Setback to India: UN tribunal rules to stay court proceedings in Italian marines case
Italy and India have been ordered by a UN tribunal to stop all court proceedings on the two Italian marines accused of killing Indian fishermen in 2012.
By 15 votes to six, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) chaired by its president Vladimir Golitsyn, has ruled in the Enrica Lexie case that, “Italy and India shall both suspend all court proceedings and shall refrain from initiating new ones which might aggravate or extend the dispute submitted to the Annex VII arbitral tribunal”. It further instructed both countries to report to the tribunal by 24 September on their compliance with the ruling.
This is a blow to India that has sought to prove that the killing of two Indian fishermen — Valentine Jelastine and Ajeesh Pink — off the coast of Kerala on 15 February, 2012 by the two Italian marines — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — was infact a “double murder at sea, in which one fisherman was shot in the head and the other in the stomach”. Meanwhile, Italy has always maintained that they were killed as part of anti-piracy operations and that the case was covered by Article 97 (pertaining to “collision or any other incident of navigation concerning a ship on the high seas”) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
A major bone of contention in the case has been the location of the incident. Italy maintains that Latorre and Girone opened fire on the fishing boat St Anthony in international waters, while India claims that the incident occurred in waters covered by India's jurisdiction.
Accordingly, Italy submitted a request on 21 July, 2015 for the prescription of provisional measures under Article 290, paragraph five, of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Among Italy’s requests, as stated in this document was a clause stating:
“India shall refrain from taking or enforcing any judicial or administrative measures against Sergeant Massimiliano Latorre and Sergeant Salvatore Girone in connection with the Enrica Lexie Incident, and from exercising any other form of jurisdiction over that Incident”.
In response, India’s written observations submitted on 6 August, 2015 points out that:
“Italy has based this request on a selective, self-serving and patently inaccurate account of the judicial and administrative actions that India has taken with regard to the killing of two unarmed fishermen operating within India’s exclusive economic zone by Italian Marines stationed on the MV Enrica Lexie”.
Following a public hearing held at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg on 10 and 11 August, final submissions by India and Italy were handed in, with the tribunal providing 24 August as the date for its ruling.
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