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Dalveer Bhandari: As the old order changeth, India’s Bhandari fills up last vacancy at ICJ

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NEW DELHI: India’s
Dalveer Bhandari got elected+
to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) panel of judges in a
dramatic fashion after UK withdrew its candidate+
bowing before the overwhelming support in the UN General Assembly (GA) for the Indian judge. A top Indian diplomat quoted British poet Tennyson’s immortal line “the old order changeth, yielding place to new” to describe the mood in the Indian camp after the development which is being seen as the biggest diplomatic victory for India in years.

This will be the first time in the 71-year-old history of ICJ that there will be no British judge in what is described as the ‘world court’. The Guardian described Greenwood’s defeat as a humiliating blow to British international prestige and an acceptance of its diminished status in international affairs.

An extremely aggressive, in-your-face Indian campaign led by India’s permanent representative to UN Syed Akbaruddin ensured that there were few takers for an arcane UK proposal that a joint conference be formed to break the deadlock between GA and Security Council.
UK needed support from 8 members+
of the Security Council to stall voting and instead go for a joint conference.

However, several council members, who otherwise might have voted for Britain’s candidate Christopher Greenwood, were opposed to the proposal as they agreed with India’s position that this was an “undemocratic” move which would only further complicate the process. Also, for a joint conference to be formed, all 15 council members would have had to publicly endorse UK’s proposal, something which countries like US and France, who regularly profess their friendship and strategic partnership with India, would have been averse to. In the last round of GA voting, Bhandari had 121 votes and Greenwood only 68.

In his letter to the UN announcing Greenwood’s withdrawal, UK’s permanent representative Matthew Rycroft acknowledged that “some thought needs to be given to this procedure (joint conference) before the next ICJ election in order that it might be used when it is clearly needed”. A joint conference, which is meant to comprise 3 members each from the GA and Council, has never been used to break a deadlock in the history of ICJ.

What angered India was that UK had early last week indicated that Greenwood might withdraw and yet, without taking Indian officials into confidence, later proposed – as first reported by TOI on Sunday – a joint conference in an informal discussion in the Council to break the deadlock.

With India accusing UK of acting like robber baron Robert Clive, as a TOI report said on Sunday, in denying Bhandari victory, Britain also feared an adverse impact on bilateral ties with a country it has been courting for trade post-Brexit.

Many Commonwealth countries in the GA, where Bhandari had nearly 2/3rd support, also sided with India as the Assembly seemed to rally against the the Council’s continued predominance in carrying out world affairs. Another immediate worry for UK was that not withdrawing Greenwood could have lead India to scale down its participation at the CHOGM summit next year in London. Britain has been keen to ensure the participation of PM Narendra Modi in the summit.

According to former ICJ law clerk and Geneva based Lawyer, Shashank Kumar, the election of Bhandari to the ICJ is not only a major diplomatic victory for India, but also marks a significant change in the regional allocation of seats at the ICJ. Historically, as he said, seat distribution at the Court has mirrored the allocation of seats at the Security Council.

“With Judge Greenwood’s withdrawal, the UK has for the first time since the establishment of the Court in 1946, lost its permanent seat on the bench as a P5 Member of the Security Council. Besides a victory for Justice Bhandari, this is a major shot in the arm for India’s bid for a permanent seat at the Security Council,” he said.

In his letter, Rycroft also said that if the UK could not win in this runoff, then it was pleased that it was a close friend like India that has done so instead. “We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the UN and globally,” he said.

Read this story in Marathi

Updated: November 21, 2017 — 11:26 am

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