The Union Home Ministry’s decision to drop the death penalty clause while prosecuting two Italian marines in the case of killing Indian fishermen has come at a time when not just the Italians but other high-level European leaders have started speaking publicly about it.

The views of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are well-known. The visiting German President Joachim Gauck also weighed into the subject of death penalty, unusually during his speech at a banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday.

Mr. Gauck made it clear that in an open dialogue between friends, it was useful to speak on points of disagreement. These include capital punishment, which Europe has abolished and outlawed.

“Our societies may be different but recognition of the universal nature of human rights issues is extremely important to both our peoples. I see the enormous challenges and difficulties that face India in terms of human rights issues. I can only encourage you to do everything possible to enable the citizens of your country to enjoy their rights,” he said.

The German President had decided not to attend the Sochi Winter Olympic Games that began on Friday. Although he gave no reasons, major German media outlets attributed his decision to Russia’s human rights record, especially its views on the rights of gays and lesbians. However, the German President did not say anything on this issue here although it is acknowledged that India’s law is as unrelenting as Russia’s. Exactly a week before the German President made his observations on the death penalty, the EC President was more specific, leaving none in doubt that he was speaking on the trial of the two Italian marines in India.

After meeting Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Brussels, Mr. Barroso warned that any decision on the case might have an impact on the overall EU-India relations and would be assessed carefully. “The EU encourages India to find, as a matter of urgency, a mutually satisfactory solution to the longstanding case of the Italian marines arrested in February 2012, in accordance with international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said.

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