China holds Azhar again in UNSC
India’s efforts to have Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) chief Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist were once again stymied by China, on Wednesday, at the United Nations Security Council.
France, the United Kingdom and the Unites States of America put forth the proposal on 27 February to designate Azhar as a global terrorist, in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack orchestrated by the JeM.
The proposal was the fourth bid at the UN in the past 10 years to list Azhar as a global terrorist. All eyes were on China, which has earlier vetoed these proposals. This time, it invoked a “technical hold” on the motion.
Which committee is this?
All proposals of requests to designate an individual or a group as a “global terrorist” must go through the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee or UN Security Council 1267 Committee, a subsidiary organ of the UN Security Council, which comprises all members of the council.
The committee considers global terrorist listing requests and arrives at its decisions only with the consensus of its 15 members. These 15 member states comprise the five permanent members — China, France, Russia, UK and the US — and 10 non-permanent members, who are currently Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Germany, Indonesia, Kuwait, Peru, Poland and South Africa.
In the committee’s guidelines, which were adapted in 2002 and amended several times since — most recently in 2018 — there is a clear mention that once the committee has looked into the merit behind a designation proposal, its chair will circulate among all members copies of its proposed decision.
The committee then requests the member states to indicate any objection they may have to the proposed decision. The deadline to register such an objection is usually five full working days, unless otherwise mentioned. In certain cases, the committee will consider the urgency of the situation and list a sooner date.
For Masood Azhar’s case, members had 10 working days to raise any objections to the proposal. The no-objection period deadline was scheduled to end at 3.00 pm New York time on Wednesday, which is 12.30 am IST on Thursday.
What happens if none of the members object?
The guidelines declare that in the absence of any objection within the specified period for the decision provided by the committee, a member state may request more time to consider a proposal by placing a “hold” on the decision.
China, for instance, put a “technical hold” on the proposal just before the deadline expired.
For the duration of the validity of any hold placed on a matter, the decision on that matter will be considered “pending”. Notably, any member state — and not just a permanent member state — can place a hold.
The moment a hold is placed, the secretariat will notify the whole committee, include the matter in the list of pending issues and inform the State or States submitting the request. Even while a matter is in the pending issues list, more committee members may place their own holds on it.
China was the only member in the committee to put a hold on India’s application, with all other 14 members supporting the bid to place Azhar on the 1267 sanctions list, which would subject him to an assets freeze and travel ban.
What is supposed to happen during a hold?
China asked for “more time to examine” the proposal. The committee guidelines do offer this opportunity.
If a holding committee member requires additional information to come to a yes or no decision on the pending matter, it can request additional information on that specific matter from the concerned countries. China can, thus, now ask both India and Pakistan to furnish it with reports.
However, the committee places a deadline on the holding member to resolve its indecision on the matter. The member needs to provide updates on its progress to the committee after three months since placing a matter on hold.
Only when a committee member who has triggered a hold on a matter indicates that they object to the proposed decision, or lifts the hold without indicating objection, does the matter find its way out of the pending list.
The technical hold is valid for up to six months from the end of the original no-objection period, and it can be again extended by up to three months.
A hold placed on a matter by a member state will cease to have effect at the time when its membership of the committee ends. China does not have this risk as it is a permanent member.
At the end of the six- or nine-month period, a matter still pending shall be deemed approved.
With diplomatic bluntness, China has been maintaining that it is trying to seek a long-term solution, which is ostensibly not being offered by the prospect of blacklisting Masood Azhar.
China now has six months to come to a decision, but past conduct reveals otherwise.
In 2009, India had moved a proposal by itself to designate Azhar. In 2016, India once again moved the proposal with the help of the US, the UK and France, following the attack on the airbase at Pathankot in January 2016.
In 2017, the three permanent members of the Security Council had moved a similar proposal. However, on all occasions, China had blocked the proposals.