In some strong remarks, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday warned Italy on the Italian naval guards issue.
Addressing the general body meeting of Congress parliamentary party — the first such interaction with her MPs after the start of the Budget session of Parliament, Sonia said that no country should take India for granted.
The two naval guards, accused of killing two Indian fishermen, are facing trial in India. The guards, who went home to cast their vote in their country’s elections, have not returned to the country despite an undertaking by the Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court on Monday had pulled up Italy’s ambassador Daniele Mancini for reneging on the undertaking given to it on the Italian naval guards row and extended its order restraining him from leaving the country, asserting he cannot claim diplomatic immunity. “You went to Italy after giving an undertaking. We never expected and we never believed that the Italian ambassador will renege like this,” the bench observed.
After the order extending the March 14 direction was passed, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Mancini and Republic of Italy Rohatgi pressed on the issue of immunity and freedom of movement under international rules contained in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. But, a bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir reminded him again about the undertaking given by the Italian envoy. The order barring the envoy from leaving the country was extended to April 2 when the case will again come up for hearing.
Rohatgi’s submission was taken exception to by the bench which said, “We don’t go by anything. He has given the undertaking. We are not so naive. We don’t accept his statement. We don’t believe his statement. He has lost trust.” The court said, “The person who has come to this court as petitioner, we don’t think he has any immunity.”
In the meantime, the Italian foreign ministry in Rome said India was breaking diplomatic conventions by ordering the envoy to stay in India until the next hearing in the case on April 2. “The Supreme Court’s decision to prevent our ambassador from leaving the country without the court’s permission is a clear violation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations,” it said in a statement on Monday. “Italy continues to believe that the case of its two marines should be resolved according to international law,” it said, adding that it “wants to keep friendly relations” with India.
The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, are accused of shooting dead two fishermen off India’s southwest coast in February last year, when a fishing boat sailed close to the Italian oil tanker they were guarding. They say they mistook the fishermen for pirates. The pair had been given permission to fly to Italy to cast their votes in the election on the understanding that they would return, but the Italian government announced last week it would renege on its commitment to send the men back.
New Delhi has warned of “consequences” and is reviewing its ties with Italy, while the case is being watched carefully by India’s allies because it could set precedents over the treatment of foreign diplomats. India has put its airports on alert to prevent Mancini from leaving the country and the Supreme Court issued instructions that “appropriate steps” should be taken to restrain him. Without legal protection he could be prosecuted for contempt of court.
Katherine Reece-Thomas, an international law expert at City University London, agreed that India risked being in breach of its Vienna Convention commitments. “The only sanction available to the host state (India) is to declare the diplomat to be persona non grata and demand that he leave,” Reece-Thomas wrote in an email sent to AFP. “India cannot stop the ambassador leaving against his will and any suggestion that he somehow waived his rights under the Convention is unfounded.”
In Brussels, the EU’s foreign service earlier Monday reacted cautiously to Kabir’s decision. India and Italy should “pursue all avenues for an amicable solution,” said the spokesman for European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.
Italy insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters, but India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.
Relations between the two countries have also been soured by corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 helicopters which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.