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For our protection

Unlike the US, India lacks a strong corrective system for its citizens, writes Mujibur Rehman

india Updated: Nov 21, 2006 03:04 IST

India and the United States are deeply committed to globalisation of their economies. Yet, when it comes to globalising justice, they are fierce resistors. This is evident in their decision to oppose the International Criminal Court (ICC) set up in 1998. But if there is a global language of democracy and global opportunities for crime, there has to be a global language for justice too.

At the Rome Conference, India had decided to abstain. The reason for its stand can be deciphered only from the two statements  made by Dilip Lahiri, India’s secretary to the United Nations, one on June 16, 1998, and the other on July 17, 1998. According to Ram Jethmalani, a Cabinet member at the time, the subject was not discussed in the Indian Cabinet. When this issue was discussed in Parliament in 2004 and 2005, the government attributed the deficiencies in the Rome Statute as the key factor for India’s decision. There is no White Paper on this issue so far.

It is widely recognised that the  primary reason for India and the US to resist the ICC is that their governing elites are fearful of prosecution by the court for  abuses carried out by their State powers. Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat are some of the cases where Indian elites could anticipate prosecution. In the case of the US, the trouble lies in their actions of global intervention in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. With India’s growing friendship with the US, it may become hard for India to take a separate stand on this or related issues. On such matters, India cannot conduct like other US allies such as Japan and Jordan.

Dignity of sovereignty and dignity of human life are two valued principles that emerged with India’s Independence in 1947. These should have been guiding principles for policies at all levels. The ICC can play a prominent part in the implementation of these two  principles. Unlike Indian foreign policy, America’s is invariably determined by its national interest. Unfortunately, US policy-makers barely understand that  America’s flawed foreign policy is responsible for the current predicament of global terrorism. Henry Kissinger and his protégés who formulated and executed the infamous Nixon doctrine — “Asian Boys must fight Asian enemies” — little realised at the time that the ‘Asian boys’ and their counterparts in West Asia would some day compete with and fight against the ‘Western boys’.

The primary challenge, therefore, before Indian policy-makers is whether they are able to restructure India-US relations in a manner in which Indians could take advantage of America’s educational and professional opportunities but not be ‘caught with the blame’ for America’s foreign policy adventures.

Currently, more than 80,000 Indian students study in the US. Pragmatism demands that India’s relationship with the US be reshaped. But if the ultimate  goal of this relationship is to create more wealth and opportunities for India, then India needs to learn the most important lesson from America’s economic history — contributions it has made (and continues to make) towards strengthening domestic institutions such as the educational, legal and corporate entities that drive its economic success story. With its dilapidated educational institutions, especially primary education outside the cities, with its legal institutions prone to ‘being influenced’ and  to unbearably long delays; with its corporate institutions reluctant to play a proactive role in addressing the problem of mass poverty, India has yet to demonstrate that they have  learnt the right lessons from the US.

India’s decision to re-examine its stand and offer support to the ICC as a permanent body would go a long way to shape a fair global order and its own standing in the world order. This could generate required institutional pressure and serve as a restraint on large-scale abuses by the State. It could also create incentives for more careful global interventions.

There are people like Justice JS Verma, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, who support the ICC. There is a need for more voices to support this institution and for these voices to be heard. The real threat to sovereignty does not emanate  from spies, enemies of the State or ‘the foreign hand’, but from within.

Mujibur Rehman is a public policy analyst