India scored a major diplomatic victory on Monday as its nominee to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Dalveer Bhandari, was re-elected after the United Kingdom withdrew its candidate, Christopher Greenwood.
The U.K. chose to withdraw after it became clear that it would not win the contest in the General Assembly (GA) and it did not have adequate support in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its attempts to derail the voting process itself.
This is the first time in the 70-year history of the United Nations that the U.K. will not be on the ICJ; and this is the first time that one of the five permanent members of the UNSC lost out to an ordinary member in a race. This is also the first time that one sitting member of the ICJ lost to another sitting member.
The winning candidate required a majority in both the GA and the UNSC, but 11 rounds of voting until last week ended, with India winning in the GA and the U.K. winning in the UNSC. With the U.K. announcing its exit from the race in the 12th round, Justice Bhandari received 183 of the 193 votes in the GA and secured all the 15 votes in the UNSC after separate and simultaneous elections were held at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
The U.K. had nine of the 15 UNSC votes in the previous rounds, leading to a stalemate though India had an overwhelming majority in the GA. It initially wanted to suspend the voting process and move to a conference mechanism that has never been used in the history of the U.N. to break the stalemate. But this move needed the approval of the UNSC in an open voting while voting for the ICJ is through a secret ballot.
As Monday progressed it became clear that the U.K. would not have nine members to publicly support the proposal to suspend further rounds of voting, sources familiar with the developments told The Hindu . “Some members who voted for Britain’s candidate told them that they could not vote for the suspension of the voting process,” a U.N. insider said.
India's diplomatic outreach
Meanwhile, India’s diplomatic outreach led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Syed Akbaruddin was gathering more support for India in the GA. “It had become clear that India was moving towards getting two-thirds of the votes, 128 of them, in the GA. No judge could have occupied the position on the ICJ after two-thirds of the member countries voted against him,” said a source.
Around noon, presidents of the UNSC, GA, Mr. Akbaruddin and British Permanent Representative to the U.N. Matthew Rycroft informally met to take stock of the situation. India made it clear that it had no intention to back off, as its support among the member states was clear and demonstrated. By then, some members of UNSC had assured India that they would not support the British proposal to suspend voting and institute an unprecedented conference mechanism.
One hour before the voting was to begin at 3 p.m., Mr. Rycroft wrote identical letters to the presidents of the UNGA and UNSC that Mr. Greenwood would withdraw from the contest. The presidents read out the letter as the GA and the UNSC met at 3 p.m. for the 12th round of voting. As per rules, voting proceeded simultaneously, with only Justice Bhandari’s name on the ballot.
All other permanent members of the SC — USA, Russia, France and China — were understood to have been throwing their weight behind the fifth. So was Japan, a non-permament member. But at least some of them were hesitant to vote for suspension of the voting, which stalled the British plans. Mr. Rycroft said in the letter that the current deadlock is unlikely to be broken by further rounds of voting.
Pleased to see 'close friend' win: U.K.
Congratulating Justice Bhandari, the U.K. said it would continue to cooperate closely with India at the U.N. and globally. “The U.K. has concluded that it is wrong to continue to take up the valuable time of the UNSC and the GA with further rounds of elections,” Mr. Rycroft said.
“We are naturally disappointed, but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates,” Mr. Rycroft said. “If the U.K. could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the United Nations and globally,” he said.