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UN Council spares India blast lecture
- Pattern reflects change in status

New York, Sept. 9: The UN Security Council’s “strongest” condemnation of this week’s terrorist attack on Delhi High Court may offer little more than symbolic comfort to victims of the bombing but, on the global stage, it is setting a pattern that frees India from big power sermons on how to conduct its campaign against terrorism.

The Security Council has long practised double standards on terrorism: one for the big powers, which are its permanent members endowed with the all-powerful veto on world affairs, and another for ordinary member states of the UN.

When ordinary members of the UN come under terrorist strikes, the Security Council’s condemnation of such attacks is accompanied by condescending lectures on how these countries should respond to those attacks.

But when the big powers in the Security Council are threatened by terrorists, they are allowed unrestrained freedom to deal with those threats.

It is a reflection of New Delhi’s heightened standing at the UN that India has now been routinely elevated to the ranks of the big powers, although it is still an aspirant to permanent membership of the Security Council.

In its condemnation of this week’s bombing at Delhi High Court, the Security Council asserted that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed” without appending any sermons to India to a statement by the Council’s rotating presidency.

Similarly, during the serial bombing of Mumbai on July 13 this year, “the members of the Security Council reiterated their determination to combat all forms of terrorism, in accordance with its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations” without tying India’s hands with conditions on combating terrorism.

Witness the contrast: when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by terrorists in December 2007, the Security Council had gratuitous advice for Pakistan.

“The Security Council calls on all Pakistanis to exercise restraint and maintain stability in the country,” the Council’s statement said, supplementing the rest of its response to the sensational political assassination.

Similarly, when JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta were bombed serially in July 2009, the Security Council lectured Indonesians that “they must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law”.

Sermons on human nights, humanitarian law and refugee protection, which are missing from Security Council statements on terrorism in India, are routine in similar statements dealing with most countries.

For the families of Ashraf Akhras and his bride, Nadia al-Alami, who were celebrating their wedding with 900 guests at Amman’s Radisson hotel in November 2005 when they were targeted by suicide bombers, the Security Council’s sermon on human rights and refugee protection would have sounded hollow.

Most of the 900 guests at the wedding were Palestinians who were actually refugees in Jordan. About 60 people died and hundreds were injured in terrorist attacks on three Amman hotels on that day.

Even when the Polish ambassador in Baghdad was seriously wounded in an attack in October 2007, which killed his bodyguard and injured two others, the Poles were told to comply with their obligations on human rights.

Ostensibly because of US interests in Iraq, when terrorists strike in Baghdad -- as in the assassination of two Algerian diplomats accredited to Iraq in July 2005 -- the condemnations are accompanied by “calls upon the international community to stand by the Iraqi people in their pursuit of peace, stability and democracy”.

In marked contrast, when terrorists attacked a secondary school in the Russian town of Beslan and took hostages in September 2004, the Security Council came down with full force against terrorism and issued a much broader statement with no references to human rights, refugees or humanitarian law.

Instead, the Council “urged all states to... co-operate actively with the Russian authorities in their efforts to find and bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these terrorist acts”. Russia is one of the “Big Five” powers in the Council.The Security Council’s statement on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the US is similarly one of the longest and broad-based anti-terrorism statements issued by the Council, running beyond the usual few paragraphs into a second page.Freedom for India from big power sermons on terrorism did not come easily.

US diplomats at the state department in Washington said the Council’s statement on India after the July serial bombings in Mumbai was held up for several hours when some European countries insisted that India should be reminded of its human rights and other obligations.

Luckily for New Delhi’s anti-terror campaign, India is now a member of the Security Council and objected to that format, Council sources said. A presidential statement by the Security Council cannot be issued unless all its members agree on a text.

State department officials are claiming credit for having persuaded reluctant US allies into agreeing to the “Big Five” standards on terrorism on the Mumbai blasts, taking into accounts objections by the Indian Permanent Mission to the UN.

They cite this as an example of Washington’s common commitment with India in fighting terrorism. The format of the statement on Mumbai on the lines of the ones for the permanent members of the Security Council was adopted this week to condemn the Delhi High Court bombing also, to India’s satisfaction.

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