Justice Dalveer Bhandari (right) is greeted during a reception organised in his honour at the United Nations in New York on Monday.(PTI)
Justice Dalveer Bhandari (right) is greeted during a reception organised in his honour at the United Nations in New York on Monday.(PTI)

In ICJ battle, convention and Brexit helped India get Bhandari elected against UK candidate

India’s Dalveer Bhandari, a former Supreme Court judge, was elected to the ICJ after UK’s Christopher Greenwood withdrew from the contest. Here’s how it was achieved.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Jayanth Jacob
UPDATED ON NOV 22, 2017 09:53 AM IST

India leveraged history, convention and Brexit in a hard-fought battle against the UK to get justice Dalveer Bhandari elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a second term.

After 11 rounds of voting spread over several days, Britain’s Christopher Greenwood late on Monday withdrew his candidature and Bhandari won 183 of the 193 votes in the United Nations General Assembly and all 15 in the Security Council.

India successfully argued that a candidate with almost two-thirds majority in the General Assembly never failed to get elected to the ICJ, multiple sources familiar with the election told HT.

“This argument along with other consideration such as the importance of bilateral ties played a role in the withdrawal of the (British) judge,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

But both sides fought hard.

For India, a place in the world court was more than a matter of prestige. It is up against Pakistan in the ICJ, challenging the death sentence awarded by a military court to a former Indian Navy officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav. The next hearing is in December.

For the UK, it was a battle of prestige on many fronts.

This will be the first time in 71 years that the ICJ, established by a UN charter in 1945, will not have a British judge.

Had Greenwood lost, which was looking inevitable, it would have been another loss of face at a time when the UK is battling a perception of erosion in its global clout post-Brexit.

A few days after it voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, the UK was defeated in a UN General Assembly vote — 94 to 15 with 65 abstentions — on a Mauritius-backed resolution.

The island nation had questioned the UK’s authority over the territory, including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where the United States has a naval base.

The voting pattern was telling. Twenty-two of the 27 EU member countries, including Germany, France and Italy, abstained, while Cyprus supported the resolution.

The UK couldn’t afford another setback at the world forum.

“For the UK, it was also a tough fight and we had factored it duly and we knew they withdrawing a candidate couldn’t have happened easily,” said an official.

To strengthen its campaign, India drew the attention of the interlocutors to 2014. Though the Security Council consistently voted for Argentina’s Susana Ruiz Cerutti, Jamaica’s Patrick Lipton Robinson had the majority on his side in the General Assembly. Argentina had to then withdraw its candidate, clearing Robinson’s way to the ICJ.

But the UK wasn’t going down easily.

It explored the possibility of what is known as a joint conference, a meeting between three General Assembly and three Security Council members, to elect the judge.

India argued there was no precedent of the UN resorting to a joint conference to pick an ICJ judge, sources said. In fact, it was the League of Nations, a forerunner of the UN, that had employed this mechanism to recommend a candidate for the Permanent Court of International Justice.

The 15-member ICJ is the UN’s top judicial organ that settles disputes between countries. Five judges are elected every three years and serve for nine years.

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