Return of marines saves Italian ambassador

Return of marines saves Italian ambassador

Friends again: Curtains down on diplomatic stand off as Rome heeds Delhis assurance

The Italian government’s decision to send back two marines here to face the case relating to the murder of two fishermen off  the Kerala coast has virtually saved its ambassador from facing any coercive action from the Supreme Court.

A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir on March 18 took exception to reneging of assurance by Italy and refused to consider a plea by its envoy Daniele Mancini that he deserved diplomatic immunity.

Even though Italy had maintained its tough stance challenging India’s jurisdiction in the matter, the apex court’s observation that Italy and Mancini had lost its trust, has given a strong signal that the later might face further coercive actions apart from restriction on his movement outside the country.

However, India assured Italy that the marines, Massimiliano Latore and Salvatore Girone, would not be arrested on their return and would not be awarded death penalty after the trial in the special court to be set up by the Centre here, a move which averted a major diplomatic show down.

Such kind of a sovereign promise had earlier also been given as in the case of extradited gangster Abu Salem in order to get his return from Portugal for putting him to trial in several criminal cases including one relating to the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts.

The marines, who were arrested in connection with the killing of the fishermen in
February last year, had already been on bail before being granted permission on February 22 by the apex court for four weeks to vote in the elections there.
The period of their stay in Italy was set to expire on March 22.

That’s why, the court, on last date of hearing on March 18, while directing Indian authorities to ensure that Italian ambassador does not leave the country, decided to wait till March 22 before passing any order in the matter.

However, the court did not take lightly the stance made by Mancini and observed that he enjoyed no diplomatic immunity.

“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 had said.

Two Naval officers would now wait for the Centre to set up the special court which would determine their case, including the fact that if they would be tried in India.

The apex court, in its verdict on January 18, rejected Italy’s plea challenging the jurisdiction of India to try the marines.

However, it had said: “Whether the accused acted on the misunderstanding that the Indian fishing vessel was a pirate vessel which caused the accused to fire is a matter of evidence which can only be established during a trial. If the defence advanced on behalf of the accused is accepted, then only will the provisions of Article 100 of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) (scenario in which they would not be tried in India) would be applicable.”

The court had held that Kerala had no jurisdiction in the matter.