India-Italy Diplomatic War Escalates: EU Warns New Delhi Over Court Ruling Banning Envoy’s Departure

 @Gooch700 on March 19 2013 1:50 PM
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (R) greets two Italian marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (2nd R) during a meeting at Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, December 22, 2012.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (R) greets two Italian marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (2nd R) during a meeting at Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, December 22, 2012. Reuters

The European Union has warned India that it is in violation of the Vienna Convention over New Delhi’s extraordinary moves to prevent Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini from departing the country in connection with the deepening row over two Italian marines charged with the murder of two Indian fishermen.

The Rome foreign ministry has already condemned India’s court decision.

Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, India’s top judge, declared in a ruling that Mancini forfeited his diplomatic immunity because he actively participated in the release of the two Italians, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who were allowed to go home to vote in February general elections.

But while in Italy, the foreign ministry stated that the two men, would be kept on Italian soil to face trial and not be returned to India, sparking outrage across the Indian political spectrum.

Now the Supreme Court in India has essentially banned Mancini from leaving the country until April 2, when the two Italian defendants are scheduled to face a hearing on their case (should they somehow be spirited away 3,700 miles back from Italy).

In response to the latest imbroglio, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she "notes with concern" a decision by the Indian Supreme Court that Mancini would have to seek its permission to leave the country.

Ashton cited that the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations "is a cornerstone of the international legal order and should be respected at all times” and that any tampering with Mancini’s freedom of movement "would be contrary to the international obligations established under this convention," adding that Rome and Delhi should find a mutually acceptable solution through dialogue.

But the stand-off continues with no resolution in sight.

Italy’s foreign ministry has already accused Indian authorities of overstepping its bounds of authority by seeking to try the two men in India itself, citing that the shooting took place on international waters (out of India’s legal jurisdiction).

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has called Italy’s refusal to return the two men to India “unacceptable,” is under pressure from opposition parties and others not to bend in the matter.

Using unusually strong language, Singh warned that Italy will face “consequences” should the marines remain in Italy.

Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling Congress party (and thereby the most powerful person in India), made her first public comments on the crisis, condemning Italy for not returning the marines, despite her Italian birth and heritage.  

 "No country can, should or will be allowed to take India for granted," Gandhi said at a party meeting Tuesday.

"The defiance of the Italian government on the question of the two marines and its betrayal of a commitment to our Supreme Court is outright unacceptable.”

While out on an anti-piracy mission last year in the Indian Ocean aboard an oil tanker called the Enrica Lexie off the coast of southwestern India, Latorre and Girone shot and killed two fishermen, Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki, apparently mistaking them for pirates.

The two Italians had been in custody in India for about a year prior to their “temporary” release.

This is a difficult situation because of gaps in United Nations  Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), particularly with respect to conflicting interpretations of extraterritorial provisions, said Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York City.

“Italy claims that its Marines have sovereign immunity because they were conducting a military operation for the State,” Chandler stated.

“India argues that a crime committed against an Indian citizen regardless of whether it occurred in international or territorial waters gives it the right to prosecution.”

However, because the Indian government allowed the Marines to leave the country to vote in the national elections in February, they lost their advantage of "extradite or prosecute" -- a generally accepted principle that says that the first to reach the perpetrators has jurisdiction.

Chandler added that the problem is further complicated by the fact that the two governments lack a ‘Status of Force’ agreement giving the Italian marines qualified immunity.

“[But] the two governments are likely to come to some agreement,” Chandler noted.

“India will likely back off from threatening the diplomatic immunity of the Ambassador, and Italy will likely return the Marines for prosecution.”

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