Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Not in Our Interest to Escalate Matters

Kanwal Sibal 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

But it’s up to Rome to find an acceptable way out of the crisis it has created.

The refusal of the Italian government to send back their marines to India for trial complicates an already emotive issue.

The Italian government had till now shown respect for the due process of law by fighting the case upto the Supreme Court. It fulfilled its obligation to return the marines for trial after Christmas holidays in Italy. This time, after the Supreme Court permitted them to go home for voting- an indulgent decision -Rome has decided to dishonour its word to the SC and defy India politically. After showing patience, unavoidable in complex political and legal issues like this one, to precipitate matters like this is surprising.

If public opinion in Italy is agitated over the situation of the marines and had to be satisfied, public opinion in India is distressed too and has to be handled in a more complex federal situation. The reality is that Italian marines have killed Indian citizens close to India’s coast. The injured party is India; it has an independent judiciary and due process of law is assured. There are enough ambiguities in the legal aspects of the case to justify a trial in India. The SC has now ruled that Indian courts have jurisdiction. Why a law-abiding democracy like Italy should show such disregard for law and India is surprising.

The Italian government’s explanation is not convincing. How could it expect India to take a “diplomatic” view of the killing of its citizens in such dubious circumstances and not test facts and jurisdictional issues through the law courts? The formal dispute with India over the terms of UNCLOS, that it claims, can be pursued through mechanisms available in the Convention and not through unilateral action in circumventing the judicial process underway by reneging on its commitment to the Indian government.

This unfortunate development comes in the wake of the Augusta-Westland case, dealing with which will become more problematic with the trust gap now opening wider with the marines case. India-Italy relations are too important to allow them to be degraded. It is not in India’s interest to escalate matters as this case is not central to the relationship. Prime Minister is right in saying that the Italian decision is unacceptable. The burden is on the Italian governement to find an acceptable way out.

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