Needless escalation

August 13, 2015 02:05 am | Updated November 28, 2021 09:02 pm IST

It now appears to be Italy’s turn to stall the judicial process over the >killing of two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012. For long, it was India’s dithering over whether to invoke a stringent law against maritime terrorism that delayed progress. In an unwarranted escalation, Italy has now moved the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, at a time when the judicial process in India has been hampered by a petition from the accused marines questioning the jurisdiction of the National Investigation Agency to prosecute them. Italy’s request for provisional measures against India taking “any judicial or administrative measures” against Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone seems to be an attempt to stymie the pending prosecution and cite the interminable delay itself as a reason for the international forum to intervene. While in the past Italy may have had a legitimate grievance that the case was mired in legal tangles and that its marines were being detained in India without any tangible legal process, now the situation appears to favour it. The Supreme Court has been allowing one of the marines to prolong his stay in Italy, in the latest instance for six more months, while the other lives in a diplomatic residence in Delhi. Secondly, it is now a year and a half since the Union government decided to drop charges under the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002, a law that provides for mandatory death penalty for the offence involved here. 

The Supreme Court has been asking the government to expedite the trial, but legal issues keep cropping up. As in the matter of invoking the 2002 Act, these questions are also being resolved. But Italy appears to have returned to its original position of questioning India’s jurisdiction altogether, despite the fact that the incident took place only 20.5 nautical miles off Indian territory, in the Contiguous Zone. While holding that only the Union government and not Kerala had the jurisdiction to pursue the case, the Supreme Court allowed the question of jurisdiction to be raised during trial. It also noted the relevance of Article 100 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which says all states shall cooperate to repress piracy. Italy need not presume that a trial in India will result in any miscarriage of justice. Instead of fighting it out in an international forum, the two countries should agree on finding judicial closure in India. That will help avert any deterioration in India-European Union relations as well. 

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