India’s Dalveer Bhandari was re-elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) today with an absolute majority. Bhandari’s re-election is significant not just because India is fighting a case for citizen Kulbhushan Jadhav, who has been wrongfully jailed by Pakistan, at the ICJ but also because the country received overwhelming support of UN General Assembly and UN Security Council members, while the United Kingdom decided to withdraw its candidate – Christopher Greenwood.
This is for the first time in the 71-years history of the world court that Britain would not have its representative at the ICJ. To ensure India’s win, the country’s permanent representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, and his team worked day and night. As soon as the results were announced, Akbaruddin tweeted, “A vote that brings cheer to a billion India’s nominee Judge Bhandari re-elected to ICJ General Assembly 183; Security Council 15.” Not only this, Akbaruddin was congratulated by representatives of other countries on the floor of the General Assembly. India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj tweeted, “Vande Matram – India wins election to the International Court of Justice. JaiHind.”
Bhandari and UK’s Greenwood were locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election, even as the UN had already elected four out of five judges to the ICJ. In the final count, Bhandari, 70, received 183-193 votes in the General Assembly and all 15 votes in the Security Council.
High drama: What worked in India’s favour
Dalveer’s re-election took place amid dramatic turn of events. In a surprise move, British Permanent Representative to the UN Matthew Rycroft wrote identical letters to the presidents of UNGA and UNSC, informing that his candidate Greenwood would withdraw. The letters were sent before the two UN chambers were scheduled to meet at 3 pm (local time) for the 12th round of voting.
A vote that brings cheer to a billion
India’s nominee Judge Bhandari re-elected to ICJ
General Assembly 183
Security Council 15
— Syed Akbaruddin (@AkbaruddinIndia) November 20, 2017
“The current deadlock is unlikely to be broken by further rounds of voting. We have therefore consulted our candidate Sir Christopher Greenwood who has confirmed that his candidate for re-election to the International Court of Justice should be withdrawn,” Rycroft said in the letter, which was read out simultaneously in UNGA and UNSC. “In taking this step, we have borne in mind the close relationship that the United Kingdom and India have always enjoyed and we will continue to enjoy; and the fact that both candidates fulfill the requirements for our elections and have already served the court diligently with impartiality and independence,” Rycroft said.
The letter further highlighted the close relationship shared by India and the UK. “In taking this step, we have borne in mind the close relationship that the United Kingdom and India have always enjoyed and will continue to enjoy, and the fact that both candidates fulfill the requirements for election and have already served the court diligently with impartiality and independence,” Rycroft wrote.
I congratulate Justice Dalveer Bhandari on being re-elected to the International Court of Justice. His re-election is a proud moment for us.
Congratulations to EAM @SushmaSwaraj and her entire team at MEA & diplomatic missions for their untiring efforts that have led to India’s re-election to ICJ. Our deep gratitude to all the members of UNGA as well as UNSC for their support and trust in India.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 21, 2017
British media, The Guardian said the UK decision to withdraw its candidate was a “humiliating blow” to the country’s “international prestige” and “an acceptance of a diminished status in international affairs.”
What may have contributed to the British decision was the fact that India is “likely to feature” as a “more significant trading partner” to the UK post-Brexit, said The Guardian, while noting that previously there were calls in Indian media to leave the Commonwealth if the United Kingdom “exploited its position” as a permanent member of the UNSC to defend its “weakened position”.
At least two more factors worked more in India’s favour. The British candidate was tainted to some extent because of his advice to the then Tony Blair government ahead of the Iraq invasion in 2003. Following instruction from Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general of UK, to examine the legality of using force against the Saddam Hussein regime of Iraq, Greeewood had said the use of force was justified. Secondly, the UK is losing the support of EU nations because of its isolationist decisions like Brexit. Recently, the UK was humiliated at the UN when its opposition to a Mauritius-backed resolution questioning the disputed legal status of UK’s hold over Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean was defeated 15-94 and referred to ICJ.
Vande Matram – India wins election to the International Court of Justice. JaiHind. #ICJ
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) November 20, 2017
The ICJ is based in The Hague. Five of its 15-judge bench are elected every three years for a nine-year term. Four other judges elected this time were from France, Lebanon, Brazil, and Somalia.
India’s Bhandari had secured 121 votes in the last round of voting at the UN last week, while Greenwood could get only 68 votes. However, at the UNSC, Greenwood had 9 votes compared to India’s five. That India’s secured all votes at the UNSC and UK decided to withdraw is the proof of the amount of diplomatic work would have gone behind the scenes.