New Delhi: The Italian job just got nastier.
Defiance and arrogance mark a not-so diplomatic note of March 15 from Italy to the Europe West Division of the Ministry of External Affairs on the Mancini row.
The official communication, a copy of which is available with Mail Today, warns India that any restriction on the freedom of movement of Daniele Mancini, the Italian envoy, including any limitation of his right of leaving Indian territory, will be contrary to international obligations.
The note, which reminds New Delhi of its obligations relating to the protection of diplomatic agents as enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, lays bare the serious strain that has developed between the two countries. “The Embassy of Italy expects that the Ministry of External Affairs will ensure full compliance with the privileges and immunities contemplated in the convention, and provide reassurance that no Indian authority shall impose or implement, restrictive measures on the personal freedom of his excellency the Ambassador,” it says.
The Italian mission has also sought an assurance on the safety of the Italian envoy, and its other diplomats and missions in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Informal parleys with top diplomats of European countries reveal, however, that most think Rome is at fault for reneging on a promise given to the highest court in India. “We did convey our concerns to the Italians at the informal level, that this will harm everyone, and that the onus of getting the marines back is on the Italian Government as they had given an assurance to India’s highest court,” a senior European diplomat told MAIL TODAY. Another diplomat from a leading EU country said that “even though we felt sorry for Daniele Mancini, who is a seasoned diplomat, reneging on a sovereign promise could damage the credibility of the diplomats and the Italians must correct this”.
On Monday, the SC hardened its stand in the case, saying it had “lost trust” in the Italian ambassador who had backed out of an undertaking to ensure return of marines facing charges of killing two Indian fishermen, and restrained him from leaving the country till further orders.
A bench presided over by Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir adjourned the hearing of the case to April 2 but not before expressing its disapproval of the stand taken by the Italian government and indicating that it would act tough against Mancini who had filed an affidavit taking responsibility for the return of marines.
The court had earlier issued notice to the Republic of Italy, Mancini and the two marines after taking cognisance of a March 11 Note Verbale from the Italian embassy indicating that Rome would not send the marines back to face trial for killing fishermen off Kerala coast in February last year.
With senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi stating that he was appearing for both the Republic of Italy and the Italian ambassador, Justice Kabir said he wanted to hear Mancini and not the Italian ambassador.
“But he is also the ambassador,” Rohatgi said. “What is your intention Mr Daniele Mancini?” Justice Kabir then asked. With Justice Kabir distinguishing between the individual and the ambassador, Rohatgi said Mancini had acted on behalf of the government of Italy. The bench pointed out that Daniele Mancini had filed an affidavit taking responsibility for the return of the marines if they were allowed to go back to their country to participate in elections and sought to know if he stood by his undertaking.
The court, thereafter, extended its March 14 interim order restraining Mancini from leaving the country.
Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati said the court should specifically seek to know from Mancini if he intends to leave the country. The court further directed all authorities to take steps to ensure compliance of its order. At this point, Rohatgi told the court that Mancini did not intend to travel abroad. “We don’t want to go by anything he says… Much has been written about how naive we are."
"We never expected the government of Italy to behave like this. What do you think courts are?” Justice Kabir said.
Rohatgi said Mancini had given an undertaking on behalf of the government of Italy and not as a person. The bench, however, maintained that he had come to the court as a petitioner.
Vahanvati, thereafter, updated the court on the recent developments. He pointed out that the Italian embassy had sent another Note Verbale after the hearing on March 14.
Meanwhile, Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy filed a petition seeking initiation of proceedings for contempt against Mancini and the marines. The government has not sought initiation of contempt; it has only brought the proposed defiance to the notice of the court.
The government has deliberately been ambiguous on the issue of diplomatic immunity but it can do little but declare Mancini an undesirable and send him back to Italy.
The Italian envoy cannot be arrested or restrained indefinitely as this may open the floodgates for similar action against Indian diplomats abroad. India could well end up diluting the pressure being built on the Italians by other countries who believe that they committed a tactical error by taking on the apex court of India.
For now, it seems unlikely that Rome will bite the bullet and send the marines back. Sources say that the additional secretary in charge of West Europe at the MEA, Ruchi Ghanshyam, is working on a report that will recommend a slew of measures, including declaring Mancini persona non grata.
Reproduced From Mail Today. Copyright 2013. MTNPL. All rights reserved.