NEW DELHI: In a major development, Italy has formally launched international arbitration against India - three years after Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimilano Latorre had been arrested for fatally shooting at two Indian fishermen.
India had taken the two Italian marines posted on the merchant ship Enrica Lexie, into custody after the February 15, 2015 incident, claiming jurisdiction. Italy had strenuously objected, denying that Indian courts could be the arbiter as the incident took place in international high seas.
In its first reaction after Italy's move to drag India to international arbitration, the ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, "We are aware of this development. Our legal experts looking into it".
The announcement by the Italian foreign ministry on Friday said it has launched "the international arbitration on the case of Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)."
Further, Italy said that it will immediately "ask the application of measures that will allow the permanence of Latorre in Italy and the return in Italy of Girone pending of the process of arbitration".
Latorre has been in Italy since last September on medical grounds after suffering a brain stroke. He is supposed to return on July 15 after Supreme Court allowed an extension of three months during its hearing on April 9.
However, with Italy launching arbitration, which it has threatened for long, it is now not likely that Latorre will return.
When the Supreme Court allowed Latorre to leave for Italy, it taken on record an unequivocal and unambiguous undertaking from the marine regarding the dates of departure and arrival back to India.
The court had also taken on record the undertaking furnished by the Italian Ambassador on behalf of the Republic of Italy that the ailing marine would abide by all terms and conditions set for his travel to his native country.
In 2013, Italy had refused to return the two Marines who had gone back to casts their votes. Even as government used its diplomatic capital, Supreme Court had threatened to come down heavily on the Italian ambassador who had given guarantee of their return - despite his diplomatic immunity.
Giving justification for today's announcement, Italian foreign ministry said, "The decision, which Parliament had called for, was taken at the conclusion of the necessary negotiating phase made directly with India and facing the impossibility of reaching a solution to the dispute"
It remains to be seen how Italy proceeds and which international dispute settlement body it approaches to arbitrate in the case.
Italy had last year suggested a political solution to the Indian government, but India had demurred pointing out that the matter was before the Supreme Court.
During the April 9 hearing, SC had told the defence of the two marines not to delay the hearing of the petition by which the jurisdiction of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe the case has been challenged
“There should be some progress in the case. Let the issue be decided, otherwise the sword will be hanging on their heads,” the bench had said .