A United Nations tribunal on Monday told India and Italy to suspend all court proceedings in the marines case and to not initiate any new ones that could aggravate the dispute that will be now heard by a higher arbitral panel.
Both countries will have to submit a compliance report by September 24, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) said in Hamburg, as Indian officials described the order as a “partial victory”.
However, tribunal chief Vladimir Golitsyn did not consider it appropriate to prescribe steps to provide relief to the two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone.
Questioning India’s jurisdiction in the case, Italy had wanted the tribunal to restrain India from taking any judicial or administrative measures against the marines. It also wanted India to lift restrictions on the marines.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it is clear the tribunal “did not consider the two provisional measures” sought by Italy to be appropriate as it would have pre-judged the case’s merits. The MEA said India would abide by the tribunal.
Home Ministry officials said the order was not a setback as the Supreme Court has already stayed legal proceedings against the marines for killing two fishermen, Jelestine and Ajeesh Pinku, in the seas off Kerala coast on February 15, 2012.
They said the real fight will be in Annex VII, the apex body of ITLOS, which will decide whether India has jurisdiction in the case. This provisional order makes “little difference” as the trial is already suspended and Girone will have to stay in India until jurisdiction is decided, they added. Latorre is now in Italy.
The tribunal said it was “aware of the grief and suffering” of the fishermen’s families as it was also aware of the “consequences that the lengthy restrictions” on liberty entails for the marines and their families.
The ITLOS order came as six of the 21 judges submitted dissent notes. During its deposition, Italy maintained that it was only in late May this year when it became “clear beyond doubt” that a negotiated settlement would not be possible.
India disputed it saying nothing happened in May to change “what had been the status quo over the previous 14 months” and in the spring of 2014 itself, it “was apparent that a diplomatic impasse” had been reached. India had argued before the tribunal that Italy “pretends to act in order to protect its own alleged rights, Italy in reality behaves as if it were espousing its nationals' rights while clearly the conditions for exercising its diplomatic protection are not fulfilled.”
New Delhi also argued, since two of its unarmed fishermen were killed, the right “to inquire, investigate and try the accused” is a fundamental right of India.