With India in its eighth two-year tenure as an elected-member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), following is the eighth 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 assumed the monthly Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on 1 August 2021. At a press conference in New York on 2 August, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, highlighted that the month of August is of particular significance to India, given the fact that India will be celebrating its 75
Independence Day on 15 August 2021.India identified three signature events to mark its Presidency. These were on maritime security, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism.
The outcomes of the UNSC under India’s Presidency included 5 resolutions, including one (UNSCR 2588) on UN Peacekeeping, which was drafted and piloted by India for adoption on 18 August.The other 4 resolutions were on Mali, Somalia, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. The UNSC also adopted unanimously 4 Presidential Statements (on Sudan/South Sudan, Maritime Security, UN Peacekeeping and West Africa) issued by India during August, and 5 Press Statements (of which three were on Afghanistan, one on a terrorist attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and one on ISIL/Dae’sh).
India’s Signature Events
On 9 August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the UNSC Open Debate on Maritime Security held via videoconference. This was the first time an Indian Prime Minister had chaired a UNSC meeting since India became independent in August 1947. The unanimous Presidential Statement drafted by India adopted after the meeting affirmed that “international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (UNCLOS), sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities … posed by piracy, armed robbery at sea, terrorists’ travel and use of sea to conduct crimes and acts against shipping, offshore installations, critical infrastructure, and other maritime interests.”
India’s contribution to the Debate focused on the SAGAR Indian Ocean policy announced in March 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a template for effective international cooperation in the maritime domain. SAGAR calls for a cooperative inclusive approach to maritime security. India stressed the importance of connectivity and domain awareness in securing the maritime domain, and the supportive role of global norms and standards for regulating international maritime trade.
In a reflection of the special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia, President Vladimir Putin took part in the Debate, the only Head of State of a P5 member of the UNSC to do so. President Putin proposed the establishment of a special structure within the United Nations to directly address fighting maritime crime in various regions, based on support by Member States, which would engage experts, civil society, academia, and the private sector. In his remarks, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (which is an elected member of the UNSC) focused on the terrorist threat in maritime domain off the coast of Africa, and the security interests of littoral states. He proposed that “land-based” approaches to maritime security must change to a maritime-based approach. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinhof Vietnam upheld the importance of UNCLOS during the Debate and supported the development of a network of arrangements and initiatives for regional maritime security with the United Nations working as the coordinator.
The Foreign Ministers of France, the United States, Niger, Estonia, Norway and Mexico, and Ministers of the UK, St Vincent & the Grenadines, and Ireland spoke.
On 18 August, External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar presided over a UNSC High-Level Open Debate on Technology and UN Peacekeeping. The debate focused on the safety and security of peacekeepers for the effective use of PKOs. The External Affairs Minister recalled that out of the 1 million troops deployed so far under the UN flag for peacekeeping, a quarter of a million troops from India had served in 49 of the 72 UN peacekeeping missions so far. This was single largest contribution by any UN member-state for maintaining peace and security. 174 Indian UN troops had sacrificed their lives for the UN Charter, the most from any member-state.
This recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words at the Leaders’ Summit on UN Peacekeeping in September 2015, when he paid “homage to the peacekeepers who have laid down their lives in defending the highest ideals of the United Nations.” He had said that “It would be most fitting if the proposed memorial wall to the fallen peacekeepers is created quickly. India stands ready to contribute, including financially, to this objective.”
India proposed a 4-point approach for effective UN peacekeeping. First, the UN should focus on technologies that are operationally proven, cost-effective, mobile, widely available, reliable, field-serviceable and environment friendly. Second, the UN should establish a sound information and intelligence foundation for ensuring early warning and mobilising a coherent and early response. Third, the UN should ensure regular technological improvements that are readily available in the gears, weapons, and tools of peacekeepers. And fourth, the UN must give attention and invest in consistent training and capacity building of peacekeepers in the realm of technology.
India’s commitment to these objectives was demonstrated by her contribution of $1.64 million for a new technology-driven initiative of the UN for peacekeeping. This situational awareness software program called UNITE AWARE utilizes modern surveillance technology and provides real-time threat assessment to improve the overall security situation of UN peacekeepers. The initial roll-out of this program is in four UN peacekeeping missions located in Somalia, South Sudan (where over 2400 Indian UN troops are deployed), Mali, and Cyprus.
India and the UN signed an MoU for the training and capacity building of UN peacekeepers in the sphere of technology. This created a framework for India’s support of the UN’s “Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping” initiative, as well as for the UN C4ISR – UN Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Academy for Peace Operations (UNCAP) based in Entebbe, Uganda.
The Open Debate concluded with a unanimous Presidential Statement issued by India. The Statement emphasized that political solutions must achieve and sustain lasting peace and reiterated the three fundamental principles of effective UN peacekeeping. These were consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of force, except in self-defence and defence of the mandate. It highlighted the use of modern technology for improving the performance, safety and security of UN peacekeepers who are operating in increasingly complex and risky environments.
The major takeaway of this event was the adoption of UNSCR 2588 on UN Peacekeeping. This was the first UNSC resolution to be initiated and negotiated by India during her current term as an elected UNSC member. The resolution had 80 co-sponsoring UN member-states, including the P5, and was adopted unanimously. It set out specific obligations on member-states for ensuring accountability for crimes committed against UN peacekeepers. The resolution called for the perpetrators of such crimes to be arrested, prosecuted, and brought to justice by member-states in accordance with national and international law. The UN Secretary-General was asked to create an online database to track progress made in such cases. The resolution marks India’s steadfast pursuit of justice for all slain UN peacekeepers, including several from India, during recent years.
On 19 August, the External Affairs Minister presided over a UNSC Open Briefing on 19 August on the terrorist threat posed by the ISIL/Daesh globally, including in Afghanistan. Held on the eve of the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, the Briefing also drew attention to the link between the ongoing instability in Afghanistan and an expanding ISIS/Daesh footprint for UNSC proscribed terror groups such as the LeT, JeM and Haqqani Network, which have targeted India. The Minister reiterated that countering terrorism was a priority for India, which had experienced major terror attacks. The early adoption of a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism was necessary for future global counter-terrorism efforts. The event was an important input for India’s Chairmanship of the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee from January 2022.
The rapid meltdown of Afghanistan’s governance structures became a dominant unexpected focus of India’s Presidency of the UNSC in August 2021. On 3 August, the UNSC adopted a unanimous Press Statement condemning the terrorist attack on the UN compound in Herat as deliberate targeting of civilians. The Statement recalled UNSCR 2513 of 2020, which affirmed that there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan, and which had endorsed talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. The resolution supported the full, equal,and meaningful participation of women in these political talks, and reiterated that the UNSC would not accept the restoration of an “Islamic Emirate” in Afghanistan.
On 6 August, a UNSC Press Statement issued by India condemned the 14 July 2021 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa terror attack that killed 9 Chinese and 3 Pakistanis in Pakistan.
The UNAMA briefed the UNSC on 6 August. Participating in the discussion in her national capacity, India pointed to the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan as a serious threat to regional peace and stability. India wanted a tangible demonstration of the commitment by the Taliban to engage in negotiations in good faith towards reaching a political solution so that that the gains of the last two decades are protected, and not reversed. These “non-negotiable” gains included the constitutional democratic framework, and protection of the rights of women, children, and minorities. India supported a leading role for the United Nations and called on the Secretary-General to take an initiative towards finding a lasting and durable outcome, which would include the outcomes of the Doha Process, the Moscow Format, and the Istanbul Process.
The UNSC Press Statement adopted unanimously on 16 August called for the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new Government “that is united, inclusive and representative — including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women”. It underlined the need for humanitarian assistance and countering terrorism.
At the UNSC meeting on 16 August India called for an “inclusive dispensation which represents all sections of Afghan society”. Reiterating that the voices of Afghan women, aspirations of Afghan children and the rights of minorities must be respected, India said that a broader representation in Kabul would help the arrangement gain more acceptability and legitimacy. India underlined the need to continue to support the robust work of UNAMA and ensure the safety of its personnel.
On 27 August, the UNSC issued a unanimous press Statement condemning in the strongest terms the “deplorable attacks near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on 26 August 2021”. The attacks were claimed by Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), an entity affiliated with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).
UNSCR 2593 on Afghanistan drafted by the UK, France and United States condemned the terrorist attack on Kabul airport claimed by ISIS-K, noted the commitment of the Taliban not to let the territory of Afghanistan be used to carry out terrorist attacks, and encouraged “all parties” to “seek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women”. China and Russia abstained on this resolution, which was adopted by a 13-0 vote, reportedly due to the short period of time provided for negotiating an agreed text of the resolution.
UNSC Resolution 2593 provides a framework for India and other members of the UNSC to consider restructuring the mandate of UNAMA when it falls due in September this year. This would be important for ensuring that the proposed massive humanitarian assistance program for Afghanistan through UNAMA is used effectively on the ground, carrying forward India’s bilateral developmental priorities in all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
The UNSC must integrate UNAMA into a UN Political Transition Mission on Afghanistan, guided by the parameters of UNSC resolutions on Afghanistan, including both UNSCR 2593 adopted during India’s Presidency in August 2021 and UNSCR 2513 of March 2020, which called for an inclusive, political settlement with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.The UNSC has precedents for such Political Transition Missions, including in Namibia in 1978 (UNSCR 435 that established UNTAG), Cambodia in 1991 (UNSCR 718 that established UNTAC), East Timor in 1999 (UNSCR 1272 that established UNTAET), and most recently Sudan, for which UNSCR 2524 adopted on 20 June 2020 established UNITAMS to assist the political transition in Sudan.
The situation in Myanmar was discussed during a private meeting of the UNSC presided over by India on 16 August, with the participation of the ASEAN Special Envoy Dato Erywan bin Pehin Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brunei, and UN Special Envoy Christine Burgener. This meeting followed the decision on 1 August of the military regime in Myanmar to install a caretaker government, annulling the outcome of the elections held in November 2020.
India presided over two meetings of the UNSC on Syria. On 4 August, the UNSC was briefed on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. India welcomed the proposal of the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on convening an in-person meeting which had elicited Syria’s positive response, as a step in the right direction.
At the UNSC meeting on 24 August on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria, India noted that the Small Body of the Constitutional Committee had not met since January 2021. India suggested that with UN Special Envoy Geir Pederson’s help, this group should meet soon. An agreement among the three parties on the terms of reference and core rules of procedure for the meeting would contribute positively to the process of taking the political track forward. India underlined the importance of an anation-wide comprehensive ceasefire as being of paramount interest to the Syrian people, for deterring the involvement of external terrorist groups in Syria, and upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, within the parameters of UNSC resolution 2254 of 18 December 2015.
The regular UNSC meeting on Iraq on 25 August focused on Iraq’s forthcoming elections. India said a “transparent, free and credible election, conducted in a violence-free environment, with high voter turnout will empower the new Government to implement reforms, improve accountability and meet the genuine aspirations of the Iraqi people, especially women and youth”. Stressing the role of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to ensure a free, fair, and inclusive electoral process, India reiterated her support, including electoral technical assistance, to assist the Government of Iraq with the elections, including through a public information campaign to enhance election-related awareness among Iraqi voters. A special focus of India’s support was to help Iraq’s government promote women’s electoral participation and to prevent and address violence against women candidates to ensure full and effective participation of Iraqi women in the political process.
The UNSC closely tracked the situation in Yemen at its monthly meeting on 23 August. The Council welcomed the appointment of Hans Grundberg of Sweden as the new UN Special Envoy to Yemen by the UN Secretary-General. India called for enhanced and effective humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni population throughout the country without any discrimination. It said that an urgent nationwide ceasefire followed by a robust and inclusive political process with full respect for Yemen’s unity, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity was the only approach that could result in enduring peace in Yemen.
On 30 August, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla of India presided over the UNSC’s regular discussion on the Middle East/Palestine Question. India highlighted the importance of regular and predictable transfer of aid and other essential items to Gaza to ease the humanitarian situation and facilitate early reconstruction, as well as for the appropriate use of such aid. Another confidence-building measure was the Israeli recognition of COVID-vaccination certificates issued by the Palestinian Authority and the facilitation of passage of patients from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. The continued support of the international donor community for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip through the Palestinian Authority was emphasized by India while noting the progress made in the legal challenge to the eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah.
India underscored the need for respecting the historic status quo in East Jerusalem and its neighborhoods while welcoming the decision by Israel to increase the number of work permits issued to Palestinians, which would help strengthen both the Palestinian and Israeli economies. India supported the active role of the Middle East Quartet (USA, Russia, EU, and UN) for achieving the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine, within secure, recognized and mutually agreed borders, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
On 30 August, India presided over a UNSC meeting that adopted unanimously UNSCR 2591 on Lebanon drafted by France. The resolution extended the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission UNIFIL (in which 862 Indian troops serve as part of the 10,334 strong UN presence) till 31 August 2022 to help Lebanon’s stability, especially along southern Lebanon bordering Israel.
On 2 August, India issued a Presidential Statement following a UNSC meeting on Darfur/Sudan. The Statement noted the drawdown of UNAMID, completed on 30 June 2021, and looked forward to receiving an assessment of lessons learned from the experience of UNAMID no later than 31 October 2021, as requested in resolution 2559 (2020). The Statement expressed the UNSC’s intention to consider these lessons learnt in its ongoing work to enhance the overall effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping, including its approach to “peacekeeping transitions”.
The UNSC received the Final Report of Experts as an input for its consideration of the situation in Mali on 5 August. On 30 August, the UNSC adopted unanimously the resolution drafted by France (UNSCR 2590), supporting Mali’s political transition through democratic elections due in 2022. The resolution extended the mandate of the 5-member Panel of Experts assisting the UNSC Sanctions Committee in enforcing travel bans and asset freezes on designated listed persons till 31 August 2022.
The UNSC was briefed on the situation in Somalia on 12 August. At the meeting, India stressed the importance of holding free and fair elections to bring representative democracy and address security challenges facing Somalia, including the terrorist threat posed by Al Shabaab, which had been contained by the regional AMISOM peacekeeping mission. The Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 2592 on Somalia drafted by the UK, which prioritized the holding of democratic elections in 2021 to help Somalia meet several threats to peace, security, and sustainable development. The UNSC extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) till 31 May 2022 to help Somalia meet this objective.
The heightened conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia was addressed by a UNSC meeting presided over by India on 26 August. The UN Secretary-General briefed the Council on the humanitarian crisis, in which more than 2 million people had been displaced from their homes, humanitarian workers had been harassed and even killed, creating threats to the unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region. The Secretary-General reported on his contacts with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of the Tigray region in response to his appeal for a resolution of the conflict. India expressed concern at the humanitarian situation in Tigray in northern Ethiopia, which was witnessing continuing fighting between the Ethiopian Defence Forces and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Although the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Government of Ethiopia on 28 June 2021 was an important step, the opportunity provided by the ceasefire had not been grasped, leading to the spread of fighting beyond the Tigray region. India strongly denounced and condemned all atrocities committed by armed groups against civilians including children and called for those responsible for human rights violations and sexual violence perpetrated in Tigray to be prosecuted.
India’s Priorities in the UNSC
India has four declared priorities during her current elected term in the UNSC (2021-22). These are to implement a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System (NORMS) to promote inclusive solutions for peace and security; to pursue result-oriented UNSC measures to counter-terrorism; to make UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) more effective, and to focus on securing a human-centric technology-driven world. The outcomes of India’s Presidency of the UNSC during August 2021 demonstrated incremental progress made by India in achieving these priorities.
NORMS: In the measures taken by the Council on Afghanistan (UNSCR 2593) India, as mentioned earlier, voted with the majority of the Council to “seek an inclusive, negotiated political settlement with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women”, in keeping with the NORMS objective. The same approach guided India joining the consensus on seeking an inclusive sustainable political solution through democratic elections in Mali (UNSCR 2590) and Somalia (UNSCR 2592), and tangentially in Lebanon (UNSCR 2591). India has advocated the same approach of inclusive democratic elections to resolve other crises on the agenda discussed during August 2021 at the UNSC, including the Middle East/Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Mali.
As the outcomes of India’s August Presidency of the UNSC illustrated, however, the decisions taken by the UNSC on these issues continue to be initiated by the veto-wielding permanent members from the West as “penholders”, and not by the UNSC’s elected members from the region. So far, the adoption of UNSC resolutions promoting inclusive solutions for peace and security in the conflicts on the UNSC’s agenda continue to be dependent on the internal dynamics of P5 interaction, rather than on the expressed views of elected members like India. The domination of decision-making by the P5 within the UNSC remains a major hurdle in the period ahead.
Countering Terrorism: In seeking to make the UNSC’s role in countering terrorism more effective, apart from the use of non-UN bodies like the FATF to enforce UNSC resolutions countering the financing of terrorism, India’s focus in coming months will be on the eventual political framework adopted by the UNSC on Afghanistan and on the threats to peace and security posed by terrorist entities from the AfPak region listed in UNSC resolutions. This process includes clearly defined conditions, including those for delisting of terrorist entities in the UNSC 1988 Sanctions List, which is currently overseen by the UNSC 1988 Sanctions Committee chaired by India.
India has a challenge and an opportunity during her term in the UNSC. Having been the target of terrorist acts conducted against her citizens and property by entities on the UNSC 1988 Terrorist Sanctions List, India must ensure that any Security Council decision on Afghanistan upholds the integrity and enforceability of the “rule of law” reflected by the body of UNSC resolutions on the Taliban from UNSCR 1267 of October 1999 till UNSCR 2513 of March 2020.
UN Peacekeeping: India’s success in drafting the UNSC resolution 2588 on UN Peacekeeping is a recognition of her strong leadership role in this area, both in terms of having contributed the largest number of troops to UN peacekeeping, as well as in influencing the UNSC’s policy on effective peacekeeping. This was reflected in the first-ever standalone Presidential Statement on UN Peacekeeping issued during the August Presidency. The Statement laid the ground for future initiatives by India within the UNSC on including troop-contributing countries not represented in the UNSC to “participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents” of their armed forces, as provided for in Article 44 of the UN Charter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had raised this issue at the 2015 Leaders’ Summit on UN Peacekeeping when he had spoken of problems faced by PKOs because “Troop Contributing Countries do not have a role in the decision-making process”. It will be important for India as a major Troop Contributing Country to have a clear endorsement of Article 44 of the UN Charter before India’s two-year term as an elected member of the UNSC ends on 31 December 2022.
Human-Centric Peace and Security: Securing a human-centric technology-driven world is India’s unique contribution to making the UNSC relevant for the 21st century. During her participation in the discussions in the UNSC since January 2021, India has consistently focused on working closely with other interested members on making the Council reflect the linkage between peace, security, and development. The opposition of some P5 members to using the words “sustainable development” in UNSC resolutions adopted during 2021 illustrate the challenges ahead. The introduction of the technology dimension by India in UNSCR 2588 on UN peacekeeping adopted in August has sought to overcome this kind of resistance to looking at peace and security issues only through the prism of 1945. The specific references to the Sustainable Development Goals in UNSCR 2592 on Somalia adopted under India’s Presidency is another indicator of an incremental acknowledgment of the existence of a human-centric dimension of peace and security.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had referred to a “new type of human-centric globalization” as the context for “reformed multilateralism” during his address at the 75th-anniversary commemorations of the UN in 2020. He had said that our “path goes from human welfare to the welfare of the world. India will always speak in support of peace, security, and prosperity…India’s experiences, India’s developmental journey with its ups and downs will strengthen the way towards world welfare”. As an elected member of the UNSC, India must proactively seek to reorient the discussions and decisions of the Security Council towards this objective, so that the UNSC can play an effective and relevant role in responding to the biggest challenges facing mankind in the 21st century.