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ICJ: India made up in last mile

We knew we had a tough task ahead right from the word go, says an MEA official

Monday’s win for India’s nominee to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Justice Dalveer Bhandari, was unprecedented in many ways, but not the first time that India nearly missed the post due to delays in nominating him, officials and lawyers familiar with the procedure said.

In 2011, India had failed to put up a candidate for the Asian group vacancy that had come up with the retirement of the Japanese justice, and rectified the miss only in 2012, when a by-election came up, and Justice Bhandari was named. This time around, Justice Bhandari’s nomination was announced only in June this year, while his main rival in the ‘Asian’ grouping Nawaf Salam, had nearly two years for his campaign.

“We were late in announcing our candidature,” a senior MEA official conceded, explaining the process was not just dependent on the Indian government. The ICJ’s procedure stipulates that each candidate must be proposed by the “national group” of the Permanent Court of Arbitrage, which at present is a panel that includes former Justices H.L. Dattu and G.T. Nanavati as well as senior lawyers Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve. According to the official, the panel took an inordinately long time to forward Justice Bhandari’s name.

Geographical break-up

There were more difficulties. While there is no formal stipulation on the subject, the ICJ’s composition of 15 judges follows a geographical break-up: 3 for Africa, 2 for Latin America, 3 for Asia, 2 for East Europe, and 5 for Western Europe and other States, and has nearly always had one winning candidate from each of the P-5 or permanent members of the UN Security Council.

In addition, the only other Asian candidate besides Justice Bhandari was Mr. Salam, who had been the Lebanese Ambassador to the United Nations since 2007, and was a well known figure.

“We knew we had a tough task ahead right from the word go,” said the MEA official. Over the next few months, the government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Ministers of State M.J. Akbar and V.K. Singh made the ICJ election a priority in their bilateral exchanges, pushing for support from every member of the UN General Assembly, even though many were already committed according to their multilateral groupings like the P-5, European Union (EU), African Union (AU), Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) etc for the six candidates from France, Zambia, Brazil, Lebanon, Somalia, India and the U.K.

Group dynamics

“No one is certain about outcome of such a multi-cornered election,” an Indian diplomat told The Hindu, “After the first round, when everyone votes for almost everyone, group dynamics take over and votes drop dramatically for candidates not from groups.”

What surprised even the Indian officials, however, was the low vote count the United Kingdom received in every round from the UN General Assembly.

“This is the most significant part of the election as it reveals not just the fact that the U.K. wasn’t as popular as it thought, but that many countries are fed up of the P-5 claim of a god-given right to win all UN elections,” said former Indian representative to the UN

Chinmaya Garekhan, who had overseen the election of Justice R.S. Pathak to the ICJ in 1989.

Sushma’s role

Eventually the last mile was run by all the government’s arms, with Ms. Swaraj herself speaking to her counterparts in 60 countries to support India against the U.K.

The British candidate Christopher Greenwood also faced flak personally, as his was the legal advice that sanctioned U.K. to take part in the Iraq invasion in 2003, and India looked close to winning its target of two-thirds of the UN General Assembly on Monday, when the U.K. decided to bow out of the race.

“We ran a positive campaign,” said the MEA official, when asked about the controversies, “This is a victory not just for India’s voice but for the developing world, that backed us.”

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 3:55:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/icj-india-made-up-in-last-mile/article20667441.ece

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