immunity.
It was on the basis of his commitment that the apex court had on February 22 last granted the marines, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, a four-week-leave from the trial in connection with the killing of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala about a year back.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s order restraining Mancini to leave India, Rome alleged that New Delhi had not responded to its request to start consultations under Article 100 and 283 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.
“Ultimately, our additional proposal of consultations among legal experts was also rejected by India. India’s position – to our surprise and regret – has modified the previous scenario as well as the conditions for the signing of the affidavit (by Italy’s Ambassador to India),” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italian Government.
Rome argued that the marines’ return to India in the changed circumstances would have violated the Constitution of Italy itself, particularly the provisions for respect for the natural judge preordained by law and prohibition to extradite citizens of the country.
“Our timely and repeated rogatory letters in order to pursue in Italy the ongoing criminal proceedings have so far received no reply. For these reasons, the Italian Government, long after striving to achieve an amicable settlement of the issue – in which we still firmly believe – reached the decision to formalize the initiation of an international legal dispute,” a spokesman of the Italian Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.
Rome also claimed that the order of the Supreme Court restraining the Italian Ambassador to India to leave the country represented “an evident violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. Italy also reaffirmed its belief that the case of the two marines should be resolved in accordance with international law.