ITALIAN MARINES IN INDIA: THE SHAME OF TWO COUNTRIES
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Written on July 15, 2013
by Stefano Tronconi
It's now seventeen months today since the alleged incident happened.
It was February 15, 2012, around 4 pm when the Italian ship Enrica Lexie, while sailing the international waters off the coast of Kerala, India, suffered an attack by a pirate boat. The Italian Marines providing security to the ship, according to their story, repulsed the attack by firing warning shots in the water and the air. Still according to their story, the pirate boat aborted the assault with no casualties on either side.
On the same day, at 11.20 pm an Indian fishing boat returned to shore in Kerala with the bodies of two fishermen killed by unknown assailants.
The Indian Coast Guard and the local police were quick to establish a link between the two incidents and the story of two Italian Marines mistakingly shooting two Indian fishermen thinking that they were pirates made the headlines around the world.
After seventeen months, a length of time astonishing by itself, the two Italian Marines are still held in India with no permission to leave the country, waiting for the investigation of their case to be completed. But the real shocking news are that it is now emerging a completely different story of what happened on that day. Based upon new evidence emerged in recent weks, it appears that it was not the Italian Marines who shot the fishermen. However, they appear to have been deliberately framed due to local political convenience in Kerala, while the weak central governments of India and Italy stood shamefully by unwilling and unable to intervene while the case unfolded
The main new documental evidence that has turned upside down the Indian account of the events is the following:
- a television interview by the owner of the Indian fishing boat upon arrival on the Kerala shore clearly stating that the killing of the two fishermen took place at around 9.30 pm and not at around 4 pm (time of the Enrica Lexie encounter with a pirate boat) as later reported in the police investigation;
- the document by which the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) asked the Enrica Lexie to head for Kochi for clarification about the piracy incident indicates a time of 9.36 pm and therefore it entirely destroys the validity of the claim that the operation to call back into port the Enrica Lexie, as reported in official police and ICG documents, was started at 7.00 p.m;
- finally, there is the report of a pirate attack suffered in the waters off the Kerala coast by the Greek ship Olympic Flair sent out to the International Maritime Organization at 10.20 pm on February 15, 2012; in such report there are many details leading to think that it might have well been the Olympic Flair, and not the Enrica Lexie, that on February 15, 2012 crossed paths with the Indian fishing boat.
How is it possible that such evidence has not come to light for almost one year and half? How is it possible that the entire investigation of the Kerala police indicates times and places of the alleged events arranged in a way as to make appear that it was the Marines aboard the Italian ship who opened fire on the Indian fisherman? What happened in Kerala in the aftermath of what now looks like two different incidents that led to the apparent fabrication of a case against the two Italian Marines?
We need not to forget that at the time of the incident the Prime Minister of Kerala, Mr. Chandy, was engaged in the campaign for a local election fought on a razor-thin majority. On February 16, 2012 Mr. Chandy found himself with two dead fishermen (and the powerful fishermen organizations, that would influence a large number of votes, loudly demanding for a culprit), an Italian ship which, unaware of any wrongdoing, had accepted to dock into the port of Kochi and a Greek ship, the likely involuntary responsible of the killing of the two fishermen, that in the meantime had sailed away.
What would an unprincipled politician, who doesn't care about justice, but cares a lot about power, do in such a case? The daily statements made by Mr. Chandy himself in the immediate days after the incidents, prior therefore to the start of any serious investigation, declaring that there was unassailable evidence against the Italian Marines and that no clemency would be shown towards them sound indeed very suspicious. They appear to have been indications clear enough for the local police of the way that the investigation should go and, obviously, were precisely what was needed to win a much larger share of the votes than anticipated in the upcoming local elections.
In the meantime, the Indian Central government, which is known for lacking the capability of taking quick and decisive action on any issue, of course could not agree on any line to take on a case which for many reasons was indeed unprecedented. Some ministers and legal counselors were fully aware that India was breaching international laws and practices on how sovereign States deal with one another when unfortunate incidents take place. However, in this context of general confusion, it was enough for Mr. Chandy to ensure the backing of the former Indian foreign minister, Mr. Krishna (the same minister who was not able to distinguish his own speech from the one of a Portuguese colleague and started to read the latter during a U.N. Session) to go ahead unopposed with his own plan.
But, how is it possible that the Italian government for seventeen months has not really stood by his soldiers, has not lodged any formal complaint into any international and/or multinational organization among the many of which Italy is part and has basically accepted any sort of abuses on its sovereignty?
The Italian State may have not yet reached financial bankruptcy, but it's now about two decades since moral and ethical bankruptcy have de facto been declared in Italy. The alternation between centre-right, centre-left and grand coalition governments, or even governments led by so-called technocrats has made no difference whatsoever and the reputation of the country has continued to plunge. The technocrat government, in charge at the time and for the duration of most of the the Enrica Lexie affair, and now the recently appointed new government, have had only one consistent message delivered to the Indian authorities throughout the last seventeen months: 'The incident should not affect the commercial relations between the two countries'. In other words, business before justice, the same shameful philosophy that has led in recent days to another international embarassment with the repatriation from Italy to Kazakhstan of the wife and daughter of an opposition Kazakh leader. In front of such Italian weakness even the traditionally weak Indian government has felt no pressure to deliver justice or find a solution to the embarassing case and the embarassing behavior of the authorities in Kerala.
Well, maybe the Indian and the Italian governments are still thinking that they can continue to play around with this case in order to find a way to save face. At this point, and after the surfacing of the new evidence, we disagree, and we think that the time to deliver justice by imediately discharging the two presumably innocent Italian Marines and to find a solution to the embarassing case has definitely come. Seventeen months away from their families while their adolescent children grow without their innocent fathers on their side is definitely too long a time to accept even for two loyal soldiers of any country.
What rather needs to start both in India and in Italy is a serious investigation to shed light on all errors, illicit or even criminal behaviors that have occurred all along this case. It's a responsibility that both countries have towards their citizens. Italians should not have the feeling that the government of their country is ready to sacrifice them in favor of any commercial deals. Indians should not have the feeling that anybody crossing by chance the path of the powerful and the well-connected (if anything like this happened to two Italian soldiers, it can certainly happen to millions of indians) is at risk of losing freedom and dignity. If national States cannot guarantee such basic rights to their citizens, they have no reason to exist or command any respect internationally. And this applies to both India and Italy.