Italy on Tuesday summoned the Indian ambassador in Rome besides recalling its envoy Daniele Mancini for ‘consultations’ on the case of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen, soon after hearing on the case was deferred by the Supreme Court (SC).
Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino also criticised the “manifest inability of the Indian judicial authorities in handling the case”. The two Italian marines, Massimilliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, have been charged under a stringent anti-piracy law.
The Italian government and the marines have challenged the application of the law in the SC, saying that the marines are not pirates and invoking the law is tantamount to calling Italy a terrorist state.
On Tuesday, the attorney-general GE Vahanvati told an SC bench that the law ministry’s opinion on the case is awaited, prompting the adjournment. “We want to know the decision taken by the government to decide the case,” the bench told Vahanvati, fixing February 24 to hear the matter further.
As a fallout, the Indian ambassador in Rome Basant Kumar Gupta was summoned to express Italy’s dismay at the ‘unacceptable delay’. Gupta, summoned by the foreign ministry secretary-general Michele Valensise, was told the case “shows an Indian desire to draw out the affair beyond all limits”, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Stressing that Italy’s main objective was to ‘bring the marines back home’, Italian foreign minister Bonino added, “Italy’s commitment will continue and intensify aiming at obtaining the recognition of our rights as a sovereign state according to international law.”
The Italian defence minister Mario Mauro, who recently visited India, also supported the move, saying the decision “reflects the sentiment of our people”, ANSA reported.
He also called India’s behaviour ‘ambiguous and unreliable’.
Italy has registered a strong protest against India for trying the Italian marines under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf (SUA) Act. Last week, Italy also moved the United Nations against India, calling the application of the SUA act ‘unacceptable’.
This is only the latest twist in the case where the two marines, aboard the Italian ship Enrica Lexie, allegedly shot two unarmed Indian fishermen on February 15, 2012 off the coast of Kerala.
Italy argues that the marines enjoy immunity and cannot be tried under Indian law. Diplomatic relations between the two countries reached a nadir in March last year when Italy reneged on its promise to the SC and said the two marines won’t return to India after being allowed to go to Italy for four weeks. After a formal downgrading of diplomatic ties by India and restraining of the Italian ambassador by the SC, amid much international furor, Italy decided to send the two marines to India for trial.