Two Marines Caught in Indian–Italian Tug of War

April 3, 2013 Updated: April 3, 2013


BARI, Italy—It was Feb. 15, 2012, when two Italian marines aboard an oil tanker off the coast of Kerala, India, spotted a pirate vessel. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, whose job it was to guard the Italian tanker, fired at the vessel, killing two men.

But, it was not a pirate vessel; it was a fishing vessel, and Latorre and Girone were charged with murder.

Detained in India, they have been treated well, as the incident is generally viewed as a mistake. Indian authorities have been reluctant to promise, however, that the men will not be sentenced to death.

The marines were given leave to visit family back in Italy for Christmas. They had promised to return to India, and kept their word. In February, the Indian government gave them another leave to go vote in Italian general elections.

The Italian government decided this time it would keep Latorre and Girone in Italy. Indian diplomats expressed outrage, and the Italian government reneged under pressure. A widely publicized debate has ensued in Italy as to whether Latorre and Girone should have been kept in Italy.

Indian–Italian relations hang in the balance.

Italy ‘On a Difficult Road’ Legally

Paola Gaeta, director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, wrote in an email to The Epoch Times that the decision to send the marines back to India was “contrary to [Italian] constitutional provisions and to European Convention on Human Rights.”

She compared the case to that of Pietro Venezia, an Italian citizen who was to be extradited to the United States for a murder trial.

“The Italian Supreme Court considered [extradition] contrary to the constitutional provisions,” Gaeta said, as Italian laws prohibit extradition to countries that have the death penalty—even though in Venezia’s case the United States had guaranteed the death penalty would not be used.


It is very unlikely that the death penalty would be given to the marines in India, but the theoretical possibility make’s Italy’s decision unconstitutional, Gaeta said.

Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said in a parliamentary hearing that the case “would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty,” according to Indian broadcaster NDTV.

But Khurshid could not guarantee it, as it is not within his power.

Indian Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar has said that the death penalty could not be excluded with absolute certainty, according to Italian news agency Ansa.

Many Italian media outlets have reported that the special court in New Delhi that will judge the marines will not have the power to sentence anyone to death, but Times of India reported on March 30, “The issue of who deserves capital punishment boils down to [the] discretion of individual judges.”

The special court has not yet been established, reported Reuters on April 2.

The Italians’ lawyer, Diljeet Titus, told Reuters: “The government has sought time, saying they are taking steps to form this special court. But they have nothing to show for it.”

Italy’s government claimed it had gotten assurance from Indian diplomats that the Italians would not be executed. This was a concession the Italian government said it won when it made the decision not to keep the marines in Italy, but that assurance has been called into question.

The decision to hand the Italians over has brought a rain of criticism down on the Italian government; Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi even resigned in protest—though his motives for resignation have been questioned by some, as the move may have other political advantages for him.

Gaeta said, in relation to the constitution, Italy’s decision also put it “on a difficult road” legally.

“The only way possible [to resolve the issue now] … is a high-level international mediation between the two countries,” Gaeta said.

Upholding Italian Image, Supporting Italian–Indian Relations

Italian–Indian relations turned sour when Italy first announced it would keep Latorre and Girone in Italy. India barred the Italian ambassador from leaving the country, a restriction only lifted on April 2.

The marines had decided, apart from any ruling by their government, to return to India out of a sense of honor and duty to their country, said Michele Emiliano, mayor of the southern Italian city of Bari where the sailors are from.

Emiliano, who has been in contact with their families, wrote on his facebook page on March 22, “In order to save the face for everybody … of their [own] will … this evening they returned to India, with grief from their relatives.”

The mayor called the marines heroes who sacrificed their own interests not to “further harm the Italian image and undermine economic and international interests.”


Ansa recounted Girone’s parting words to his wife and children: “I love you more than myself. To make sure that nobody will say that Italy doesn’t maintain its word, I must go back to India.”

With reporting by Tara MacIsaac

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