HAMBURG: India is preparing to send its first woman as member of the International Tribunal of the Law for the Sea (ITLOS), the top body to rule on issues relating to a crucial international law where India has growing stakes.
Neeru Chadha, the first woman chief legal adviser to the ministry of external affairs, former legal adviser to the Indian UN mission, and an acknowledged expert in maritime law, international arbitration and on UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is India’s candidate for the elections scheduled to happen on June 14. If elected, she would be the first Indian woman in a top UN position after Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
India was actually confronted with an unusual choice in its presence at important international forums. The election to the ITLOS conflicts with the election to the Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS), another important UN body.
Both elections would be conducted by the same group, and are related in several ways. While CLCS takes in experts in ocean sciences and hydrography, ITLOS needs an experienced legal brain. India chose to contest the election to ITLOS over CLCS.
India has been a member of CLCS, but the government has blotted its copybook with some poor behaviour.
The UN notice for the CLCS election this year contains two provisions that can be directly attributed to India’s poor behaviour.
First, the UN has specified that the expenses for CLCS members will have to be borne by the states themselves. Second, it has asked states to commit that members would serve in the commission for at least three months at a stretch.
The Indian government typically took ages to clear expenses for the officials who served in the previous CLCS. So Indian officials asked the UN for money to pay for their travel and stay. The UN then came under criticism from poorer countries who rightly claimed that India, as one of the top world economies, should not get UN assistance by diverting money that should rightly go to them. It was a blow for India’s image internationally. Second, India’s representatives were just not present long enough. The revised UN rules are a direct result of Indian conduct.
Internally, the Indian decision has led to some amount of heartburn between two ministries in the government: the MEA and the ministry of earth sciences. The internecine conflict holds important lessons for India as it moves to take a bigger place for itself in the area of international governance.
ITLOS not only rules on issues of UNCLOS, international seabed, but essentially on all laws concerning oceans. Based in Hamburg, its ruling is binding on all 167 member countries that are signatories. In CLCS, Indian members would have to recuse themselves when hearings concern India, unlike, say in the ICJ or the permanent court of arbitration.