Rights Council polls and popularity of nations
NEW YORK - When India ran against Japan for a non-permanent seat
in the 15-member UN Security Council back in October 1996, it suffered
a humiliating defeat. The vote was a whopping 142 for Japan and
a measly 40 for India. By UN standards it was a disaster. When a
UN correspondent asked visiting Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee
for his reaction, the onetime Indian Prime Minister made the telling
comment: "The defeat was shocking. The margin was devastating."
Since the voting was by secret ballot, most of
the countries that pledged their votes, including in writing, obviously
reneged on their promises. Japan, on the other hand, using its economic
clout and increased aid pledges succeeded in garnering more votes
at the expense of India. As a result of the defeat, the speculation
at the UN was that the Indian ambassador who was expecting an extension
of his term of office never got one.
Perhaps it is a truism in the UN community that
the political fortunes of most ambassadors rise and fall on the
successes and failures in getting his or her country into UN bodies,
including the highly-competitive Security Council, the Economic
and Social Council, and now, the newly-created Human Rights Council.
The survival of an ambassador as Permanent Representative
of his home country may be predicated on the number of votes he
could generate at UN elections. If you have a record of three or
four consecutive defeats, the reflection is not so much on the home
government as the person who represents that government at the UN.
If, on the other hand, you have a string of successes
under your belt, you may well be a strong candidate for an extension
of your term of office — or be a real "Permanent"
Representative for life.
India, one of the world's nuclear powers and self-styled
superpower in the region, redeemed itself when it was elected to
the Human Rights Council last week with the highest number of votes
for the Asian slate of candidates: 173, compared with Bangladesh
(160), Pakistan (149) and Sri Lanka (123). Asked for his comments,
India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador
Nirupam Sen told an Indian reporter rather gleefully: "It is
poetic justice that the largest democracy (in the world) should
have the largest pool of votes."
Although Pakistan, the traditional rival, also
succeeded in getting a place in the new Human Rights Council, it
was unhappy that it got 24 votes less than India. The voting pattern
also appeared to undermine Pakistan's efforts to block India from
being a permanent member of the Security Council. The elections
for the Human Rights Council were viewed by some diplomats as a
political barometre for the proposed expansion of the Security Council:
a proposal that is currently in limbo because of sharp division
among the 191 member states.
All four countries aspiring for permanent seats
in the Security Council — India, Brazil, Japan and Germany
— were elected to the Human Rights Council. Of the four, India
received the largest number of votes compared with Brazil (165),
Japan (158) and Germany (154).
After last week's elections, a Third World diplomat
was quoted as saying: "The vote on the Human Rights Council
is not exactly the same as a vote on the Security Council expansion
issue." But the voting outcome gives "a fairly realistic
indication" of how these countries will probably fare should
there be a vote on Security Council expansion, he added.
Sri Lanka succceeded in edging out Thailand (120
votes) and Lebanon (112), even though both countries received the
required 96 votes to be in the Human Rights Council. But a sigificant
feature of the elections was the political unity among the 53 African
states that comprise the African Union (AU).
Unlike other regional groups, the Africans fielded
only 13 candidates for the 13 seats they were entitled to. So all
13 candidates were voted into office. The Asians had 18 candidates
for 13 seats. Africa's collective unity also helped them to get
the largest number of votes. In overall voting for the Human Rights
Council, the eight largest vote getters were all from Africa, the
top three being Ghana (183 votes), Zambia (182), Senegal (181).
In an obvious rebuke to Western nations and human
rights organisations, the 191-member General Assembly also voted
in favour of seven of the eight countries described as "human
rights violators" — Russia, China, Cuba, Azerbaijan,
Pakistan, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The only exception was Iran,
which failed to muster the necessary votes — receiving only
58 out of the required minimum of 96. A total of 63 candidates vied
for 47 seats in the Council.
The US, which has been lambasted for human rights
abuses both by members of its armed forces in Abu Ghraib prison
outside Baghdad and by American law enforcement officials in the
Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba, backed out of the hotly contested
The widespread speculation at the UN was that
the US decision may have been prompted by lingering fears it will
not be able to muster the 96 votes needed in the General Assembly.
As one diplomat put it: "If the United States
contested and lost, it would have been a resounding public slap
for a country which is a self-styled promoter of human rights but
which still justifies abuses in the name of fighting terrorism."