Gaza Death Toll at 18,000, India Finally Joins 80% of World in UN Vote for Immediate Ceasefire

Last October, India was among 45 nations that had abstained on the voting of the resolution that had called for an immediate cessation of violence in Gaza.

New Delhi: Less than two months after abstaining on a similar resolution, India voted in favour of a new resolution adopted by United Nations General Assembly by an even larger majority that called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

With 153 votes in favour, nearly 80% of the UN’s member states voted in favour of the resolution “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations”. It was passed during the 10th Emergency special session on UN on ‘Special Session on Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory’ on Tuesday in New York.

Last October, India was among 45 nations that had abstained on the voting of the resolution that had called for an immediate cessation of violence in Gaza. The October 26 resolution had received 120 votes in favour and 14 against.

In the latest resolution, the opposing votes shrunk to 10, which included the US, Austria, Czechia, Liberia and Pacific allies. Similarly, the number of abstaining nations reduced from 45 to 23.

The UNGA majority backing the resolution, introduced by the Arab Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, was even higher than those condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

The terror attack by Hamas on southern Israel killed more than 1,200 people, with 240 others taken as hostage. Since then, the offensive by Israel in Gaza has killed more than 15,000 people, as per UN records. After a pause of seven days in fighting in exchange for release of hostages and prisoners, Israel resumed strikes on Gaza, issuing evacuation notices even from several places in the south.

Before the vote on the draft, the UN’s main body also decided the fate of two amendments proposed by Austria and the United States. While they received more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’, they were not adopted as they failed to garner favour from two-thirds of the membership. India voted in favour of both the amendments.

The Austrian amendment had sought to specify that hostages were only held by Hamas, while the US called for an unconditional condemnation of the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

The adopted resolution stated that there was a “catastrophic humanitarian situation” in Gaza and also expressed concern for the suffering of the Palestinian population. It also underlined that the “Palestinian and Israeli civilian population must be protected in adherence with international law”.

Calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the resolution demanded an “unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access”.

India was part of a group of at least 21 countries that shifted their vote from abstention to approval since the last resolution, with approximately half of them being European nations. Notably, key allies of the United States, namely Canada, Australia and Japan, supported the latest resolution, contrary to their stance in October. In Asia, the Philippines also transitioned to a ‘yes’ vote this time.

Furthermore, at least seven countries, absent from the previous vote, endorsed the resolution for an immediate ceasefire. Croatia and Fiji, which had abstained on October 26, also voted in favour of Tuesday’s resolution.

Just three nations shifted their earlier affirmative votes to abstentions, with Argentina being the most prominent among them. Argentina’s newly-elected president, Javier Milei, expressed at a Hanukkah ceremony in Buenos Aires that the “forces of heaven” stand with Israel.

In its explanation of vote, India mentioned the October 7 terrorist attack, but again did not refer explicitly to Hamas.

“India has voted in favour of the resolution just adopted by the General Assembly. The situation that this august body has been deliberating upon has many dimensions. There is the terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October and the concern for the hostages taken at that time,” said India’s permanent representative, Ruchira Kambhoj.

The statement noted that there was a “an enormous humanitarian crisis and large scale loss of civilian lives, especially of women and children”.

“There is the issue of observing international humanitarian law in all circumstances. And there is the endeavour to find a peaceful and lasting two-state solution to the long-standing Palestine question,” asserted the senior Indian diplomat.

Stating that the challenge was to strike the right balance, the Indian statement said that the “gravity and complexity of what the international community faces is underlined by the Secretary General invoking Article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations”.

“Therefore, we welcome the fact that the international community has been able to find a common ground to address the multiple challenges facing the region right now,” she concluded.

While calling for adherence to humanitarian law and voting in favour of the resolution, the Indian statement still did not specifically mention the need for a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause.

Last time, India had abstained on the October 26 resolution on grounds that it did not have an explicit condemnation of the October 7 terror attack. It had then been among the handful of countries in the Global South which had not voted in favour, with most of West Asia, Africa, Asia and Latin America voting for resolution.

While the previous resolution had only called for a humanitarian “truce”, the new text is even stronger and has directly asked for a ceasefire.

The reason for India’s shift in position, despite the new resolution still not explicitly naming Hamas or condemning the October 7 attack, remains unclear.

The UNGA’s resumed emergency session took place after the US had again wielded its veto to stop a similar resolution demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages in the UN Security Council. The Council had been convened after the Secretary General had used the rarely-invoked Article 99 of the UN charter.

The General Assembly’s resolutions are not legally binding, but they are serve as an indicator of global sentiment.

Perhaps foreshadowing the extent of the support for the resolution, US President Joe Biden said at a party fundraiser in Washington that Israel, which had received strong backing from Europe and the Western bloc, was “starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place”.

Just before the vote, the prime ministers of Canada, New Zealand and Australia issued a joint statement that called for the resumption of the humanitarian ‘pause’ and support for efforts for a “sustainable peace”. “We are alarmed at the diminishing safe space for civilians in Gaza. The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians,” it said.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, held up a sign with the phone number and name of Yehva Sinwar, a senior Hamas leader, whom Israel has accused of being the main mastermind behind the October 7 terror attack.

“If you want a real ceasefire, call the Hamas offices in Gaza and ask for Yahya Sinwar. Tell Hamas to put down their arms, turn themselves in and return our hostages. This will bring a complete ceasefire that will last forever,” he said.

Urging member states to vote against the resolution, Erdan said, “I honestly don’t know how you can look in the mirror after supporting a resolution that doesn’t condemn Hamas and doesn’t even mention them by name.”

After the passage of the resolution was greeted by bursts of applause, Palestinian envoy to United Nations Riyad Mansour said that the vote marked a “historic day in terms of the powerful message that was sent from the General Assembly”. “And it is our collective duty to continue in this path until we see an end to this aggression against our people,” he said.