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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Justice Dalveer Bhandari re-elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ); pips UK nominee

Happy news indeed ~  India’s Justice Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague for a second term on Monday, after Britain withdrew its candidate Christopher Greenwood. Bhandari, 70, secured 183 of 193 votes in the United Nations General Assembly and 15 votes in the United Nations Security Council to bag the last seat at the international court for a nine-year term.

The International Court of Justice ( World Court, ICJ or The Hague)  is the primary judicial branch of the United Nations (UN). Seated in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, the court settles legal disputes submitted to it by states and provides advisory opinions on legal questions submitted to it by duly authorized international branches, agencies, and the UN General Assembly.  Established in 1945 by the UN Charter, the court began work in 1946 as the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice.

The ICJ is composed of fifteen judges elected to nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council from a list of people nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration.   Elections are staggered, with five judges elected every three years to ensure continuity within the court.

Not sure whether this needs to be projected as India achieving a  noteworthy post-colonial victory  ! as Indian nominee was elected   in the place of the British candidate. Justice Dalveer Bhandari took the last open spot on United Nations’ principal judicial wing on Monday, after the United Kingdom’s Christopher Greenwood withdraw his candidature. The move may not mean anything major in global politics, yet the media in both countries as well as analysts at large are seeing it as sign of the UK’s reduced stature in the world. The representative to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft, congratulated India and expressed pleasure at seeing its “close friend” win.  The US congratulated India as well.  Russia too congratulated India  adding that it demonstrated the strength of the global community.

However as views differ, the British media including BBC sought to analyse and project it differently – to them, the loss of a British presence around that supreme judicial bench is of huge significance - not just to the court but to the UK's standing in the world.  Britain's judge, Sir Christopher Greenwood, was hoping to win re-election for a second nine year term. He is a highly distinguished lawyer and former professor in international law at the LSE.  As they report, rather unexpectedly, Lebanon's former ambassador to the UN put his hat in the ring. So instead of there being five candidates for five places,  there were six.  The Brit media adds that the former ambassador, having spent many years at the UN, had enough friends to win the election. He won one of the slots reserved for candidates from Asia. This meant the Indian candidate - Dalveer Bhandari - had to try his luck for a slot normally reserved for Europeans and in this case that meant challenging the UK.

In recent days, the four other candidates were elected. But while Sir Christopher won the support of the UN Security Council, the Indian judge was backed by the UN General Assembly. A successful candidate needs a majority of support in both bodies. And after repeated votes, there was deadlock. The view of the British media is : The Indian government was working hard, twisting arms, lobbying furiously, pulling in favours. The Indian newspapers were full of accusations that the British were using "dirty tricks" to try to win. Some commentators compared Britain's behaviour to its old commander in chief of British India, Robert Clive. Few anti-colonialist tropes were left unused. In contrast, British ministers made some telephone calls. The British did consider invoking a little known provision in the UN Charter which allows for an arbitration process known as a "joint conference" to try to resolve such an impasse.

But in the end, the UK chose not to use this process, fearing either it would not get enough support in the UN Security Council, or that the competition would become too bitter and potentially disrupt the UK's economic relations with India. Either way, it means that from early next year, when Sir Christopher stands down, the UK will not have a judge on the ICJ for the first time since 1946. On one level, this reflects a shift in the balance of power at the UN away from the Security Council. Many members on the General Assembly resent the way the Security Council has so much power, particularly the five permanent members.  Some view this as representing a   defeat for the UK itself. This is a failure of UK diplomacy. Downing Street refused to confirm that Theresa May herself got involved in lobbying for this job - they merely said representations have been made at the highest levels of government. But Boris Johnson and his Foreign Office ministers were certainly involved. And they failed. They failed to win enough support in the General Assembly.  Some will blame this on Brexit. That might be a little simplistic. Few countries are as obsessed with Brexit as the UK. It is simply not at the front of their minds. But what is clear is that many countries at the UN were willing to defy Britain and that would have been less likely a few years ago.

They see as impact of breaking Brexit too …  as BBC puts it, in  another age, Britain would perhaps have called in favours, flexed its P5 muscles, and taken the fight to India. But instead it withdrew, at best to take a short term hit probably to avoid a long term economic loss. At worst it simply gave up because it had no alternative and as a result, for the first time in 71 years, the UK will no longer be represented in the world's highest court.

So much full of implications !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

22nd Nov. 2017.

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