India in the UN Security Council: Monthly Recap for March 2021
Focus on Asia and Africa
With India in its eighth two-year tenure as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), following is the third analysis in the ICWA series of ‘India in the UN Security: Monthly Recap’ by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.
India completed the third month of her two-year term as an elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 31 March 2021. The UNSC was presided by the United States, represented by newly appointed US Permanent Representative (USPR) Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, an acknowledged Africa-expert, and a member of the President Biden’s Cabinet. In her public remarks on 1 March, the USPR identified three priorities from the UNSC agenda for her Presidency. These were the conflicts in Africa and Asia, and a United States-hosted “signature event” on conflict-induced starvation and hunger in Yemen and Ethiopia. Indicating her interest in mainstreaming human rights perspectives in UNSC deliberations, she said the “United States will seek to bring in briefers from NGOs and civil society members who are on the ground to give us a first-hand account of what is happening.”
Between 6-9 March, India, along with China, Russia, the United States, UK, and Vietnam negotiated a unanimous Presidential Statement on Myanmar (drafted by the UK as “penholder”) which was issued on 10 March by the United States. The statement called for the release of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and others, and strongly condemned the violence against peaceful protestors, including against women, youth, and children. It supported the democratic transition in Myanmar, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) efforts to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful, and constructive manner. Significantly India also endorsed the statement’s concern that the current situation has the potential to exacerbate existing challenges in Rakhine state and other regions, while committing to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, and unity of Myanmar.
On Afghanistan, India supported the adoption of a unanimous UNSC Press Statement on 12 March condemning targeted terrorist violence against civilians in Afghanistan. On 23 March, during the UNSC quarterly debate, India put forward a specific five-point perspective on a political settlement on Afghanistan. These included consolidation of the gains of the last two decades in any Afghan-designed constitutional framework; protection of the rights of women and minorities, respecting human rights and democracy; ensuring the territory of Afghanistan was not used by terrorists to threaten or attack any other country; giving Afghanistan connectivity to the Indian Ocean by removing “artificial” transit barriers currently in place; and prioritizing Afghanistan’s capacity to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic to sustain its socio-economic structures. India’s supply of 968,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, of which 500,000 were supplied as a grant, was assessed as a major positive contribution to help Afghanistan overcome the pandemic.
India’s views on a political settlement would need to be integrated into the broader framework being currently pursued outside the UNSC by Russia, China, and the United States on Afghanistan. Their Joint Statement supporting a negotiated political settlement was issued after an “extended Troika” (adding Pakistan) format meeting in Moscow on 18 March.
India participated in the three UNSC meetings on the Syrian conflict, which entered its 10th year in March (longer than the First and Second World Wars combined, in the words of the UN Special Envoy on Syria Geir Pederson). On 3 March in the face of confrontation between the United States and Russia, India called for “depoliticizing” investigations into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria to prevent parties from taking “extreme positions”. On 15 March, India asserted that “delinking the humanitarian and developmental work with progress on the political track will help in creating a conducive environment of trust and confidence” for supporting a political settlement through the efforts of the UN Special Envoy. India cautioned that continuing political instability in Syria would foment terrorist violence in the country and the wider region. On 29 March, at a meeting presided over by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, India highlighted her initiatives for providing humanitarian assistance to Syria, including the prosthetic “Jaipur Foot” for amputees in Syria and Indian assistance to Syria to overcome the pandemic. India and China called for the removal of sanctions on Syria to create positive conditions for a political settlement. China proposed the formation of a “tripartite mechanism” with Russia, Qatar, and Turkey to facilitate such a settlement.
At the monthly meeting on Middle East/Palestine on 25 March, India reiterated her support for implementing UNSC resolution 2334 adopted in 2016 on the Middle East/Palestine, which calls “for advancing this two-state solution through negotiations as well as to reverse negative trends on the ground, which includes settlements”. India emphasized the significance of the forthcoming legislative elections of the Palestinian parties and supported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ proposal at the UN in October 2020 for a “peace conference” to achieve a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (China had already supported this proposal at the UNSC in February).
On 18 March India joined consensus on a UNSC Press Statement issued by the United States proposing for a ceasefire in Yemen to allow for Covid-19 vaccinations for the population. India called fora national ceasefire to be followed by an “inclusive” political settlement, integrating the participation of women and youth. On 16 March, India participated in UNSC discussions on a new diplomatic initiative by U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking to conclude a Yemen ceasefire plan with the support of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan. Russia welcomed the U.S. initiative, including the U.S. decision to remove Yemen’s Houthis from its list of terrorist organizations. Both Russia and China proposed a “collective security” platform for the Gulf region. India’s contribution to resolving the Yemen conflict to ensure the security and stability of Yemen, which sits astride the lanes of communication for trade and digital data through the Red Sea to India, would need synergy in the UNSC with the U.S., U.K. (as “pen-holder” on Yemen) and Russia.
India was able to converge two of her declared priorities in the UNSC (inclusive peace and security solutions, and effective PKOs) during the consideration of three UNSC resolutions on the situation in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Somalia between 2 and 12 March. India’s envoy Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti referred to the $2.5 billion investments by Indian oil companies in South Sudan, and the role of 2400 troops contributed by India to the second largest UN PKO, the 17,000 strong UNMISS (commanded by Lt Gen S. Tanaikar of India) in this context. He highlighted India’s contribution in assisting South Sudan and Sudan by supplying food and medical assistance.
India joined consensus on 12 March in adopting UNSC resolution 2657 extending the mandate of UNMISS in South Sudan, and UNSC resolution 2658 extending AMISOM in Somalia till 31 December 2021. India voted with 14 other members in favor of adopting UNSC resolution 2566 increasing the size of the MINUSCA PKO in the Central African Republic. The only abstention on resolution 2566 came from Russia, because the text did not include any reference to the UN “guiding principles for emergency humanitarian assistance” related to neutrality and impartiality (unlike the inclusion of these principles in resolution 2658 on Somalia), an omission Russia felt could undermine the sovereignty of the Central African Republic.
Two aspects of resolution 2657 on South Sudan were relevant from India’s perspective. First, UNMISS’ mandate (extended till 15 March 2022) was linked to “a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war in South Sudan, to build durable peace at the local and national levels, and to support inclusive and accountable governance and free, fair, and peaceful elections in accordance with the Revitalized Agreement”. This meets India’s call for inclusive political engagement to sustain peace. Second, the authorization to UNMISS to “promptly and effectively engage any actor” targeting the UN and its PKO, while reiterating that South Sudan should not obstruct UNMISS and “take action, to deter, and to hold those responsible to account for any hostile or other actions that impede UNMISS” boosted India’s efforts to make UNMISS more effective.
On 24 March, India, which chairs the Libya Sanctions Committee, participated actively in the UNSC discussions on the situation in Libya following the installation of a new government on 15 March. India supported Libya’s progress to peace and stability through national elections scheduled on 24 December 2021, cautioning against external interference in this process.
On 31 March, India joined consensus on the Presidential Statement issued by the United States on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), emphasizing the important role that reconciliation, peace and stability in the DRC would play on “the development of a detailed transition plan for the progressive and phased drawdown of the Mission.”
During the month, India strongly supported the role of the African Union (AU) and the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the UNSC’s consideration of African issues, especially on implementing the Revitalized Peace Agreement of 2018 in South Sudan and leading the UN authorized AMISOM PKO in Somalia. On 9 March, India supported the role of the AU and IGAD in Sudan’s “democratic transition” through the UN special political mission UNITAMS as well.
Increased coordination within the UNSC between India and the three African elected members (Kenya, Niger, and Tunisia) or A3 would respond to the call of the AU’s Peace and Security Council on 4 March for convergence of positions on African issues in the UNSC. St Vincent & the Grenadines, an elected UNSC member, has already acted on this, creating an informal “A3+1” alliance on African issues. India’s informal alliance with the A3 position in the UNSC will be pivotal for India’s attempts to reform multilateralism through the deadlocked UN General Assembly Inter-Governmental Negotiations on UNSC reforms.
Conflict and Food Security
The outbreak of famine due to the fighting and economic collapse of Yemen and the deteriorating conditions in Ethiopia due to the conflict in the Tigray region, provided the context for the U.S. sponsored UNSC Open Debate on conflict-induced starvation and hunger held on 11 March. India said that “food insecurity is by itself not a sufficient condition for political violence and conflict” and recommended the UNSC consider conflict-induced food-security issues in specific contexts such as Yemen but avoid “an increasing tendency to politicize humanitarian situations.”
Other Consensus Decisions
On 24 March, at the U.S. initiative, a UNSC Presidential Statement calling for the holding of elections in Haiti was adopted by consensus. The statement supported Haiti’s efforts to achieve the SDGs of Agenda 2030. On 26 March India joined consensus in the unanimous adoption of UNSC resolution 2569 extending the term of the panel of experts on the DPRK Sanctions Committee till 30 April 2022.
Apart from scheduled meetings on the UNSC agenda, there were five “Arria-formula” meetings sponsored by individual or groups of UNSC members during March. These were on “women, peace, and security” (8 March, co-sponsored by 12 of the 15 UNSC members, except China, Russia, and India); “Crimea” (12 March, co-sponsored by the United States, UK, France, Estonia, Ireland, and Norway; and 17 March, sponsored by Russia); “religion, belief and conflict” (19 March, co-sponsored by the UK, U.S., Estonia and Norway); “UN PKOs and improvised explosive devices” (25 March, co-sponsored by China and Kenya). India maintained her reservations on the format of informal “Arria-formula” meetings “as it has been misused in the past”, but nevertheless participated in all these off-the-record events to convey her views.
Since these meetings have become part of the increasing use of “public diplomacy” in a polarized UNSC, India would need to formulate a long-term criteria-based approach to make such informal meetings relevant for UNSC work. She could seek to include such criteria into the “provisional” UNSC working procedures which have not been finalized since 1946, though this may be resisted by the P5 who dominate UNSC decision-making. India’s other option is to integrate criteria for informal meetings into the broader UNSC reform negotiations in the UN General Assembly as part of her objective of “reformed multilateralism”.