As opposed to an abstention in the UNGA resolution on October 27 related to a ceasefire in Gaza, India voted in favour of one on December 12. A slight difference in the wording of the resolutions as well as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres invoking Article 99 seem to have affected the overall change. Though Article 99 pertains specifically to the UNSC where the Secretary General can “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”. The UNSC resolution on Friday was vetoed by the US, a permanent member but it appears to have had an effect with the overwhelming numbers voting in favour in UNGA on Tuesday.
The resolution on Tuesday in UNGA called for “immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, as well as immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”; however, the one on October 27 didn’t specifically mention the term “hostages” though it did say “immediate and unconditional release of all civilians held captive.”
Sources said the resolution on Tuesday made a very specific “ceasefire” mention whereas the wording in the October 27 resolution was “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.” But India’s larger demand in October seemed to have been to include a condemnation of Hamas as it had voted in favour of Canada’s amendment to the resolution that had asked specifically for condemning the October 7 attack by Hamas and that being the reason for the current situation.
India’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations, Yojna Patel, had mentioned in the explanation of the vote on October 27 that the October 7 terror attacks were shocking, calling for the immediate release of the hostages. But the resolution moved by Jordan had made no mention of that. The resolution in October was passed with 120 votes in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions.
In contrast, today’s resolution had an overwhelming 153 nations in favour with 10 voting against and 23 abstentions. The resolution was passed by a large majority, securing the needed two-thirds of members and a round of applause. However, a UNGA resolution is legally non-binding but strongly reflects the sentiment of the world with each member country having one representative vote.
This is unlike the UNSC which is more powerful as its resolutions are binding but has only 15 members with five permanent members having the veto power. There has been a long-standing debate that the structure of the UNSC doesn’t reflect the current global realities.
What stood out though was Canada’s changed position. Like India, it changed from abstention on October 27 to voting in favour of the resolution on Tuesday. But why the two are different is because India’s vote on Tuesday is more consistent with its long-standing position on Palestine and Israel, but for Canada, which has always stood with Israel, the vote against it reflects a growing discomfort with Israel’s war in Gaza, especially as the public sentiment in Canada has increasingly been on seeking ceasefire now.
Significantly, just hours before the UNGA resolution, a joint statement from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand also specifically underlined this fact, saying, “We are alarmed at the diminishing safe space for civilians in Gaza. The price of defeating Hamas cannot be the continuous suffering of all Palestinian civilians.”
However, the US voted on expected lines against the resolution despite US President Joe Biden – just hours ahead of the voting – saying Israel was “losing international support”. It was seen as an emerging rift over the war in Gaza between the US and Israel, but didn’t get reflected in America’s stand in the United Nations. However, despite America’s backing of Israel in UN, the rift between Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu has for the first time been publicly revealed with Mr Biden’s words that “they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place” in Gaza.
(Maha Siddiqui is a journalist who has extensively reported on public policy and global affairs.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.