NAJEEB S A
At 17 degree Celsius Delhiites are enjoying a pleasant patch. The unpredictable ‘Loo’ hot waves from neighboring Rajasthan hopefully will not strike them at this time of the year. The distasteful scent of mistrust hung in the air until last Tuesday has now given way to compassion.
The Indian Supreme court has allowed the plea of Italian marine Massimiliano Lattore, the co-accused undergoing trial for the 2012 killing of two Indian fishermen, for an extension of three more months to remain in Italy on medical grounds.
Lattore underwent cardiac surgery on January 5. The top court had reversed its earlier denial of the defendant’s plea on the basis of a no objection submitted by the Indian government seeking the Italian ambassador to furnish an undertaking on the return of the accused to which the defendant’s lawyer expressed acceptance.
Last month, amid a standoff between Rome and New Delhi over the two Italian marines, the Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini was recalled for ‘urgent consultations’. Two days later the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano accused India of showing “scarce political will” to provide a “fair solution” to the case.
It was in February 2012 while on sentry duty aboard the private vessel ‘Enrica Lexie’, Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone shot dead two Kerala fishermen Jelestine Valentine and Ajeesh Pinku in an approaching fishing boat mistaking them as pirates off the Indian southwestern coast.
During the course of their trial, in January 18 last year, the Indian Supreme Court had disallowed the Italian government’s argument that Indian courts had no jurisdiction in the case and that the marines should be tried in Italy.
The court in its ruling had also noted: “The incident of firing from the Italian vessel on the Indian fishing boat having occurred within the Contiguous Zone, the Union of India is entitled to prosecute the two Italian marines under the criminal justice system prevalent in the country”. The government on the other hand was advised to constitute a special court under international maritime law for conducting the trial.
In the meantime the Indian government dragged its feet in establishing a special court to try the marines. Since the special court had not come into existence and there was no case pending against the two Italians in any other Indian court, they submitted a leave petition seeking permission to return home to vote in the general elections. Surprisingly, neither the Solicitor General nor the government pleaders pressed the point that there was no Italian regulation in place preventing them from casting their votes overseas by postal ballot.
This scenario, compounded by the Italian envoy’s personal assurance that the marines will return to India after voting in the elections, appeared fair enough to the apex court for allowing the plea.
Curiously enough, the dust was kicked up by a ‘note verbale’ delivered by the Italian ambassador to the Indian external affairs ministry late night on March 11, 2013 saying the marines who were granted a 4-week bail by the Supreme Court will not return.
The Italian decision caught India totally off guard. The top court also felt betrayed to the extent that it took the unprecedented measure of restraining the Italian ambassador from leaving the country, which prompted the European Union to warn India that it would be violating the Vienna Convention if it tried to enforce the decision.
There is a predisposition in the human character for defiance under duress to which both the Italians as well as the Indians are no exceptions. Domestic misdemeanors apart, both New Delhi and Rome were finding themselves on shifting sands. But then wisdom lay in recognizing an opportunity when it presented itself. Before the time line set by the Indian apex court ran out, the Italian External Affairs Ministry announced the return of the two accused.
The Indian government had reciprocated by assuring the marines freedom of exercising their fundamental rights and also agreeing to try them under a special court. Even if they are eventually convicted, the marines will only serve their prison term in Italy, as in November 2012 India had ratified a treaty with Italy (which as a matter of fact was agreed upon before the controversial shooting occurred) allowing citizens convicted of crimes in either country to serve their prison sentences in their home country.
Since then the marines have been living in the Italian embassy in the Indian capital waiting to be tried and were not permitted to leave the country. However, when one of the marines Massimiliano Lattore suffered a cerebral ischaemia (restrained blood supply that perhaps could induce a stroke) the Indian apex court in September had granted him permission to go home for four months.
That was way back in September. Last month, however, it turned down Massimiliano Lattore’s application for extending his leave under medical grounds, and also that of Salvatore Girone for joining his family during Christmas.
The Italians responded by recalling their ambassador (for ‘consultations’) from New Delhi, but surely falling short of severing diplomatic ties. There was also an innuendo in Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti’s statement that Latorre’s health “was the government’s priority and nothing will be done to put it in danger”.
Meanwhile Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in a statement given to ANSA said that her government was looking at an Italian proposal with a “positive spirit”. Two days later Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told State broadcaster RAI in Rome that “The harvest (from the dialogue with India) has been very disappointing. If the agreement is what we saw the other day, then we’re not going very far. I hope that different roads can be found in the next few days.”
Last year an Indian television crew, who have been to the home town of one of the marines, Massimiliano Latorre, found that the population of the township, Tarano, considered the accused young men as heroes, and everything that had happened on the fateful day of February 15, 2012, as a tragedy of errors. The mayor of the town, Ippazio Stefano, has been in touch with the Indian government offering the children of the slain fishermen education under their sponsorship. His countrymen were grateful to those Indians who had sacrificed their lives in the Word War II to save Italy from Nazi occupation, added the mayor.