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After almost three years in prison, perhaps we are now at the final crossroads. The negotiations in the Court of Law between the opposite legal teams remarked the traditional points of distance. Now India and Italy rely on the courts – 21 of number – the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to put down a first firm point in the affair of the Marina riflemen Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre.

Rome has asked the Court of Hamburg – by way of provisional and urgent measures – for Latorre to be allowed to stay in Italy, for Girone to be able to make return as well, and for the jurisdiction procedures against them in India to be suspended  in the context of and till the conclusion of the arbitration proceedings asked with reference to the United Nations Convention on the law of the sea – waiting times: a few years. “The riflemen – has said in the Court of Law, on behalf of the government, the Italian ambassador in The Hague, Francesco Azzarello during the hearings on August 10 and 11 last year – have not been indicted for any crime yet” and India demonstrates “contempt for the rightful process” by considering them already guilty; an attitude, “that best exemplifies the impasse situation in which we find ourselves”.

India, on the other hand, opposes the requests for interim measures advanced by Italy in order to protect its military men and, above all, questions the competence of the Tribunal itself to decide over the jurisdiction of the case (claimed both by Delhi and Rome).   India, then, argues that the accident occurred in “Indian waters and that the victims were Indian as well”. They make reference to the concept of “neighbouring waters”, considering that the shots were fired at 20.5 miles from the coast, and does not intend to give up on its rights to “prosecute crimes committed in our country”. The tragedy – two fishermen have lost their lives as a consequence of the accident – according to Italy,  occurred in international waters and has involved two military men in service on behalf of the State on board a ship, the Enrica Lexie, flying the Italian flag. And therefore they should not undergo process in India. This is the dispute, beyond the charges which at the moment are not addressed.

The clash in the Court of Law, has been heated at times, with India that, through the representative of the government, Neeru Chadha, and the French lawyer Alain Pellet, has accused Italy of being in “bad faith” in its reconstructions and of being an “unreliable” part: if Girone were allowed to make return to Italy, they are convinced, he would not come back to Indiato be processed, not even if in the future it should be determined so by the international arbitration.

Affirmations that were bluntly rejected by Italy that has pointed out,- represented by Sir Daniel Betlehem, already director of the Legal Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of the British Foreign Affairs – the head of the Italian legal team, that India has supposedly built “a castle of cards whose main purpose is to “continue to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over the two riflemen”.

ITLOS may now decide to accept the Italian requests entirely or in part, rebut them, decide on interim measures other than those requested by Italy or declare itself not to be competent. At any rate, the decisions of the Tribunal are definitive and mandatory: all parties are obliged to abide the rules.

In the background there are still the Italian internal polemics concerning the choices made by the State at the time, both in allowing the ship to dock in India, and in making the riflemen return there after having had them in Italy for the Christmas holidays. The suspicion in the background  is that all this was allowed because of major economic interests at stake.

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