The Enrica Lexie Case involved two Italian marines namely, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, who were accused of shooting two Indian fishermen, Jalastine and Ajeesh Binki, off India’s southeastern Kerala coast on February 15, 2012. “We have not heard a word from the PM or the Government of India on the matter. It sends a dismaying signal that Indian lives don’t matter to the Indian Prime Minister and that justice can be sacrificed at the altar of diplomatic expediency,” said Shashi Tharoor, Congress Member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram. On the contrary, India had detained the marines on board of the Italian tanker, Enrica Lexie for killing the fishermen on an Indian vessel, St Antony. The arrest and subsequent exercise of jurisdiction by Indian authorities had plagued relations with Italy for years.
Italy had alleged that India had violated United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provisions by ordering the detention of the Italian tanker, but this was rejected unanimously by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). During the legal proceedings, the foremost legal issue that was raised was on the question of Indian jurisdiction to conduct criminal trials. India argued that it had jurisdiction over the case since the deceased fishermen were Indian, therefore, the case must be tried as per Indian laws. On the other hand, the Italians argued that shooting took place beyond Indian territorial waters, marines on-board were Italian and flying under an Italian flag. Thus, Italy had jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Italians argued, the marines acted to protect an Italian oil tanker as part of an anti-piracy mission.
ITLOS, a Tribunal created as per the provisions of the UNCLOS, is aimed by the desire to settle, in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, all issues relating to the law of the sea. Italy approached ITLOS and based on its request, ITLOS referred the Case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which was constituted under Annex VII of the UNCLOS on June 26, 2015.
ITLOS upheld the actions of the Italian marines, but in contrast, held that Italy was in breach of India’s Freedom of Navigation as per Articles 87(1)(a) and 90 of UNCLOS. On the question of jurisdiction, ITLOS observed that India and Italy had “concurrent jurisdiction” over the incident and a valid legal basis to institute criminal proceedings against the marines. ITLOS rejected Italy’s claim to compensation for the detention of the marines. Conversely, the Tribunal ruled that the accused enjoy diplomatic immunity that is granted to foreign State officials, which will act as an “exception to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts”. As a consequence, Indian courts cannot judge the case owing to diplomatic cover.
Furthermore, the PCA enabled India to seek compensation and asked India and Italy to consult on the amount of compensation due. In a close 3:2 vote, ITLOS President Jin-Hyun Paik and former President Vladimir Golitsyn and Professor Francesco Francioni voted in favour of Italy, whereas Judge Patrick Robinson and Judge Pemmaraju Sreenivasa Rao voted in favour of India on the note of “commitment expressed by Italy” to resume a criminal investigation into the incident in Italy. ITLOS held India must cease to exercise its jurisdiction on the Italian marines.
Disclosing the details of the verdict, Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava stated, that the court upheld the conduct of the Indian law enforcement authorities, declared that Italy had breached Freedom of Navigation and concluded that ITLOS rejected Italy’s claim for compensation for the detention of the marines. “However, it found that the immunities enjoyed by the Marines as State officials operate as an exception to the jurisdiction of the Indian Courts and, hence, preclude them to judge the Marines.” In a statement on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said, “Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, are entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of Indian courts concerning the acts which occurred during the incident of 15 February 2012. India is therefore precluded from exercising its jurisdiction over the Marines. The Arbitral Tribunal has therefore agreed on the Italian position that the Marines, being members of the Italian armed forces in the official exercise of their duties, cannot be tried by Indian courts.” Acknowledging the breach of freedom of navigation, it said, “As a result of the breach, India is entitled to payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property and moral harm suffered by the captain and other crew members of the Indian fishing boat St. Anthony.” “Italy stands ready to fulfil the decision taken by the Arbitral Tribunal, in a spirit of cooperation,” the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
In reaction to the verdict, Senior Advocate K.N Balagopal mourned with distaste and said; “What happened was a cold-blooded murder”. Balagopal represented the State in the case before the Supreme Court in the matter. “Compensation is anyway granted in such cases; the marines should have stood trial in our courts for the crime committed”, he added. He called the verdict less than a victory “though there is some vindication to an extent”.