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India’s win at ICJ reflected UK’s ‘lower global standing’

India’s Dalveer Bhandari was elected against Britain’s Christopher Greenwood, resulting in the UK not having a judge in the court at The Hague for the first time since it was created in 1946.

world Updated: Mar 06, 2018 23:41 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Britain,India,International Court of Justice
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaking during an urgent question to the House on government policy toward Russia in central London on March 6, 2018. (AFP)

There is much hand-wringing over India’s candidate being elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in November 2017 in a run-off with a British judge, with a new parliamentary report suggesting the UK’s lower global standing was one of the reasons for the loss.

India’s Dalveer Bhandari was elected against Britain’s Christopher Greenwood, resulting in the UK not having a judge in the court at The Hague for the first time since it was created in 1946. The foreign affairs committee of Parliament described the loss as a “failure of UK diplomacy”.

Introducing the report in the House of Commons, Ian Murray (Labour Party) said: “We heard a number of possible reasons for the UK’s failure from ministers and former UK diplomats to the UN. These ranged from the popularity of other candidates to regional allegiances and a wider shift in power away from the permanent five of the Security Council.

“Perhaps the most concerning reason, however, was offered by Lord Hannay, a former UK permanent representative to the UN. He suggested that it might be an indication that the UK’s international standing had diminished, and that there might have been a fall in what he dubbed the UK’s ‘trepidation index’—how far other countries worry about treading on the our toes.”

Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat (Conservative Party) added: “This failed campaign to re-elect a British judge to the position is deeply concerning...Worryingly, it appears this loss came as a surprise to the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).”

In a deposition before the committee, Foreign Office minister Tariq Ahmad said: “I think in the final run-off it was very much about how people perceived India, and the fact that they are a non-P5 member but a growing influence within the General Assembly.”

Describing the loss as a failure of UK diplomacy in an area of traditional British strength – international law and multilateral governance – the committee said the lack of a UK judge at the ICJ would damage its influence and future foreign policy strategy.

Chris Bryant (Labour Party), who is also a member of the committee, told the House: “Repeated witnesses told us that there was a kind of shrug at international meetings, with people saying, ‘What on earth are you doing with regard to Brexit? Why are you choosing to step back from your international role?’ That might have contributed to this election result.

“There was a second kind of shrug from all the government Ministers, who seemed to go, ‘You win some, you lose some. Does it really matter?’ If that is the sense permeating throughout government, we certainly will lose influence around the world.”

Noting the FCO’s international exercise to identify the reasons for the loss, the committee pointed out that it appeared unwilling to share the results of the review, and insisted on seeing the report to fulfil its obligation of accountability to Parliament and the public.

First Published: Mar 06, 2018 23:41 IST