India’s Dalveer Bhandari re-elected to ICJ after Britain’s Greenwood quits race
India’s Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice, easily wrapping up the vote in the UN Security Council and General Assembly after Britain withdrew its candidate from the bruising competition, faced with dim prospects of winning.
Bhandari and Christopher Greenwood of the UK were locked in a stalemate in 11 contentious rounds of balloting, largely because of the vote in the 15-member Security Council. However, the Indian candidate secured a clear majority in the 193-member General Assembly in round after round.
Faced with an impossible situation, Britain was earlier expected to invoke a rarely used instrument to call for a “joint conference” to select a judge to fill the fifth vacancy in the court.
Instead Greenwood withdrew his candidature and Bhandari won 183 of the 193 votes in the General Assembly and all 15 in the Security Council as the two bodies gathered on Monday afternoon (US time).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the election of Bhandari, 70, as a “proud moment for us” and credited foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and the external affairs ministry for the victory. He also thanked all members of the General Assembly and Security Council for “their support and trust in India”.
For the UK, the vote meant it will not have a judge at the ICJ for the first time in The Hague-based court’s 71-year history. The Guardian described the development as a “humiliating blow to British international prestige and an acceptance of a diminished status” in world affairs.
Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, 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. We are naturally disappointed, but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates.”
Addressing the House of Commons, foreign secretary Boris Johnson dismissed the suggestion that the defeat of the UK candidate was a “failure” of British diplomacy. He contended that the withdrawal of Greenwood was linked to the “long-standing objective of UK foreign policy to support India in the United Nations”.
An elated Bhandari, who was first elected to the ICJ in 2012, said the voting was marked by many tense moments. “The election this time was more eventful in the sense that it went on and on. And my re-election is more a victory of all Indians and the country,” he told Hindustan Times.
Asked to comment on the impact his re-election will have on the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, an Indian in Pakistani custody whose execution has been stayed by the ICJ, Bhandari said, “No comments as the issue is pending in the world court.”
The ICJ has asked Islamabad to put on hold the execution of Jadhav till it decides on New Delhi’s petition challenging the death sentence given to him by a Pakistani military court for alleged involvement in espionage.
Syed Akbaruddin, India’s permanent representative to the UN, who received a “special mention” from Swaraj for his efforts to get Bhandari re-elected, said New Delhi had realised the path to success “lay in gaining two-thirds majority” in the General Assembly.
The outcome of the voting also pointed to the pressing need for UN reforms, Akbaruddin told Hindustan Times.
“If planned changes are not brought into organisations such as the UN, events like this will do it…What happened in last ten days with regard to the ICJ elections testifies to that. Organisations as old as the UN should change with the times,” he said.
Britain would have needed nine votes in the Security Council to invoke the joint conference, which it was hoping to secure on the basis of the nine votes that Greenwood won in all five rounds that took place during voting last Thursday.
Besides the P-5, — the US, UK, Russia, France and China — others in the 15-member Security Council are elected by the General Assembly for a term of two years.
India had pointed to the ambiguous legal position of the joint conference, citing a provision from the United Nation’s Juridical Yearbook, 1984: “It is the view of the Office of Legal Affairs that to proceed to a fourth or fifth meeting is a more normal procedure than a joint conference…Moreover, the resort to a joint conference also raises a number of difficult issues on which the relevant provisions of the Statute do not provide any clear solution.”
But in a dramatic turn of events on Monday, UK’s envoy to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, wrote identical letters to the presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council just before the two chambers were scheduled to meet for the 12th round of voting.
Read out simultaneously by both presidents, Rycroft’s letter said the UK candidate had decided to withdraw from the election to the 15-member ICJ. According to the letter, Rycroft said the deadlock was unlikely to be broken by further rounds of voting.
With Bhandari the as only candidate left in the race, the General Assembly and Security Council still went through the motion of voting to complete formalities.