India is gearing up to serve the powerful UN Security Council as a non-permanent member after a gap of 19 years with a fresh outlook on several international issues, especially human rights.
India will return to the Security Council on January 1, 2011 for a two-year period along with South Africa, Colombia, Germany and Portugal.
“Over the last year we have been repositioning ourselves on issues…I can anticipate that we will be much more upfront and even demanding on human rights issues,” said Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s ambassador to the UN.
“That reflects the changing priorities in India,” he said. “I don’t see us having any problem in terms of where our interest lies and where the interest of the permanent members lie including the West…in fact I think we are on the same page with them on most of these issues.” One indication of this stance was the case of Iran where India abstained on a resolution dealing with human rights in that country, instead of voting against it. “Quite likely we will review the situation and see how the situation develops and there may be even a further movement in the vote,” Puri said.
The top diplomat further stressed that while India is part of G-77 and the Non-Aligned world, this affiliation would not prevent it from taking actions and positions that contributed to the “larger public good.” “If this means going against positions that some groups take then we will have no hesitation,” he said.
Puri, however, dismissed reports that India’s changing position had to do with appeasing the US and other Western countries in order to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council. “India takes position in a manner in which India deems appropriate and we think it is the right thing to do and it is in our interest…I don’t subscribe to the fact that we will take positions because we are extra accommodative.” The situation in Myanmar, however, is more complicated. While the Western nations are ready to openly slam the regime for human rights abuses, India, China and other south-east Asian nations in the neighbourhood are more cautious in their approach. India and China have been criticised by human rights groups for going soft on the Myanmar’s military regime to secure its trade interests and President Barack Obama has called on New Delhi to be tougher. “We prefer the silent counseling approach… The objectives are the same, the question is what modalities you use,” Puri said.
Puri has just returned to New York after attending meetings along with his counterparts with US senators on the Capitol Hill and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. The discussions focused on Sudan, North Korea and Iran, and Obama dropped by the meeting with Donilon. The 15-members of the Security Council along with the five incoming non-permanent members were hosted by the US, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council.
Another set of bilateral meetings between the Security Council members are scheduled for later this month in Washington.
The envoy pointed out that India had additional pressure to perform well since it was also gunning for a permanent seat, and it had indicate that it was not just stating old positions for the record but genuinely participating to find solutions. “The world will be watching how we perform on the Council,” he said, noting that his team was ready not to seek only India’s interest but also of the ‘G-192’ i.e. all the UN member-states. India has been on the Council six times before having last served in 1992.
In preparation for a hectic two years, five additional officers had been called to join the Indian mission to the United Nations. “We were very keen on getting on the Security Council but now we have to deal with the hard reality of it, which means we have to prepare,” said Puri.
“The issues which are before the Council are not always the issues which one has been focusing on the past,” he added, pointing out that a bulk of the council’s work is related to Africa.