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Thursday, September 11, 2014

killings from Enrica Lexie ... Italian Marines and International forums ... !!!

It has been a long-winding case with lots of twists and turns ... from Neendakara coastal police station in Kollam in February 2012, the Italian marines’ case,  reached the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. In the interim, the case passed through the Kollam Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, the Kollam District and Sessions Court, the Kerala High Court, and the Supreme Court.  It is a case of Marines – the Italians accused of  killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast.  Unlike some Countries, where ship owners have had to resort to private security forces, Italy had been  assigning military teams to protect its merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean last year after a series of attacks by Somali pirates on Italian ships.  

It is not about the occurrence, but more on the place – the jurisdiction of Courts and the laws that would apply.  While India has taken a stand that the killing of innocent fishermen happened in its territorial waters, Italy has been denying and questioning everything related to the incident.  Earlier, Italy registered strong protest against India slapping the provisions of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf (SUA) Act against the marines.  The case had its echo when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visiting in May 14, responded stating that it was a bilateral issue. The statement triggered fury in Italy.

Maritime Piracy has proved to be a great risk for all those at sea ! …  Enrica Lexie, is a Aframax tanker built in 2008 at Shanghai Waigaogiao, with double hull, Italy flag, ABS class –bearing IMO no. 9489297.  After the hype of protest and diplomatic wrangling, two Italian guards, identified as Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone from Italy’s San Marco Regiment, were  arrested in Kochi  four days   after the killing.  First Italy cited its own extra-territorial jurisdiction to claim exemption from trial for the two naval officers; then sent junior foreign minister Staffan De Mistura to add diplomatic pressure.  Trying to add a new dimension to the killing of fishermen nearer the Indian coast, Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi stated  that the arrest of the two mariners would hamper international fight against piracy.  A year later to the arrest, the Italian marines got Court permission and visited their country for voting in the elections and there was some trouble as they did not return in time.   Italy’s Ambassador had given undertaking to the Supreme Court that the two marines – Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone – would return to New Delhi after voting in Italy.

Recently, Massimilano Latorre, one of the two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen, sought the Supreme Court’s permission to return to his country for two months to recuperate from a stroke. The court asked the Centre to give its response and posted the matter for hearing on September 12.  It was indicated that the Govt would not oppose the plea stating it to be on humanitarian grounds. Latorre’s lawyers, Soli Sorabjee and K.T.S. Tulsi, told a three-judge Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, that their client had been admitted to hospital after collapsing at the Italian Embassy, where he had been detained, along with Salvatore Girone, while waiting for the trial to start.  It was stated that  Latorre had suffered a mild stroke and was acutely depressed. Senior counsel urged the court to give the marine permission to travel to Italy and be with his family and children for two months.

It is reported that no charge sheet has been filed yet  in the incident that occurred on 15th Feb 2012 and further proceedings in the case had been kept in abeyance.  Now in a fresh turn of events, it is reported that the fishing boat owner whose two crew members were shot dead by Italian marines off the Kerala coast, has moved the Supreme Court  saying Massimilano Latorre, one of the accused, should be examined by an expert medical panel before he is allowed to travel to Italy to recuperate. The application filed by Freddy of Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu said the court should first have a medical board of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences examine Mr. Latorre. Mr. Freddy said he lost his “two able colleagues” — Valentine and Ajesh Binki — in the incident and he himself had suffered a spinal injury.  The application also recounts how Apex Court as a goodwill gesture had allowed the Marines to travel back to Italy and how the assurances were flagrantly violated resulting in a diplomatic crisis. 

Though it is a criminal case for the killing of Indian fishermen, the Union Home Ministry’s had decided to drop the death penalty clause while prosecuting two Italian marines – presumably due to International opinion and high-level European leaders speaking publicly about it. The views of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and that of German President Joachim Gauck  weighed into the subject of death penalty,  as German President took it up unusually during his speech at a banquet hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee stating that Europe has abolished and outlawed capital punishment.   “Our societies may be different but recognition of the universal nature of human rights issues is extremely important to both our peoples. I see the enormous challenges and difficulties that face India in terms of human rights issues. I can only encourage you to do everything possible to enable the citizens of your country to enjoy their rights,” he said.

So, what will happen and when will that happen – will the Marines be punished for the killing of fishermen ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

11th Sept. 2014.

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