New Delhi makes it clear that government can't intervene

New Delhi has resisted pressure from Rome for a “midway formula,” telling the visiting Deputy Foreign Minister that the issue arising out of the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines will now be decided by court.

At a meeting with his counterpart Preneet Kaur, Staffan de Mistura was told that South Block would not be able to intervene because the matter had reached the courts which were “fair and independent.”

After the meeting, Ms. Kaur dwelt on the message given to Mr. de Mistura, which may be repeated when the Italian Foreign Minister arrives here next week. “As far as the law is concerned, they have their interpretations and we have ours. As of today, the two [the marines] are on Indian soil, and tomorrow the Indian court is going to decide what steps are to be taken further.”

Sources privy to the meeting said the Italian Minister claimed that the Italian extra-territorial law should prevail. India has already said its laws also have a similar provision in case an Indian or an Indian vessel is attacked.

Ms. Kaur heard out his argument as well as the claim that alternatively, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should apply. It provides for prosecution in the state whose flag the ship is flying. With the Ministry of External Affairs' legal cell already contesting this claim, Ms. Kaur told the Minister that as Indians, “we will go by our law.”

Italy has been pressuring India from various quarters and has tried to bring the Vatican into the picture. With the Catholic angle not gaining traction because of the prevailing mood in Kerala, Rome has made three basic arguments: Italy has a provision for extra-territorial application of its laws; UNCLOS provides for prosecution in the home country; and vessels have the right to fire at pirates.

The Ministry of External Affairs counters these by saying Indian laws, too, have a provision for extra-territorial application; the relevant UNCLOS article applies to naval vessels and, that too, in cases of collision; and only naval vessels have the right to fire at pirates, but in this incident, off the Kerala coast, unarmed fishermen were shot at in an area with no history of piracy.

In the print and earlier online versions of this story, the fishermen were wrongly described in the last paragraph as "armed" rather than "unarmed".

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