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Marines: Bonino in Parliament – “It’s not a bilateral question. NATO and EU at our side”

The question of the two Italian marines is not a bilateral issue between Italy and India. It involves the European Union and NATO (which have lined up on Italy’s side) and concerns compliance with anti-terrorism agreements and UN decisions on anti-piracy missions. That was the central concept in Foreign Minister Emma Bonino’s address to the Senate on Thursday 13 February. The briefing took place at the urgent request of our parliamentary leaders in the wake of Wednesday’s statements by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who defined the issue a bilateral affair between Italy and India.

Trying the two marines as terrorists brings international laws into question, says Bonino.

For Bonino, Ban Ki-moon has “mechanically followed UN procedure on disputes between states” and spoke with “misunderstood caution” and “irrelevant altruism”. The Indian Attorney General’s request to apply the anti-terrorism SUA Act [concerning the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation] in the marines’ trial “has changed the terms of the question”, commented the Minister. “The UN conventions and security resolutions are based on an agreed need to combat terrorism and must also eliminate any abuse concerning its definition”. India’s Supreme Court will reach a decision on 18 February 2014 on the charges against Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone. But in Minister Bonino’s view, trying two military personnel engaged in an international anti-piracy mission envisaged by international security agreements and by two UN decisions undermines the observance of international laws and rules.

EU and NATO at Italy’s side

“We’re not the only ones concerned about this”, explained Bonino. “The EU has come into play to help defend Italy from an abuse of the definition of terrorism, with Barroso’s comments and 2 letters from the High Representative, Ashton, to the Indian government. Just yesterday [Wednesday 12 February] the NATO Secretary General agreed with our concern over the negative implications for international missions”.

Wednesday also saw a meeting by representatives of the 28 EU member countries, which expressed full support for and solidarity with the Italian position and decided on a new approach to the Secretary General. “This is no longer a dispute between two states”, stated Minister Bonino. “There’s a critical mass of states raising a question of fundamental principles. A question that involves the EU and NATO. At stake are the principles underpinning the anti-terrorism conventions and the 2 UN Security Council decisions that authorised the anti-piracy missions”.

Bonino-Ban Ki-moon discussion: I’ll speak to India, says the Secretary General

Bonino explained that immediately after Ban Ki-moon’s comments (made to a journalist) were published, the Italian Ambassador to the United Nations had a meeting with the Secretary General on 12 February. Ambassador Cardi illustrated the negative repercussions that the Indian court’s decision could have international missions, while the Secretary General expressed “concern” over the possible use of the SUA Act in the case. Minister Bonino herself spoke directly to Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday evening. “He was understanding, and assured me he would speak to the Indian authorities”, she declared.

India’s jurisdiction is not legitimate

Reiterating Italy’s position on the case, Minister Bonino told the Senate that “our riflemen were engaged in an anti-piracy operation in accordance with the conventions and the 2 UN decisions. We have contested the legitimacy of the Indian judges, whose jurisdiction was applied in breach of international law”.

Appeal to UN over violation of marines’ human rights

“We will clearly consider our future actions in light of the decision to be taken by the Indian Supreme Court on 18 February”, explained Bonino. Since January, Italy has underscored the human rights aspects of the case to the UN, given that the two riflemen have been held in India for two years without charge. “We are in touch with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on this aspect of the case”, concluded Minister Bonino.