An international court on Monday suspended all judicial proceedings against two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012 off the Kerala coast in a case that bruised diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Rome.
In a 15-6 split verdict, the Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) also directed both countries to report compliance by September 24 and rejected Italy’s request that one of the marines, Sergeant Salvatore Girone, be released from custody in India pending a final ruling.
His co-accused, Sergeant Massimiliano Latorre, is already in Italy on health grounds and is authorised to stay there until January 15 next year. Girone lives in the comfort of the Italian ambassador’s residence in New Delhi after being granted bail by the Supreme Court.
The marines were on anti-piracy duty aboard an Italian oil tanker when they opened fire, killing the two unarmed fishermen.
Italy invoked the arbitration procedure under a United Nations convention, saying the marines only fired warning shots in the water while claiming sovereign immunity for the accused.
During the hearings, India contended that the marines used automatic weapons against the fishermen without warning, the fishing boat wasn’t the kind that pirates used and there was no explanation from Italy as to how the victims ended up in body bags.
Rome and New Delhi put a positive spin on the provisional order. Reuters reported Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni saying it was “a useful decision” that the destiny of the marines was no longer in India’s hands.
New Delhi promised to continue to abide by the tribunal’s rulings. The home ministry quickly added that the suspension wouldn’t hurt them as the trial had been stayed by the Supreme Court till it decided a pending petition. Besides, the decision would halt proceedings in Italy as well.
Prof VS Mani, director of Jaipur National University’s school of law, agreed. “It isn’t much of a victory but it is something we can live with. I don’t feel too bad about it.”
Judge P Chandrasekhara Rao, one of the six who dissented with the majority judgment, however, felt it was unfair to India. “The measure prescribed by the tribunal in this case is entirely one-sided and is not well-founded in law,” he said in his dissent note.
A five-member arbitration panel will be constituted to decide if Italy or India have jurisdiction to try the two marines.
Reacting to the jury’s decision, Dora, wife of one of the victims, Jelsetin Valentine, said she had forgiven the accused long back. “We are resigned to our fate. In any case my husband won’t come back now. Since I have already pardoned them it won’t affect us in any way,” she said.
Earlier, relatives of Valentine and Ajeesh Binki, the other victim, had written to the Italian consular general in Mumbai expressing hope that the marines’ “ordeal” would end at the earliest. Both families had ended a suit against the accused after accepting a compensation of Rs 1 crore each.
(With inputs from HT correspondent, Thiruvananthapuram)