The Centre asserted in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the United Nations arbitration tribunal’s order allowing a murder-accused Italian marine to return home from India pending its proceedings has ‘affirmed’ the Supreme Court’s authority, and not questioned it.
Making a statement, Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Finance Arun Jaitley said the tribunal has confirmed Italy’s obligation to return Sergeant Girone to India in case India’s jurisdiction over him is established.
The tribunal has also left it to the Supreme Court to fix precise conditions of his bail, he said amid unhappiness expressed by the Congress over the way the case is being handled by the government.
“We see the tribunal’s order not just as a recognition of India’s consistent positions and key arguments but also as an affirmation of the authority of the Supreme Court of India,” said Jaitley, speaking on behalf of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is unwell.
Congress members, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, staged a walkout, expressing unhappiness after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan did not allow them to ask questions.
Their protests invited criticism from Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who accused Congress of doing so because of the assembly polls in Kerala as media would cover it even though the speaker has expunged their remarks. “It’s match-fixing,” he said.
The two Italian marines are accused of killing two fishermen of Kerala four years ago.
Jaitley said the issue of jurisdiction, which is ‘at the heart’ of the case, is yet to be even argued before the tribunal and the ‘limited relief’ given on humanitarian considerations has been made contingent to the clear cut undertakings provided by Italy that Girone will return to India in case its jurisdiction is established.
“The tribunal noted that while Italy had earlier made a far-reaching request that, if granted, it would have removed Sergeant Girone entirely from the reach of India’s legal system. This time Italy was only requesting India to relax the bail conditions to enable him to return to Italy.
“In doing so, Italy was prepared to accept that he remained under the jurisdiction of the courts if India. In essence, they proposed to change the physical location of Sergeant Girone’s bail without prejudice to the authority of India’s courts,” he said.
The government, Jaitley asserted, strongly believes that India has jurisdiction in the marines’ case and this position has been and will be our unwavering stance.
As a nation that respects international law, India will pursue its case vigorously before the tribunal and fight for the rights of the victims, he told the Lok Sabha.
The tribunal has prescribed that India and Italy will approach the Supreme Court for relaxation of bail conditions of Girone who, while remaining under the court’s authority, may return to Italy for the duration of the present arbitration, he noted.
He assured the House that the government in due course will approach the court for its directions on the matter.
“The tribunal also placed on record undertakings given by Italy in regard to Sergeant Girone’s return to India. India is assured unequivocally and with legally-binding effect that he will return to India in case of a tribunal finding that we have jurisdiction over him in case of the incident concerned.
“It noted that Italy’s undertakings constitute an obligation binding upon it under international law... The tribunal considers that provisional measures should not alter the situation where the Supreme Court of India exercises jurisdiction over Sergeant Girone,” Jaitley said.
He noted that the case has been contested in various courts since 2012 and the two Italian marines obtained bail in the same year.
The bail conditions have been relaxed on numerous occasions and India's jurisdiction in the case has been challenged by Italy since the occurrence of the incident, he said.
“Members would recall that we even had a situation where the sovereign undertaking given by Italy to the Supreme Court of India was sought to be repudiated,” he said.