Italy turns to UN on India marines’ rights

High Commissioner for Human Rights assessing petition

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, February 11 – The Italian government announced Tuesday it has petitioned the United Nations over two Italian marines accused of murder in India while awaiting charges for two years. Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said Italy has “initiated contact” with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) over “the lack of charges” and the “restriction of freedom” placed on Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone since the alleged crime.

The pair has been living and working at the Italian embassy in India pending charges for allegedly killing Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala in February 2012. “The High Commissioner for Human Rights has agreed to assess the petition,” Bonino added.

The case has stressed relations between India and Italy over the years, most recently as authorities in New Delhi consider whether to apply the 1988 anti-piracy and anti-terrorism Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Navigation, the SUA Convention. Invoking it in India carries the death penalty, but prosecutors say they would not seek it, opting for a 10-year prison sentence instead. Italy condemns its application in any form, arguing it would equate the country to a terrorist state. A long-awaited ruling on the charge was postponed again by the Indian supreme court.

A new hearing is scheduled February 17. Bonino on Tuesday reiterated her country’s contempt for the charges sought in India. “Our marines are neither terrorists nor pirates. They carry out a role in the name of the Italian government,” said Bonino before foreign affairs and defence committees from parliament. “All options are open, from politics and diplomacy to legal channels. The goal is the dignified return of our marines”. After the hearing, the chairs said they plan to write their counterparts in all the EU member States and the European Parliament in a bid to drum up international support.

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs on Tuesday chastized India for seeking the charges, upholding Italy’s objections. “It means Italy would be seen as a terrorist state and this is unacceptable,” said Catherine Ashton. On Monday Ashton said the case “affects all of Europe”, with “huge implications, not only for Italy but also for all the countries engaged in the anti-piracy fight”. Diplomatic sources have told ANSA there was the likelihood that Rome might freeze a number of bilateral treaties being negotiated with India. “These are eventual roads, everything’s on the table,” said Bonino. According to some reports, the affair is unlikely to be resolved before India’s general election in May. The SUA Convention was a product of rising concern about hijackings in the 1980s. It obliges contracting governments either to extradite or prosecute alleged offenders. As of 2013 the Convention has 161 signatories including 159 UN members, representing 94.7%of the gross tonnage of the world’s merchant fleet. In recent years it has largely been used against Somali pirates.


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