External Affairs

As International Court of Justice Election Nears, India Pushes Campaign to Re-Elect Dalveer Bhandari

Lobbying for Bhandari’s re-election is taking place at the highest levels, including by the prime minister himself.

Judge Dalveer Bhandari of the International Court of Justice. Credit: Facebook

Judge Dalveer Bhandari of the International Court of Justice. Credit: Facebook

New Delhi: India is in the last leg of campaigning for the re-election of Dalveer Bhandari to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), with voting for five seats to be held in New York on November 9.

The Indian government is using all its diplomatic muscle to ensure that Bhandari gets re-elected. The lobbying is taking place at the highest levels, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the effort in his diplomatic interactions.

During her visit to New York, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj brought up India’s candidature at nearly all her meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar has also been travelling to different capitals as the prime minister’s special envoy, handing over letters from Modi thanking them for their support of Bhandari.

For example, Akbar handed over a letter of thanks to Sengalese President Macky Lall. When he met with Ghana’s foreign minister, the ICJ election was also a topic raised during the meeting that discussed the “entire spectrum of bilateral relationship”.

M.J. Akbar with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. Credit: Twitter

M.J. Akbar with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt. Credit: Twitter

On October 21, he handed over a thank you letter from Modi to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi “for its support to the Indian candidate at the International Court of Justice”.

Egypt’s support is crucial as it is a Arab non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Bhandari’s main rival for the seat is Nawaf Salam, Lebanon’s permanent representative to the UN in New York for the last ten years. In fact, the Asia vacancy is the only seat to witness a fight, with the others expected to be re-elected without any contest.

India is taking the election so seriously that a separate cell, headed by a joint secretary, has been created to coordinate the campaign within the Ministry of External Affairs.

The reason for this is that the election process is a bit complicated. Both the UN General Assembly and Security Council will proceed separately to elect candidates for the vacant seats through a secret ballot. A candidate who obtains a majority in both the General Assembly (97 votes) and Security Council (eight votes) will be declared the winner.

“It is a different type of election where you don’t win only by getting more votes but win only after those who lose fall below a threshold. So, in a multi cornered election of this type, we need to keep on till the end even though outlook is very good,” said a senior MEA official.

If the UNGA and UNSC give differing verdicts on candidates, they will again vote independently for candidates of those unsettled seats. If there is no resolution after three meetings, then UNSC and UNGA will convene a ‘conference’ of six members to recommend a candidate.

In the last elections in 2014, the UNGA voted for Jamaica’s Patrick Lipton Robinson after seven rounds of voting, while the UNSC rooted for Argentine Susana Ruiz Cerutti. There was no resolution despite multiple rounds of voting on November 6 and 7. Finally, Argentina withdrew its candidate in the name of “strengthening regional unity”.

Another reason why India is making strenuous efforts is that Bhandari’s candidature was only decided and announced in June – which is rather late to begin a major international election campaign. With elections to international bodies being highly competitive, votes – along with their quid pro quos – are often tied up years ahead.

Bhandari is one of five judges whose tenure ends in February 2018. All five – which include Ronny Abraham (France), Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia), Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil) and UK’s Christopher Greenwood – are standing for re-election.

The former Supreme Court justice had a truncated term as he was elected to a vacant seat in 2012 following the resignation of Jordanian judge, Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh.

If Bhandari gets elected, he will be part of the ICJ bench that will adjudicate the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the Indian national sentenced to death by a Pakistani military tribunal, over the next few years.