India expects big win in International Court of Justice election today

The United Nations (UN) is expected to vote on Monday for a new member to the panel of judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, with India hoping its candidate Dalveer Bhandari will win by a two-thirds margin, three people familiar with the developments said.

Analysts say the election is crucial for India as it is seen as a litmus test for the support it enjoys in the world body where New Delhi has been campaigning for reforms, including a permanent seat for itself in the powerful Security Council.

Bhandari is pitted against Christopher Greenwood of Britain in a two-way contest. The vote is as tricky because Bhandari has the support of a majority of the UN General Assembly members while Greenwood has the support of the members of Security Council.

Election rules require a majority in both chambers, which is why neither candidate has been declared elected so far after 11 rounds of balloting. “For the first time, a candidate from a P5 (permanent member of the UN Security Council) member country has not been able to get an easy pass, and that in itself speaks volumes,” said one of the three people cited above.

“I think Britain should align its interests with those of developing countries and give them a fair share of representation in international governance,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Envoys of countries stationed in New Delhi have been called in by the foreign office to line up support for Bhandari. Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has also been putting calls through to her counterparts to push India’s case.

A number of developing countries had pledged support to India when Swaraj telephoned her counterparts, said one of the officials cited above.

According to Sibal, “Britain and other Western countries are over represented in international institutions. There is a consciousness that undeveloped and developing countries must have a voice.”

A win for Bhandari will also be a measure of the backing that India enjoys in the UN General Assembly, Sibal said. New Delhi has been campaigning for many decades now for reforms to the powerful UN Security Council which has five permanent members – Britain, China, France, US and Russia. The permanent five have the power to set rules and veto decisions.

“There is an element of prestige to have an Indian elected to such a position,” said Shashi Tharoor, Congress party MP and former UN undersecretary general. Taking to Twitter to support for Bhandari, Tharoor said, “India is a country of consequence and weight in the world.”

Also key was the importance of having an Indian voice at such fora where matters related to Indian interests could potentially come up, he said.

One case that is pending before the ICJ concerns Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been sentenced to death by a military court in Pakistan on charges of spying. India has approached the ICJ for a stay on the sentence.

If elected, Bhandari will join the ranks of Indians B.N. Rau, Nagendra Singh and R.S.Pathak, who have been ICJ judges.

ICJ has 15 judges on its bench. Elections for one-third of its judges are held every three years. Four judges to the ICJ were elected early this month when they received the required majority of votes in both the General Assembly, which consists of 193 members, and the 15-member UN Security Council.


UNSC permanent members unnerved by prospect of India’s nominee winning ICJ election: Observers

The permanent members of the UN Security Council are ‘unnerved’ by the prospect of India’s nominee Dalveer Bhandari winning against Britain’s candidate in the election to the last seat of the World Court as it would set a precedent that may challenge their power in the future, observers here feel.

Bhandari and Britain’s Christopher Greenwood are locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election to the Hague-based International Court of Justice, the sources say. The permanent members of the Security Council — the US, Russia, France, and China — appeared to have rallied behind Greenwood. Britain is the fifth permanent member of the Security Council.

In the 11 rounds of election so far, Bhandari has been receiving the support of nearly two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly but is trailing by three votes against Greenwood in the Security Council. The 12th round of elections has been scheduled for Nov 20.

Britain on Friday in an informal consultation of the UN Security Council members mooted the idea of joint conference mechanism as it feels that this could be their only face-saving exit strategy, informed sources said. As shared with other members of the Security Council during informal consultations, Britain would prefer to stop voting on the ICJ elections after the first round as it fears that otherwise, India could well cross the two-thirds mark. In that scenario, it would be very difficult for the UN Security Council stop India’s candidate from being elected to the ICJ.

However, the prospect of India winning against a P5 member through democratic means is something that this elite club of veto-wielding countries Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are unnerved with because this would set a precedent that they do not want to be repeated.

“Today it is Britain, tomorrow it could be any one of us” is the argument which has brought all these five countries together, sources say. “If the one (of the P5) is going to be knocked off today, the other fear that they might be knocked off tomorrow,” according to a source.

Such an assessment of the UN insiders is based on informed sources, as voting for the ICJ election in both the Security Council and the General Assembly are based on secret ballots and there is no way to know who voted for whom.

In all the rounds of the election so far, Greenwood has consistently got nine votes and Bhandari five in the Security Council. It is likely that on Monday India might increase its tally. It is understood that both New Delhi and Permanent Mission of India to the UN have been working overtime to convince the members of the Security Council on the need to go by the voice of the majority of the General Assembly.

But by Sunday evening it appeared that Britain was ready to execute its plan, as per which after the first round of voting they would call for a meeting of the Security Council and would seek a mandate to stop any further round of voting, and would call for adoption of joint conference mechanism, which was last adopted in 1921.

However, this might come as a silver lining for India, sources said. This is because the Security Council vote to stop further rounds of the ICJ election would be open and not through a secret ballot.

As a result, countries, many of whom have been pledging friendship with India but secretly voting against its candidate would be exposed in the open of raising their hands against India. This is something that members of the Security Council would avoid.

Of the Permanent Five members, the US under President Donald Trump has just come out a 100-year plan of friendship with India and renamed Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region. Incidentally, hours before the ICJ election, Trump would be meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the White House.

It is not sure if Trump plans to weigh in on this issue in favour of India. Trump has repeatedly called himself as the “best friend of India and Indian Americans” in the White House.

Russia is an all-weather tested friend of India. Over the past several decades, France has emerged as a reliable friend of India. The stand of China on a lot of issues is well known including India s membership to the Security Council and Beijing vetoing a move to designate Azhar Masood as a global terrorist by the UN.

So, it would be quite a surprise, if China favoured an Indian candidate. “When chips are down, you always get support from developing countries,” commented one India watcher at the UN.

The voting in the General Assembly which overwhelmingly favours India is reflective of the new global order, which is not pleasant to the world powers. Despite best of the British effort, their vote tally in the General Assembly has decreased with every other round of voting.

“That’s why they are trying to find a face saver to get out of this,” a source said. India has been seeking that the democratic process needs to be played its full course in both the Security Council and the General Assembly and there should not be an intervention or adoption of a process that has never been used before or the one that undermines the voice of the majority.

The British move to stop voting after the first round might create bad blood between two important wings of the world body, which could have a long-term implication. The General Assembly might think that it has been denied its right to vote. Hours ahead of the scheduled vote the UN General Assembly president and Security Council president is likely to hold another round of consultation with the stakeholders to explore what are their options.