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Indian judge at ICJ votes to seek end of Russia war on Ukraine

At the ICJ, while 13 judges including Justice Bhandari, asked Russia to immediately suspend its “military operations” on Ukraine, two judges — from Russia and China — voted against the decision.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: March 29, 2022 12:08:27 pm
A view of the International Court of Justice courtroom on March 16, 2022 (Twitter/ CIJ_ICJ)

Justice Dalveer Bhandari, whose election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was hailed as a major diplomatic victory by the government, has voted with 12 other judges including those from US, France and Germany at the global court which asked Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine.

Justice Bhandari’s position — he is serving a second term at the world court — is in contrast with the Indian government’s position at the United Nations, where it has repeatedly abstained on draft resolutions condemning Russia for the war on Ukraine.

At the ICJ, while 13 judges including Justice Bhandari, asked Russia to immediately suspend its “military operations” on Ukraine, two judges — from Russia and China — voted against the decision.

Asked about Justice Bhandari’s stance, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “They are voting in their individual capacities.”

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The UN’s top court late Wednesday ordered Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine, saying it was “profoundly concerned” by Moscow’s use of force.

“The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend military operations that it commenced on 24 February on the territory of Ukraine,” pending the final decision in the case, said presiding judge Joan Donoghue from the US.

“The court is profoundly concerned about the use of force by the Russian Federation which raises very serious issues in international law,” Justice Donoghue told a hearing at The Hague.

The UN court comprises 15 judges: President of the ICJ Judge Joan E Donoghue (US), Judge Peter Tomka (Slovakia), Judge Ronny Abraham (France), Judge Mohamed Bennouna (Morocco), Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia), Judge Julia Sebutinde (Uganda), Judge Dalveer Bhandari (India), Judge Patrick Lipton Robinson (Jamaica), Judge Nawaf Salam (Lebanon), Judge Iwasawa Yuji (Japan), Judge Georg Nolte (Germany), Judge Hilary Charlesworth (Australia), Judge ad hoc Yves Daudet (Nicaragua) voted in favour of the decision. The two judges against the decision were Vice-President Kirill Gevorgian (Russia) and Judge Sue Hanqin (China).

Ukraine had approached the ICJ after Russia’s attack on February 24. Kyiv accused Russia of illegally trying to justify its war by falsely alleging genocide in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Kyiv then asked the ICJ to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations.”

Russia argued that the ICJ “did not have jurisdiction” because Kyiv’s request fell outside of the scope of the 1948 Genocide Convention on which it based its case. Moscow also justified its use of force in Ukraine, saying “it was acting in self-defence.”

But the ICJ ruled it had jurisdiction in the case, with Justice Donoghue pointing out the ICJ currently “is not in the possession of evidence substantiating the allegation of the Russian Federation that genocide has been committed on Ukrainian territory.”

The rulings of the ICJ are binding but there have been cases where countries have ignored them since ICJ has no direct means of enforcing its orders.

Justice Bhandari was re-elected to the ICJ in 2017 after India carried out a massive diplomatic campaign to enlist support in his favour. Pitted against a judge from the UK, it was widely portrayed as a battle between a P-5 country (permanent member of the UN Security Council) and a developing country. Then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had made phone calls, and Indian diplomats at the UN, including then Permanent Representative, Syed Akbaruddin, and diplomats at key Indian embassies had campaigned to mobilise support in Justice Bhandari’s favour. Finally, he beat UK nominee Justice Greenwood to win another term at the ICJ.

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