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UK Playing 'Dirty Politics' at UN Court, Using 96-year-old Move to Beat India at Polls

Bhandari and Britain's Christopher Greenwood are locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election to the ICJ.


Updated:November 19, 2017, 1:40 PM IST
UK Playing 'Dirty Politics' at UN Court, Using 96-year-old Move to Beat India at Polls
File photo of proceedings at the International Court of Justice. (Reuters)

United Nations: The UK is trying to "misuse" its UN Security Council membership by pushing for a joint conference mechanism, which was last used 96 years ago, in the election to the last seat in the World Court on Monday in which India's Dalveer Bhandari is a front-runner, diplomatic sources said.

Bhandari and Britain's Christopher Greenwood are locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election to the ICJ.

One-third of the court's 15-member bench are elected every three years for a nine-year term, elections for which are held separately but simultaneously in the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council in New York.

Britain is aggressively pushing in the UN Security Council for resorting to the joint conference mechanism which was last used some 96 years ago and against which there exists an unequivocal legal opinion, the diplomatic sources said.

The "dirty politics" being played by India's former colonial ruler, as one UN insider put it, has sent a sense of "uneasiness" among other members of the powerful UN Security Council, many of whom are aware of the long-term implications of a move to ignore the voice of the majority of the United Nations General Assembly.

In all previous incidents, the candidate getting a majority in the General Assembly has eventually been elected a judge of The Hague-based International Court of Justice.

Bhandari, 70, has the support of nearly two-thirds of 193 UN members. Greenwood, who has already served one nine-year term in ICJ, is trailing behind more than 50 votes in the General Assembly. However, he received nine against five for Bhandari in the Security Council.

To win ICJ election a candidate needs to get a majority in both the General Assembly and the Security Council, which has not been the case in the 11 rounds of voting so far.

Both the General Assembly and the Security Council have convened separate meetings at the UN headquarters tomorrow (3 p.m. local time) to hold the 12th round of voting.

At a reception for Bhandari at the UN headquarters here on Friday, representatives of 160-member countries were present reflecting the overwhelming majority India enjoys in the General Assembly.

Sensing that majority is not on its side, almost at the same time, the United Kingdom went to the Security Council for an informal consultation with other 14 members.

Observing that there is a deadlock situation on the ICJ election, Britain is learnt to have proposed that voting in the Security Council be stopped after first round tomorrow and they go for joint conference mechanism. It is understood that this was opposed by some members of the Security Council.

However, the British diplomats on Friday appeared confident to push its agenda through on Monday.

Britain needs nine votes for the voting be stopped.

Their calculation is based on the fact that in multiple rounds of the elections in UNSC, Britain has been getting nine votes for its candidate. But it is yet to be seen if the same countries support such an undemocratic move to stop voting.

The British proposal is against all legal advice, which basically says that this option has never been used in the entire history of seven decades of the ICJ, the sources said.

The only time it was used was prior to the establishment of the UN in 1921, when Deputy Judges for the Permanent Court of International Justice were selected, they said.

A point in this regard was made by Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, at the ICJ reception at the UN headquarters.

He had strongly opposed the joint conference mechanism.

"Those who talk of bringing the UN and updating it to the 21st Century world cannot look back to the toolkit of 100 years ago and try to take out a tool which has never been used in the history of the UN and perhaps for valid reasons," he had told the diplomats from more than 160 countries.

"Because it opens a can of worms. Will we forget about the electoral process and go after a can of worms? You are diplomats, you are sagacious people. Diplomacy is the solution. Voting is the way that diplomats resolve their differences, rather than through convoluted, cabalistic solutions of a bygone era," Akbaruddin had said.

Legal opinions also point out that there have been several instances of deadlocks between the General Assembly and the Security Council during ICJ elections.

On these occasions, the balloting took place in many more rounds than what has been completed this time.

On each such occasion, the candidate who was consistently leading in the General Assembly was elected ultimately.

In fact, there exists an unequivocal legal opinion provided in the 1984 UN Juridical Yearbook that argues against the resorting to the Joint Conference mechanism.

Under this, three members each from the General Assembly and Security Council would be formed to come out with a name, which would again have to be voted through both the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Britain, informed sources said, is now suggesting something which has never been tried and no one knows what its implications are.

Its move raises a series of question, as to what happens if the three representatives of the General Assembly stick to the voice of the majority, or if it does not provide any names or every time says that it does not agree with the names being proposed by the Security Council, they said.

"There is unease among several countries on the move to stop voting," an informed source said.

These countries feel that such a move would unnecessarily pitch Security Council against the General Assembly.

"No one is certain how it will play out," sources said.

Once Security Council stops voting, the General Assembly has to comply. This is because under the ICJ election rules the candidate needs to get a majority in General Assembly and Security Council.

"This is their hope to stall the trend which is moving against them," informed UN sources said.

The British fear that as the voting goes into multiple rounds tomorrow, it might snowball into India getting more than two-thirds of the votes, which could be humiliating for them and would become "morally difficult" for the UN Security Council to stop voting.

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| Edited by: Puja Menon
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