Interview with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao spoke to The Hindu on why and how India cast its first major vote after joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member. In an interview with Sandeep Dikshit, she revealed an initial hesitation among developing countries to support Libya's referral to the International Criminal Court and the events that swung the consensus towards such a move. Ms. Rao denied that evacuation from Libya was slow and pointed out that by Friday morning, 7,200 Indians would have been evacuated. Excerpts:

How does India view the western proposals for a no-fly-zone over Libya and the use of force to end the civil war?

We are very concerned about the talk of enforcing a no-fly-zone in Libya. First of all there is the issue of people in Libya whom we would like to see evacuated out of Libya. Then there is the larger question of the situation that is going to result from that move and how it is going to affect the ordinary people and the ensuing disturbance and turbulence that come out with this. As of now we are not in favour of a no-fly-zone. We are opposed to use of force. When it was discussed, a number of us opposed this and a new language was found as suggested by Russia.

I know a number of developing countries, our partners and the governments we interact with have reservations about the imposition of a no-fly-zone. Among BRIC countries, questions have been raised and reservations expressed. We are certainly not for the imposition of a no-fly-zone.

And the use of force?

Obviously we are not in favour…we need to be governed by the position and stand taken by Arab nations and the African Union who are Libya's neighbours and on whom this will impact when this decision is taken. I don't think this is a laboratory situation.

Will India abstain or vote against if these proposals come up before the UNSC?

It hasn't come to that but we will consult with other like-minded countries. We don't want a situation which will be even more turbulent than it is today and which will endanger the lives of people. We have to take extraordinary care, we have to act judiciously and make a determination about the direction the situation is taking in Libya.

Was India late with its evacuation efforts?

We started to work on this about a week ago. By Friday our logistics were in place and evacuation was ready to begin. We have definitely moved quickly with a sense of determination and direction to ensure the safety of our people. By morning [Friday], 7,200 would have been evacuated and [we] hope to complete this in a week. I think there has been very good coordination. Given the numbers involved, we had to make solid, foolproof arrangements. We have no reason to be defensive about our record.

There are comparisons with China. That is has got 29,000 citizens out of Libya while India has been a slow starter. How do you view this?

There is this unfortunate comparison game with China. China has not released figures officially. The China Daily says 20,000 have been evacuated. Chinese Ambassador in Tripoli said there are still a couple of thousands to be evacuated from Seba and Tripoli. Unfortunately this number of 29,000 has been picked up as a sacrosanct figure and we are benchmarked against that. I think that is most unfortunate. I don't think that is the way to look at the genuine effort that has gone into place in putting in place a massive evacuation effort for people who are spread all over Libya ... one has to look into the context of what India's needs are, how India has gone about it and whether the arrangements are working satisfactorily. These are the benchmarks we should judge the evacuation operation.

Eyebrows have been raised over India supporting the UNSC proposal to refer Qadhafi's case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

We are not members of ICC. When the resolution was being discussed we had pointed this out and expressed our reservations. Then when the Libyan Permanent Representative spoke, I think consensus was built around that particular statement which created certain empathy among the people. This does not means our position on ICC has changed. China, Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria, India and South Africa did not want this referral to ICC and our position would have carried the day but for the communication sent by Libyan PR asking for ICC referral. We still said we were not satisfied by the referral but would join in the consensus.

In fact we were also not in favour of supporting the use of force. And in backdoor negotiations, we had opposed Article 42 of Chapter VII. Therefore a new language was found and that was Article 41, not involving the use of force.

Why did India support sanctions on Libya when it is generally opposed to resorting to this step?

Both the Arab League and the African Union said there were serious human rights violations. It was then that the UNSC decided to refer the situation to the prosecutor of ICC and targeted sanctions, as opposed to general sanctions, were imposed. Our delegation was very clear on this. It had been delivered very clear instructions to oppose general sanctions. This is not a textbook situation. It concerns people on the ground. Because the situation is so fluid, the UNSC resolution has left some options open.

How does India assess the attack on an Indian store in Oman? Are there any evacuation plans for Yemen or some other country in the region?

At the moment the Oman situation certainly does not warrant any intervention. It was a stray incident and was not followed by any large-scale disturbances. The situation there is under good control. But there have been some disturbances in Yemen where we have 14,000 Indians. We have asked our Ambassador to assess the situation there and take steps based on what that assessment is.

But the situation is different. In Libya our nationals were spread all over the country. In Yemen they are mainly in Sana'a and Aden from where civilian access is easy. As of now we have not taken a decision to evacuate people out of Yemen. But if they want to come out voluntarily, that is a decision they have to take.

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