In the festering case of the Italian marines who went home after assurances from Italy’s ambassador to India that they would return, and have not, India’s Supreme Court has said that they have “no trust” in Italy’s ambassador and, moreover, suggested that he does not have immunity.
It is unprecedented for a Supreme Court of a country to say that the ambassador of another country does not have diplomatic immunity. It is also unprecedented for an ambassador to give an undertaking to the highest court that is then reneged on. It will be interesting to see how it resolves.
As far as I can understand it from the media, the argument is based on article 32 of the Vienna convention, which says “The initiation of proceedings by a diplomatic agent or by a person enjoying immunity from jurisdiction under article 37 shall preclude him from invoking immunity from jurisdiction in respect of any counterclaim directly connected with the principal claim”. (Section 37 explains who else has immunity.) In fact, one report claims that Ambassador Mancini explicitly invoked Article 32 in filing his affidavit for the marines. So if he, by his affidavit, can be said to have “initiated proceedings”, then arguably he does not have immunity from counterclaims like perjury or contempt.
But whatever happens, the lesson is: don’t trust an Italian diplomat’s word. Is that really the message the Italian government wants to give the world?