Monday, February 10, 2014

Italy/India: Update--After 2 Years in Captivity at the Italian Embassy, It is Time for Marines to Go Home

According to Reuters, Italy warned on Monday (February 10) that India's relations with the European Union (EU) would be seriously impaired if New Delhi decides to use strict anti-piracy laws to try two Italian Marines accused of killing two fishermen during a security operation in 2012.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said earlier today: "It would bring about negative consequences in relations with Italy and the European Union (EU), with equally negative repercussions on the global fight against piracy."

The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, part of a military security team protecting the Italian tanker, Enrica Lexie, from pirates, were accused of shooting and killing the two fishermen, after mistaking them for pirates off the southern Indian state of Kerala in February 2012.
The case has soured relations between Italy and India, with Letta's government under growing pressure from opposition parties to act to bring home the two Marines, who have been living in the Italian Embassy in India for much of the past two years while the case against them has been brewing. 

Latorre and Girone say they thought the fishermen were pirates and fired shots to warn them off approaching the ship but deny killing anyone.
India's attorney general said on Friday (February 7) the two would be tried for the deaths of the fishermen under anti-piracy and anti-terrorism laws, but that the death penalty would not be imposed.
The Indian supreme court is due to hold a hearing on February 18 to decide whether to validate or reject the attorney general's request.
The Italian government approached India's Supreme Court last month to demand that the two Marines be allowed to return home, given that after two years, the men have not been formally charged.

COMMENT: According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, India’s Supreme Court refused on Monday (February 10) to resolve the international dispute with Italy over the arrest of two Italian Marines without charging them after two years.

The dispute began on February 15, 2012, when the two marines, assigned to the Italian merchant vessel, "Enrica Lexie,"  off the coast of Kerala State, fired on a fishing boat that the marines worried might be filled with pirates. 

The Marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, said they had fired warning shots that did not strike the boat. Hours later, a Kerala fishing boat returned to shore with two dead fisherman.  

The "Enrica Lexie" was brought to Kochi, a west coast Indian port, and Latorre and Girone were arrested. The Italians contend that the marines have immunity from prosecution in India because the shooting took place in international waters and the marines were acting in an official capacity. 

Conversely, Indian officials contend that the marines can be prosecuted because the vessel was commercial and the shooting happened in a maritime zone where India has jurisdiction. 

Last year, the dispute intensified after India allowed the marines to return home to vote in national elections in exchange for a promise that they would come back. When Italy announced that the marines would not return, outraged Indian officials alerted airport authorities to arrest the Italian ambassador in case he attempted to leave India.

After Indian diplomats promised that the marines would not face the death penalty, the marines returned to India in March. Last month, Indian newspapers reported that the marines could be charged with terrorism, a crime that carries a mandatory death sentence.

It indeed seems very, very strange that in the course of two years, two sovereign nations have seemingly been unable to produce the following, which should be relatively easy:

a. Documented GPS evidence depicting exactly where the ""Enrica Lexie" was positioned at the time the two Indian fisherman were shot and killed; 

b. Documented evidence as to where the Indian Coast Guard vessel was at the time of the believed deaths of the two Indian fishermen;

c. Trained and experienced marksman used in anti-piracy operations  know when they do and do NOT strike a boat of any size, given the high-end optics they are using. Spotters also generally can digitally capture their hits as evidence of not hitting the fishing boat; and

d. Forensic evidence demonstrating that the two fishermen were shot and killed by ammunition used by the two Marines, if it even exists.

Regardless of the availability of the above evidence, it seems logical that both nations should have long ago entered into mediation by a disinterested third party to help bring the dissension between the Indian and Italian governments to a satisfactory resolution.