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Monique Bouffé

Second Lebanese judge elected to ICJ in 60 years

Salam is Lebanon's ambassador to the UN [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 November, 2017

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Analysis: The election of Lebanon's UN ambassador to the International Court of Justice, while the UK's ambassador didn't pass, possibly represents a shift in geopolitics, writes Monique Bouffé.
On Thursday, the UN General Assembly and Security Council voted to elect five new judges to the International Court of Justice. One of those elected is Lebanese lawyer, Dr Nawaf Salam, Lebanon's ambassador to the UN.

Since the ICJ's establishment, Lebanon has only had one other judge elected - Fouad Ammoun in 1965. Judges are allocated by region, and traditionally regional allocation of seats on the ICJ bench mirrors the regional allocation of the Security Council.

Conventionally, three seats are allocated to Asia Pacific, three seats to Africa, two seats to Latin America and the Caribbean, two seats to Eastern Europe and five seats to Western Europe and Others (including the U.S.)

Read more: The sharp limits of UN solidarity with Palestine

The ICJ will now have two judges representing the region: Salam of Lebanon and Mohamed Bennouna of Morocco. This will be the first time two MENA judges have sat side by side.

A number of outspoken Lebanese politicians called for Salam's resignation after this vote for not taking an ethical stand against the Assad regime

Significantly, both judges are due to sit on the case that Iran has brought against the United States over "Certain Iranian Assets".

The case - centred over $2 billion of frozen assets - claims the US breached a 1955 Treaty of Amity by accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism. In a somewhat unprecedented legal argument, Iran has accused the United States of violating "friendly relations" under the 60 year old agreement.

Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN under President Obama, sent "hearty congratulations" to Salam after his election.

Throughout his time at the UN, Salam has:

  • repeatedly defended the rights of Palestinians at the Security Council,
  • called for a political settlement that would allow Syrians to live "in peace and dignity",
  • advocated for security and stability in South Lebanon through the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701,
  • called to end impunity over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

However, Salam's career has not been without controversy. The Lebanese delegation to the UN chose to abstain on a number of key resolutions, particularly a 2011 resolution that condemned "grave and systematic human rights violations" in Syria. This move would have created options for use against Syria's Bashar al-Assad - including sanctions.

A number of outspoken Lebanese politicians called for Salam's resignation after this vote for not taking an ethical stand against the Assad regime.

The ICJ is the highest judicial body in the world and legislates over legal disputes between member states of the United Nations. It is composed of 15 judges who need to be elected by an absolute majority in both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. This process often takes several rounds of voting before judges are successfully decided.

Salam passed this process with ease, receiving 135 votes in the General Assembly and 12 votes in the Security Council.

For the first time in the history of the UN, the judge for the United Kingdom did not pass the first election cycle

As well as having an impact on the development of political affairs in the Middle East, this election cycle has been significant due to its potentially controversial impact on global politics.

For the first time in the history of the UN, the judge for the United Kingdom did not pass the first election cycle.

Sir Christopher Greenwood, who has served as the UK's judge to the ICJ since 2009, was not automatically re-elected in the first round of voting and another vote will go ahead this week.

If he is not re-elected, this will be the first time that there would be no British judge on the ICJ. It would break the tradition of there being a judge of the nationality of each of the permanent members of the UN Security Council on the ICJ. Finally, the allocation of judges in the ICJ will no longer mirror regional allocation at the Security Council. Western Europe will lose one of its seats to Asia, shifting the balance of power on the ICJ bench, and demonstrating a symbolic shift in global politics.

One can hope that this shift is part of a gradual change in geopolitics, away from the post-1945 global order and towards one that is reflective of the 21st century.

Monique Bouffé is a legal scholar and advocate with a focus on Public International Law.

She has worked with asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt and is currently working with vulnerable and gang affected young people in London. Her work focuses on the impact of European immigration policy on the current refugee crisis.

Follow her on Twitter: @moniquebouffe

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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