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UK candidate bows out, India's Dalveer Bhandari gets 2nd straight term at International Court of Justice

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 21 November 2017, 19:07 IST
India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Syed Akbaruddin speaks during a reception in the honour of Justice Dalveer Bhandari (L) at the United Nations in New York on Monday. India's Dalveer Bhandari won the votes in the UN General Assembly to make it to the International Court of Justice after UK pulled out the race. (PTI)

Dalveer Bhandari’s win for the second straight term as India’s nominee to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a historic moment, former diplomats say. They reckon that since his victory has come at the expense of United Kingdom’s nominee being forced to bow out only makes it sweeter.

It is perhaps the first time that the UK will not have a judge at the World court. And it will be after more than three decades that all P5 members will not be represented at the prestigious court in Hague. China did not have a judge at the ICJ from 1967 to 1985.

China along with Russia, France, United Kingdom and the United State are the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council (UNSC). 

The win, which means another nine-year term for Bhandari in Hague, is important for it is a reiteration of India’s rising profile at the global stage. “To think of such a scenario 10 years ago was impossible,” a former diplomat remarked.

It is also an indication that the practice of the P5 countries playing big brothers may not be able to continue for long. This win shows there are chinks in their wall of privilege and that the will of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has prevailed.

On Monday morning when the both the UNGA and the UNSC convened for the 11th round of voting, UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN sprang a surprise by announcing that UK’s nominee was accepting defeat which automatically paved way for Dalveer Bhandari’s win.

Finally, when everyone voted, Bhandari had 15 votes at the UNSC and 183 votes at the UNGA.

Interestingly, even countries like China, which has for example recently yet again blocked India’s demands for the 'global terrorist' designation for Masood Azhar, too voted in Bhandari's favour.



Long wait ends

Before the surprise on Monday, it had been a stalemate for the longest time with Bhandari coming out victorious when it came to UNGA while Christopher Greenwood, the UK nominee winning the majority votes at the UNSC.

In the last round for example, while Bhandari had 121 votes at the UNGA, he secured just five votes at the UNSC, forcing another round. Greenwood, on the other hand, had just 68 votes in the UNGA in the last round.

The UK, by virtue of it being a member of the P5 club, had threatened to invoke the conference mechanism which entails three members of the UNGA and three of the UNSC jointly picking the winner. It also involved approval through a public voting by members of the UNSC.

But, on Monday, the UK decided to bow out of the race.

Matthew Rycroft, UK's Permanent Representative to the UN, said – “The UK has concluded that it is wrong to continue to take up the valuable time of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly with further rounds of elections.”

“The decision to bow to mounting opposition within the UN General Assembly is a humiliating blow to British international prestige and an acceptance of a diminished status in international affairs,” the Guardian wrote.

India's Justice Dalveer Bhandari being greeted during a reception organised in his honour at the United Nations in New York on Monday. Justice Bhandari won the votes in the UN General Assembly to make it to the International Court of Justice after UK pulled out the race. (PTI)

Some strong arming?

India’s aggressive diplomatic outreach is one big reasons for the win. Reports suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought support from the US. It may have been one of the big reasons behind why and how the UK finally withdrew its candidate.

Nikki Haley, American envoy to the UN and Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State had met US President Donald Trump on Monday morning fuelling speculations of American intervention to solve the deadlock in a manner which befits the demands for a more democratic UN.

In the earlier rounds, there was no indication to show that the US was backing India’s claim to the seat at the ICJ. The UNSC voting results in the previous rounds had shown that it was supporting Greenwood.

“Government of India has been supporting the campaign of Judge Bhandari through diplomatic efforts at different fora,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement

As a former diplomat says, the way India kept the momentum intact, it made it clear that it was not just fighting its own cause that its nominee wins another term, but also the cause of others who are demanding reforms at the world body.

“As multilateral diplomats, we are used to punishing processes, but never has a process itself become a punishment, as in this case,” Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative at the UN had said in the recent 41st plenary meeting on the question of reforms on 9 November.

“If this is the 'new normal', it does not bode well for multilateralism. Never have the normative foundations of multilateral cooperation shown up to be weaker than in this instance,” he said in a statement then.

How the judges are selected

The Court at Hague has 15 judges who each serve a nine-year term with elections for five judges every three years.

This time there were a total of six candidates including from France, Somalia, Brazil, Britain, India, and Lebanon. And that five of them except for the Lebanese candidate were serving judges of the court.

As Vivek Katju, a former diplomat explained how on the basis of convention regarding the P5 and the geographical distribution there was a feeling that the French, British, Brazilian and the Somalian judges would be re-elected and that a contest would be only between Bhandari and Salam for the Asian seat.

However, the win by the Lebanese contestant made things difficult for Greenwood. Perhaps, for good when it comes to demands for reforms at the UNSC. The happenings at the ICJ also aroused interest for the Kulbhushan Jadhav matter is pending after India had moved a petition against Pakistan.

Will this have any impact on that? Diplomats and security experts believe it is unlikely but it is definitely a morale booster.

First published: 21 November 2017, 19:07 IST