Government on Tuesday asserted in Lok Sabha that the UN arbitration tribunal’s order allowing a murder-accused Italian marine to return home from India pending its proceedings has “affirmed” the Supreme Court’s authority and not questioned it.
Making a statement, Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Finance Arun Jaitley said the tribunal has confirmed Italy’s obligation to return Sergeant Girone to India in case India’s jurisdiction over him is established. The tribunal has also left it to the Supreme Court to fix precise conditions of his bail, he said amid unhappiness expressed by Congress over the way the case is being handled by the government.
Jaitley’s comment comes a day after an international tribunal asked New Delhi and Rome to approach the Supreme Court of India to relax the bail conditions of an Italian marine accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012 .
“We see the tribunal’s order not just as a recognition of India’s consistent positions and key arguments but also as an affirmation of the authority of the Supreme Court of India,” said Jaitley, speaking on behalf of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who is unwell. Congress members, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, staged a walkout, expressing unhappiness after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan did not allow them to ask questions.
In an interim ruling that is to be officially announced on Tuesday, the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Sergeant Salvatore Girone be allowed to return home until the dispute is resolved through arbitration.
Girone is out on bail but lives in the Italian embassy in New Delhi because of travel restrictions. Government sources initially denied the report on Monday, saying Italy was “misrepresenting” the order. Foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swaroop, however, confirmed the court order later.
According to the foreign ministry in Rome, the tribunal decided Girone be allowed to go “back to Italy until the end of the arbitration proceedings” which will decide on the Italian government’s plea that it is their jurisdiction and not that of India to proceed against the accused.
Girone and fellow Italian marine Massimiliano Latorre on board oil tanker Enrica Lexie allegedly shot dead two fishermen off the Kerala coast during an anti-piracy mission in February 2012, reportedly mistaking them for pirates. While Latorre is already back home on health grounds, Italy has been seeking the return of Girone also.
But India has refused to let Girone, who is housed in the Italian embassy premises in New Delhi, to leave the country.
The case has triggered a diplomatic row between India and Italy even as the two countries last year agreed to move to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague and abide by its decisions.
Italy argues that the marines should have immunity as they were servicemen working on a mission and that India does not have jurisdiction as the incident took place outside its territorial waters.
The Italian foreign ministry said the ruling, which is expected to be officially announced on Tuesday in The Hague, comes after “a constructive attitude of India”.
The court, according to the ministry, has asked both Italian and Indian governments to agree on the date and modalities of Girone’s return home.
But official sources in New Delhi said Girone was already out on bail.
Citing the court order, they said the arbitral tribunal clearly recognised that “Girone is under India’s authority alone” and that “the Supreme Court of India exercises jurisdiction” over him.
“(The) tribunal order, therefore, asks India and Italy to approach the Supreme Court of India for relaxation of the bail conditions (of Girone) under strict conditions to be laid down by the Indian Supreme Court,” a government source said.
The sources said the tribunal has suggested that the UN court has allowed further relaxations of bail for Girone with riders, which include that he “reports to an authority in Italy designated by the Supreme Court of India”.
“Girone shall be required by Italy to surrender his passport and shall be prohibited from leaving Italy unless the Supreme Court of India grants him leave to travel,” the source said, quoting the tribunal order.
Italy took the case to the international tribunal after repeated delays in the handling of the case in India. New Delhi allowed Latorre to return to Italy for treatment after he had a stroke in 2014.
With inputs from Agencies