Italian envoy to India 'has no immunity': court
India's top judge said Monday that Italy's ambassador had forfeited his diplomatic immunity over his role in securing the release of two marines who skipped bail while on trial for murder in New Delhi.
- Published: 18/03/2013 at 12:49 PM
- Newspaper section: news
A security guard walks into the Italian embassy in New Delhi on March 13, 2013. India's top judge said Monday that Italy's ambassador had forfeited his diplomatic immunity over his role in securing the release of two marines who skipped bail while on trial for murder in New Delhi.
Chief Justice Altamas Kabir said Daniele Mancini, who had negotiated the Italians' release last month so they could vote in an election, had waived his immunity by giving an undertaking to a court that the pair would return.
"A person who comes to court and gives an undertaking has no immunity," Kabir told a hearing, while ordering that the ambassador stay in India until the next hearing on April 2.
But Italy hit back, accusing India of violating a convention on diplomatic immunity by preventing the ambassador from leaving.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who are accused of murdering two Indian fishermen last year, had been given permission to fly to Italy to cast their votes in the election on the understanding that they would return.
But the Italian government announced last week that it would renege on its commitment to send the men back, prompting fury in New Delhi.
The Indian government has warned of "consequences" and is reviewing its ties with Italy, while the case is being watched carefully by India's allies because it could set precedents over the treatment of foreign diplomats.
New Delhi has put its airports on alert to prevent Mancini from leaving the country and the Supreme Court issued instructions that "appropriate steps" should be taken to restrain him.
Without legal protection he could be prosecuted for contempt of court.
A lawyer for the Italian government argued that Mancini still enjoyed diplomatic immunity and freedom of movement under international rules contained in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
However Kabir, who was heading a three-judge bench, said: "We have lost all trust in the ambassador."
Later Monday, a statement from the Italian foreign ministry said: "The Supreme Court's decision to prevent our ambassador from leaving the country without the court's permission is a clear violation of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations."
"Italy continues to believe that the case of its two marines should be resolved according to international law," the statement said, adding that Italy "wants to keep friendly relations".
Katherine Reece-Thomas, an international law expert at City University London, said that India risked being in breach of its Vienna Convention commitments.
"The only sanction available to the host state (India) is to declare the diplomat to be persona non grata and demand that he leave," Reece-Thomas wrote in an email sent to AFP.
"India cannot stop the ambassador leaving against his will and any suggestion that he somehow waived his rights under the Convention is unfounded."
In Brussels, the EU's foreign service Monday reacted cautiously to Kabir's decision.
India and Italy should "pursue all avenues for an amicable solution", said the spokesman for European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton.
India's foreign ministry has also argued that Mancini may have waived his immunity by willingly submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court by signing a personal affidavit guaranteeing the return of the marines.
"We as officers of the government of India will abide by the directions of the court of India," foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
The marines face murder charges in India after shooting dead two fishermen off India's southwestern coast in February last year, when a fishing boat sailed close to the Italian oil tanker they were guarding.
They say they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
Italy insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters, but India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.
Italy said Friday it would seek a "friendly agreement" with India to resolve the dispute.
Relations between the two countries have also been soured by corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 helicopters which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency