Italian marines case: SC can't do much, but govt can
The Supreme Court cannot do much to rein in the recalcitrant Italian ambassador, only the government can. Is it ready to flex its muscles?
The verbal roasting that Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini got from the Supreme Court yesterday was well deserved. Saying it no longer had faith in his word, the court also peremptorily rejected Mancini's claims of diplomatic immunity.
Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said: “A person who has come to court as a petitioner, I don’t think he has any immunity. Some people are writing that we are naïve. What do they think about our judicial system? We don’t expect the Republic of Italy to behave like this. He (the Ambassador) has lost the trust.”
However, given the weight of international opinion and our own domestic legal opinion on the sanctity of diplomatic immunity under the Vienna convention, neither the Supreme Court nor the Indian government can afford to continue in this vein. The only way forward is for India to play power politics — assuming it has the guts to do so.
This is what it could do.
First, the government has to convince the court that Mancini should not get anything more than a verbal censure. After that he should be declared persona non grata and the Italian mission in India shut down. India should end all diplomatic relationships with Italy and allow a small desk in Switzerland or France to handle India's Italian ties.
Once Mancini is out of India, the Supreme Court should issue a contempt notice to him and declare him an absconder if he fails to turn up without immunity.
Second, India must immediately set up a special court to try the two Italian marines — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone —who killed two fishermen off Kerala's coast in February 2012, allegedly in the mistaken belief that they were pirates. How they confused sleeping and unarmed fishermen to be pirates is anybody’s guess.
Once a special court is set up, the marines can be charge-sheeted and declared absconders from the law. A lookout notice should posted with Interpol which should ensure that neither of the marines is ever allowed to live without fear of being arrested when they step out of Italy.
Third, India has to start using its diplomatic leverage to engage the European Union and bring Italy to heel. Italy derives its strength from being a part of the EU, even though its economy is a shambles. The EU will not allow Italy to go down in a standoff with India, which is why India must talk to every EU member with strong economic ties to India to make them understand that what Italy did – thumb its nose at India’s judiciary and its people after murdering two of its citizens - is not acceptable when the EU lectures us all the time about human rights and the rule of law. Italy should be made to feel like a pariah within the EU.
As Nitin Pai writes in Business Standard: “Brussels appears to want to wash its hands of the matter, but New Delhi must not allow the EU and its member states to distance themselves from Italy's mala fide act….New Delhi must make it abundantly clear to Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London that India will see no difference between Italy's stand and the EU's.”
Pai adds: “While the Indian government and the Supreme Court must continue to pursue the case in the domain of law, let us be clear that the matter is now firmly in the domain of power. New Delhi must… respond to the Italian transgression on the geopolitical and geo-economic chessboard.”
Fourth, India must use its economic clout to make Italy pay a price. The Agusta Westland helicopter deal, must, of course, be scrapped. This means that the Italians will not cooperate with the probe, but it isn't as if we were so eager to get to the bribe-givers or takers. All future defence deals with Italy must thus be off.
Existing Indo-Italian business deals and collaborations cannot be targeted, since these will wind up in courts and contravene international trade laws, but India must covertly use its famed red tape and bureaucratic culture to ensure that no Italian project in India ever takes off. Indian tourists must be dissuaded from visiting Italy. And so on.
On the other hand, India’s other trading partners like France and UK must be given favoured deals to target Italy. This, of course, can’t be stated, but it can be done with some degree of diplomatic finesse.
This is the right time to flex our diplomatic muscles before they atrophy forever under the weight of disuse. Europe is no shape to play "globocop", and India must take advantage of this weakness.
Manmohan Singh, who promised “consequences” if the marines don’t return to face trial, as promised by Mancini in the Supreme Court, must now walk the talk.
The Italian perfidy cannot be allowed to stand.
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The Italian marines were arrested on 19 February for allegedly opening fire and killing two Kerala fishermen. The Kerala High court had on 30 May granted them bail with stringent conditions and they are now staying in Kollam.
The apex court was told that a 100,000 tonne ship has incurred a loss of Rs 200 crore ever since it was detained at the Kochi port and its losses were adding up every day.
While Italian public opinion is firmly behind their government, the media have been split along ideological lines, with left-leaning publications attacking Rome's "scandalous' behaviour.