Enrica Lexie case: Tribunal's compensation award a blow to India

Just compensation, Enrica Lexie case verdict a blow to India

New Delhi: An intergovernmental court's award of compensation for the killing of two fishermen by Italian marines off the coast of Kerala in 2012 is unlikely to satisfy India.

Although Italy has told the international tribunal that it would resume criminal proceedings against the marines, Indian officials said they doubt if the European country will act on its words.

On Thursday it was reported that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that New Delhi is entitled to get compensation in the sensational Enrica Lexie case in which two Italian marines were accused of killing two Indian fishermen in the high seas. The tribunal had in fact delivered the verdict a month ago, but publicised it on Thursday.

Sensational case

The Italian marines were aboard the private oil tanker 'Enrica Lexie' as part of an Italian Navy unit to protect the vessel from pirates.

On February 15, 2012, they killed two Indian fishermen on a vessel, 'St. Antony'. The marines said the fishermen were killed accidentally when they fired warning shots at them thinking them to be pirates.

The Indian Navy later intercepted the vessel and detained the two.

Tribunal's findings

While the two marines were being paid by the private shipping company that operated the tanker, they were part of the Italian government when the incident happened. Hence, they cannot be subject to legal proceedings in India as they enjoyed official immunity, the international court said.

This ruling will have serious consequences, say experts, because it would mean that any person from government armed forces employed by a private ship can escape legal proceedings for such acts.

The verdict was given by a five-member tribunal. The members were Judge Vladimir Golitsyn (President, Russia), Judge Jin-Hyun Paik (South Korea) and Judge Patrick L Robinson (Jamaica), besides the Indian representative Dr Premaraju Sreenivasa Rao and the Italian representative Prof. Francesco Francioni.

The tribunal decalred by a 3-2 vote that India doesn’t have the right to prosecute the marines and action can be taken against them in Italy. It also noted, by a same margin, Italy did not violate India's sovereignty.

Judge Patrick Robinson and India’s representative Dr Premaraju Sreenivasa Rao were the ones to vote against the two observations.

However, all the judges were unanimous in ordering that Italy should pay a compensation; the attack in the sea was a violation of India’s rights; and India did not breach any rule in arresting the marines and taking the tanker to Kochi.

Did Centre conceal verdict?

The Centre did not reveal the international tribunal’s verdict for over a month fearing it would result in a controversy in Kerala, sources said.

They said the verdict was a blow to India and that is why the verdict was not disclosed immediately after it was delivered.

The external affairs ministry disclosed the details when it became known that the Permanent Court of Arbitration will issue a press release on the verdict. The court issued the press release on Thursday.

This could, in effect, mean a violation of the Supreme Court order issued in March 2017, which said the court and Kerala should be kept informed about the progress of the case without any delay.

The case happened when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power. There was tremendous international pressure on India to settle the case amicably.

During the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Narendra Modi and many others had alleged that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi was involved in a conspiracy to get a favourable verdict for the Italian marines.

But, later, there was counter-allegation that Modi, after he became the prime minister, and his Italian counterpart had secretly negotiated a settlement in favour of the marines.

The Congress said the government had relaxed the bail conditions for the marines to leave India.

There were also allegations that India was being indifferent and complacent when the case was being heard by the international tribunal.

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