The military prosecutor of Rome questioned the two Italian marines – Salvatore Girone e Massimiliano Latorre – who India is insisting must return to face trial in the deaths of two Indian fishermen reportedly mistaken for pirates.
The two marines, in full dress uniform, made no comment to reporters when they arrived at the military prosecutor’s office, which had summoned them for its own probe of the 2012 shooting, to understand if the was a violation of the engagement rules and of the Italian military laws with regard to the use of the guns. Military Prosecutor Marco De Paolis must decide whether the marines should be charged in Italy or whether the case against them should be shelved. Unfortunately, the Italian prosecutors have still not received by the Indian judicial authorities the official transcripts of the marines’ questioning in India as well as the results of ballistic tests.
India and Italy are in a bitter standoff over the case. The marines have been charged in India with killing two fishermen. Earlier this week, India’s Supreme Court indefinitely extended its order barring the Italian ambassador from leaving the country after Italy refused to return the marines to India.
Italy’s foreign ministry has called that court decision a clear violation of diplomatic relations. The Italians were on anti-pirate duty aboard a cargo ship off India’s coast in February last year when the fishermen, aboard an Indian fishing boat, were killed.
Italy insists the shooting happened in international waters during an international anti-piracy mission and thus, Rome, not India, should have jurisdiction. But a local Indian court insisted it would conduct the probe and the marines were ordered held in India.
The marines did go home to Italy for Christmas holidays and for the national election in February but after that Italy announced they would not return to India.
India’s chief justice has expressed outrage, claiming that the ambassador had given his word.
An Italian government official, briefing reporters in Rome on customary condition of anonymity, said Italy had submitted affidavits saying the marines would return to India if requirements in the Italian constitution (art. 25, 26 and 111 of the Italian Constitution) were respected. The constitution says Italians cannot be tried by a court that hasn’t already been established. The Indian court has ordered the Italians to be tried by a special tribunal but that has yet to be created.
The Government source also affirmed that “Italy is sure to have full jurisdiction on the case“, while hoping for “an international arbitration” to solve the controversy. It also added that:
- the shooting happend in international waters, at 20,5 miles from the coast;
- when the Captain of the “Enrica Lexie” accepted the request of Indian Coast Guard the boat was at 30 miles from the coast;
- the Captain of the “Saint Anthony” did not see who shot because he was sleeping, and he wasn’t even able to say from which boat the shots arrived from. All this despite the sunny day;
- the Supreme Court of India did not recognize the functional immunity of the Italian marines, despite of the formal declaration coming from the The hague’s International Court of Justice.
Delhi nudges Italy on Friday return of marines
Union law minister Ashwani Kumar has said the Italian government can still resolve the diplomatic tangle and avoid contempt of court proceedings by sending back the two marines before March 22.
“The marines can still return to India by the 22nd of this month and if that happens, an unfortunate situation could be remedied,” Kumar told The Indian Telegraph in an interview. He said there need not be any dispute on the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by foreign diplomats as the Indian Supreme Court was presumed to be well-versed with domestic and international laws.
The minister said: “Look, the matter is sub judice before the highest court in the country. All authorities of Indian states are bound to comply with the directive of the Supreme Court. The breach of undertaking given to the Supreme Court by the Italian ambassador is indeed an unprecedented situation.
“The Supreme Court must be presumed to know better than any one else the status of diplomatic immunity and demands of international law. Having submitted to the jurisdiction of the highest court of India, it was expected of the Italian government, consistent with the need to maintain harmonious relations between countries, to honour the directives of the court.”