New Delhi: Since joining the United Nations Security Council, India has, for the first time, abstained from voting on a resolution that extended the mandate of the sanctions regime on South Sudan, the world’s youngest state.
It was a busy week in New York, which saw the security council meeting twice inside the cavernous chambers rather than the video conferences of the current covid protocols.
In the last week, there were two open debates on the security of UN peacekeepers and the protection of civilians in armed conflict. There were also discussions on Somalia, Palestine, Syria and Mali. A closed-door informal meeting was convened by three UNSC members, Estonia, France and Ireland, over the forced landing of Ryan Air passenger in Belarus.
In terms of outcome, a presidential statement issued ahead of the May 24 open debate called for peacekeeping missions to be adequately resourced so that peacekeepers can fulfil their mandate effectively.
After a closed-door meeting on the coup in Mali on May 26, a press statement was issued by council president, China’s Zhang Jun that condemned the arrest of the President and Prime Minister of Mali and demanded their immediate release.
The Council also adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The resolution on Iraq was approved unanimously, unlike the one on South Sudan.
Last Friday, UNSC renewed the arms embargo, travel ban, and assets freeze on South Sudan for another year. The same resolution (2577) also extended the mandate of the panel of experts monitoring the sanctions for 13 months.
While 13 countries voted in favour, the resolution witnessed abstention from two members – India and Kenya.
This is the first time that India has abstained on any approved resolution after joining the council for the eighth time as a non-permanent member in January this year.
The last time that India had abstained was a decade ago, during the first year of its 2011-12 term. India had abstained twice that year. However, only one of the resolutions was adopted. In March 2011, UNSC approved an air embargo against Libya, which saw abstention from five countries, including India. Later that year, India had also abstained on a draft resolution, vetoed by Russia and China, that condemned Syrian authorities for their crackdown on protestors.
India has never voted against a resolution that has mustered the required majority in UNSC, but it has abstained on rare occasions during its last seven terms. During those 14 years, the council has passed 396 resolutions. However, India abstained only thirteen times – or about 3% – during voting on these adopted resolutions, The Wire analysed from official UN records.
In addition, India did not participate in the voting – and was marked ‘not voting’ – on a resolution calling on UN members to give aid to repel the North Korean attack upon South Korea in June 1950.
Before resolution 2577, UNSC had passed 15 resolutions this year. All of them were unanimous, except two, where Russia had abstained.
In the latest instance, the draft of the resolution was circulated by the US, penholder of South Sudan in the council.
After getting independence a decade ago, South Sudan slid quickly into civil war. In 2018, a peace agreement was signed, but has not been fully implemented. There is continuing ethnic violence, which has led to displacement and the killing of thousands.
Within the council, there have been sharp differences about the efficacy of targeted sanctions against South Sudan, which were first created in 2015. Three years later, another UNSC resolution had imposed an arms embargo and bulked up the sanctions regime. When these strictures were last renewed in 2020, China, Russia and South Africa abstained.
When the US draft was under negotiation, sources said that India, along with China, Russia and Kenya, had proposed changes that would remove some of the conditions that South Sudan needed to fulfil to show progress for removal of the punitive measures.
There were initially ten conditions, known as ‘benchmarks’. These were narrowed down to five criteria listed in the final resolution.
Sources also pointed out that two more of the original ten benchmarks were also integrated into the resolution by including them in a subsequent operative paragraph.
India did not give a public explanation of its vote. But, in March this year, when UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan, India had stated it would “support all efforts seeking to establish a clear benchmarking measures on South Sudan”. India’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Nagaraj Naidu, added that it should be done “in full consultation with the Government of South Sudan and other regional stake-holders”.
The sentiment prevailing in the Indian side was the benchmarks were too intrusive and stringent for the South Sudan authorities to fulfil them.
In its explanation of vote, Kenya said that it chose to abstain as “more flexibility could have been shown to make the eventual lifting of the sanctions realistic and certain”.
Kenya also reiterated that the regional bodies, African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), have repeatedly called for lifting targeted sanctions and arms embargo on South Sudan.
When the final vote tally was declared on May 28 with 13 votes in favour, it was a bit of surprise for observers to note that China and Russia had not abstained as they did last time, even though the benchmarks have tightened the sanctions regime.
There was also no unity among the three African countries on the UNSC, with Niger and Tunisia voting for the resolution. The elected African members are often viewed as an informal bloc, known as the ‘A3’.
India currently has over 2400 troops stationed in South Sudan, the second-largest country contingent in UNMISS after Rwanda. Indian oil companies have in total invested $2.5 billion in the African country.
Back to face-to-face diplomacy?
In a sign of slow return to normalcy, the 15-member UN body met inside the cavernous Security Council chamber on May 25 and 27. This was their first physical meeting since last December 2020. Due to COVID-19 protocols, the vast majority of the Security Council since mid-2020 have been held through video conferences.
But, only a minimal number of officials of the member states were allowed inside the chamber. The seats of the chief national delegates on the main table has been divided by plexiglass, donated by Russia.
On May 27, the council voted for the first time in person on a resolution since November 2020.
This was the first time that elected non-permanent members who joined this January, like India, sat in the designated seats around the horseshoe table.
Jaishankar unveils India’s themes for August presidency
The Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar visited the US last week, with New York in his first leg.
During his meeting with Secretary General Antonio Guterres, he conveyed that India had chosen two specific themes when it takes over the rotating UNSC presidency in August – Maritime Security and Technology for Peacekeeping.
That means that India will be organising two open events on these topics. With two months left, there were still a lot of decisions to be made on whether these meetings will be virtual or physical. That will also determine if Jaishankar will travel to New York to chair at least one of the open debates.
This week in UNSC
Estonia will take over the rotating presidency of the council from June 1. Two draft resolutions are expected to be adopted this year – one, for renewing mandate of UNITAMS and another for extending authorisation for members states to inspect vessels on high seas to impose arms embargo on Libya.
The council will meet to discuss Syria chemical weapons and Yemen’s humanitarian situation.