Italian Marines: India’s Lack of Will to Ensure Justice

In February last year, two Indian fishermen from Kerala were shot dead by Italian marines when their fishing boat came close to an Italian merchant ship. Ever since, the families of the fishermen, and the entire country, have watched with dismay as justice has been eluded with arrogance by the Italian marines.

Right from the start, Italy has maintained that its marines were justified in firing since they thought the fishermen were pirates; moreover Italy has questioned India’s right to try the marines since the incident happened, according to them, in international rather than Indian waters.

The Italian marines were allowed to go home to cast their vote in the elections following a promise made by the Italian Ambassador to India’s Supreme Court. Subsequently, Italy blatantly violated its commitment and refused to return the two marines to face the judicial process in India.

What gives Italy the confidence that it can get away with mocking at India and the Indian Supreme Court? The main reason is that Italy is clearly banking on India’s concerns to protect investment by Italian firms in India. Another possibility is that Italy is hoping to bargain on the Indian Government’s need to cover up the facts regarding the Italian chopper deal, which is being investigated in Italy.

Under pressure from the political consequences of the embarrassment of Italy’s breach of trust, PM Manmohan Singh had to assure Parliament that the Italy’s actions are “not acceptable” and that if Italy failed to “keep their word” there would be “consequences” for India’s relations with Italy. Since then, the Supreme Court has prevented Italy’s Ambassador from leaving the country.

Another factor that emboldens Italy is the Indian Government’s notorious history of conferring impunity on criminals from influential countries. We can recall the escape of Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson in 1984, widely believed to have taken place with the collusion of the Indian Government. The case of David Headley too is fresh in memory, where India has been denied the right to try Headley in India for masterminding the Mumbai terror attack.

The question is not one of mere diplomatic loss of face for India. The two fishermen who lost their lives deserve justice – and justice must not be sacrificed at the altar of diplomatic convenience.

Liberation Archive