Saturday, April 1st, 2023 10:32:57

Horrid Italian Betrayal

Updated: March 30, 2013 3:57 pm

Call it a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Italy’s refusal to send back two marines, Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone, both of whom have been charged with shooting two fishermen dead off Kerala coast in February last year, smacks of utter contempt for Indian laws and its highest judicial body. Despite the tough words spoken by the Prime Minister, the murky affair has exposed the underbelly of the soft state that our nation is now being considered by the international community.

The marines were permitted by the Supreme Court of India to go to Italy for four weeks to cast their votes in last month’s election. Last year too, they were allowed to go home for Christmas holidays after which they returned to India on expiry of their leave. The frivolous reasons for allowing such largesse to prima facie murderers point to a hidden diplomatic understanding between the two governments.

The Italian Ministry claimed that India had not responded to its requests to seek a diplomatic solution to the case and there was now a formal dispute between the two countries over the terms of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. This decision of not sending them back was taken by Italy’s defence and justice ministries in consultation with the country’s prime minister’s office. In spite of the killings in Indian waters, Italy claims the incident occurred in international waters and has been trying to get Latorre and Girone tried in Italian court.

This is a betrayal by the Italian government and a blatant breach of trust between two sovereign nations. Rather than thanking the Indian authorities for granting such magnanimity of allowing the two marines to visit their homes, the Italians are now charging India with violating their obligations under international law, especially the principle of immunity from trial by the organs of a foreign state and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is well known that the marines were given VIP treatment in jail, which included Italian food. But the scant regard that Italy has for India was witnessed in the Ottavio Quattrocchi case and the recent refusal by them to co-operate with the investigations in the AgustaWestland helicopter scam.

The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley has rightly invoked James Bond’s quote: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it’s enemy action.” This act of Italy is “enemy action”, and it is time India should forget diplomatic niceties. Harish Salve, the senior counsel who handled the case for the Italians, was quick to drop them. Expressing shock and insult, he now speaks of ‘Indian prestige’. The ruckus in Kerala, where the PM’s effigy was burnt expresses the anguish of the people.

Flashback to the kidnapping of the two Italian tourists in Kandhamal in Odisha last March: Basusco Paolo, one of the hostages, was an illegal visa jumper, who had broken at least ten sections of the Indian Immigration Laws and the Foreigners Act. He had been overstaying at Puri for years, had got a PAN card giving false information and was running an illegal business. Claudio Colangelo, the other hostage, could not even explain why he was there in Kandhamal. The state government, under the Centre’s pressure, went overboard to the extent that it met the demands of the Maoists and got them released after which they immediately flew back to their country, without any trial or persecution for their acts. Does the Indian government or its consular services in Italy ever take up the cause of the hundreds of Indians languishing in Italian jails, not for murder but on illegal immigration charges?

Over 6,000 Indians are currently languishing in foreign jails in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Iran , Greece, Belgium, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Myanmar, Oman, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The offences for which Indians land in foreign jails are mostly violation of visa rules or illegal entry, non-possession of valid travel documents, economic offences and violation of employment contracts. The Indian government should take a leaf out of the Italy’s book and learn the tricks of the trade.

However, the pro-active Subramanian Swamy took the bull by the horns and filed a petition in the Supreme Court, which issued orders asking the Italian Ambassador not to leave the country till March 18. The outcome will be watched with bated breath.

It is a wake-up call for the government to make adequate changes in its foreign policy with regard to crimes committed by foreigners in India and vice versa. The Law Ministry should examine all the post-independence treaties, including the Vienna convention, and ensure that the Constitution of the country cannot be overridden by such pacts. The Italian Ambassador has diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested, but he should be certainly declared a persona-non-grata and sent back.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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