Italian Ambassador Detained By India Over Murder Of 2 Fishermen By Italian Marines

A diplomatic row between India and Italy is escalating out of control as both countries come to a head concerning the jurisdiction of a court case involving two Italian marines and two deceased Indian fishermen.

The marines, charged with the murder of two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala, were allowed to go back to their native country last month to vote in the national elections under the condition that they return within four weeks to stand trial. Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini filed an affidavit before the Indian Supreme Court and gave his personal assurance that the two marines in question would be back by March 22. Their trial date is set for April 2.

However, Rome is going back on its word, refusing to return the two marines on grounds that India has a lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter. They claim the shooting happened in international waters, so the marines can and will be tried within their own national borders.

The Italian marines say they mistook the fishermen for pirates. Both the 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea conveniently state that in terms of suppressing pirate acts, there is a recognized "universal jurisdiction on the part of all states."

The Indian courts argue that regardless of the location of the ships, they reserve the right to try the marines seeing as the fishermen were unarmed Indians aboard an Indian ship. Other Indian civilians also argue that the Keralan coast in the southwest region of India is not only a common fishing ground for Indian fishermen, it is also far from the normal operation zone of Somalian pirates.

In response to Italy "reneging on an assurance to our highest court," the Indian government has alerted all airports across the country to stop Mancini from leaving Indian borders. While Mancini has stated that he has no plans to leave the country, others watching the row say this diplomatic detention could lead to potential associations of a hostage crisis.

Mancini’s restraining custody also opens up the interpretation to a breach in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The international treaty explicitly states that diplomats "shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention." However, the Indian Supreme Court claims Mancini waived his diplomatic immunity when he personally took on the responsibility of returning the charged marines.

The Italian government seeks for a "friendly agreement," but with pressure from two fatherless families and an increasingly critical news media, India is showing no signs of compromise.

The row is drawing international attention, and the dispute could also negatively affect the ongoing negotiations between India and the EU over a free-trade agreement. As a result, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has become involved, calling for peaceful accords between the two countries.