Italian Marines Case

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The Supreme Court is hearing the government’s plea to close criminal proceedings pending in India against two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012.

Italian Marine Case

  • In Feb 2012, two Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone on board an Italian oil tanker “Enrica Lexie” had opened fire on a fishing St.Antony boat and killed two fishermen for mistaking them as pirates.
  • Italy challenged the arrest of marines before Kerala High Court stating that India has no jurisdiction to try Italian naval marines. Italy provoked Article 97 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
  • In 2015 Italy approached the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an arbitral tribunal under the International Court of Justice and filed an arbitration case under Annex VII of UNCLOS.
  • A tribunal was established by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ITLOS ruling of  2015 asked  Italy and India to suspend all prosecutions in the case.
  • The Permanent Court of Arbitration heard the case in July 2019.

Present Status

  • In a close 3:2 vote, the tribunal ruled that the Italian marines enjoyed diplomatic immunity as Italian state officials under the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.
  • Taking note of the “commitment expressed by Italy ” to resume its criminal investigation into the incident, the tribunal said India must cease to exercise its jurisdiction.
  • In a virtual hearing in August last year, the court had made it clear that it would close the criminal trial of the Marines in India only after the victims’ families were heard and paid a ‘hefty’ compensation.
  • The court had asked the government to negotiate an ‘adequate’ compensation for the slain fishermen’s families with Italy.

                                                            Image Courtesy: ET

Government’s Response

  • Eight months ago, the Centre had informed the apex court about its decision to “accept and abide” by an international tribunal’s award that the Marines should be tried in their native Italy.
  • The government had explained that India was bound by the award of the arbitral tribunal formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • The award was “final and without appeal” as India was a party to the UN Convention.

Permanent Court of Arbitration

  • Established in 1899 and has headquarters at the Hague in the Netherlands.
  • It is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to serve the international community in the field of dispute resolution and to facilitate arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution between States.
  • In real terms it is not a court, it is an organizer of arbitral tribunals to resolve conflicts between member states, international organizations, or private parties.
  • All decisions delivered by it are called “awards” are binding on all the parties in the dispute and have to be carried out without delay.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

  • It is an international agreement that came into force in 1982. It is also known as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea Treaty.
  • It divides marine areas into five main zones namely- Internal Waters, Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the High Seas.
  • It provides a framework for state jurisdiction in maritime spaces. It provides a different legal status to different maritime zones.

Source: IE