RP Sen. Miriam Santiago loses bid for world court


Posted at Nov 07 2008 08:59 AM | Updated as of Nov 09 2008 01:37 PM

Philippine Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago lost her bid for a seat in the United Nations International Court of Justice after a long fight.

It took the whole day of election – four ballots in two meetings – and at 6 p.m. Thursday in New York, the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council voted to give the seat to Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia.

Elmer Cato, spokesman of the Philippine Mission, says it was a question of geographical representation. Santiago was the only woman candidate and would have given the world court gender representation.

Philippine Ambassador to the UN Hilario Davide, who oversaw Santiago's campaign, said that UN member-states felt that Africa needed to be represented.

Asia was already able to secure a seat with the reelection of Jordan in the first round.

Santiago, who was nominated by President Arroyo last year for one of three Asian seats, emerged among the top five candidates during the first round of voting in the General Assembly but was not able to get the required majority in the voting in the Security Council.

In order to win a seat, a candidate must be elected by majority of the 192 members of both the General Assembly and the 15 members of the Security Council.

The International Court of Justice is composed of 15 judges who are elected for a nine year term. And to ensure continuity – five seats are elected every three years.

Davide also said early tonight that it is still a victory for the Philippines because their campaign heightened the awareness of the international community on the need for gender balance and empowerment of women in the world's major judicial organ.


 'Weak Asian bloc'
Earlier, the UN News Centre announced that Santiago, Maurice Kamto of Cameroon and Sayeman Bula-Bula of the Democratic Republic of Congo were "unsuccessful" in their bids to win seats in the ICJ. Five vacancies were contested. 

The UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council elected three new judges -- Christopher Greenwood of the United Kingdom, Antonio Augusto Cancado Trinidade of Brazil and Yusuf. 

They also re-elected two judges whose terms were to expire on February 5, 2009: Ronny Abraham of France and Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, the current vice-president of the ICJ from Jordan.  

The successful candidates needed to obtain "an absolute majority of votes in the General Assembly (97) and the Security Council (8) to be elected to the ICJ." Greenwood (UK) and Trinidade (Brazil) were "elected in the first round in both the assembly and the Council." 

Abraham (France) and and Al-Khasawneh (Jordan) were then "re-elected after receiving a majority in the first round of voting in both the Assembly and the Council," the UN News Center said. 

After several subsequent subsequent rounds of voting, Yusuf (Somalia) was elected. It was during these subsequent rounds where Defensor-Santiago (Philippines) and Kamto (Cameroon) lost. 

The Philippines had strongly hoped to win a seat in the ICJ. The last Filipino who served int he ICJ was former Supreme Court Justice Cesar Bengzon, whose term ended in 1976.  

Absolute majority needed to win
Diplomatic sources said the African group was "so strong" in the voting. This enabled them to elect Yusuf.

In contrast, the weaker Asian solidarity failed to elect Santiago.

A key player in the UN Security Council is China. Santiago once insulted the Chinese in a Senate hearing on the NBN deal with China's ZTE Corp. by saying, "the Chinese invented corruption." She later apologized to the Chinese ambassador.

Costa Rica's UN ambassador Jorge Urbina, who chairs the 15-member Security Council this month, announced that the judges would begin a nine-year term next February 6.

One third of the 15-member court is elected every three years. If a judge dies or resigns during his or her term of office, a special election is held as soon as possible to choose a judge to fill the remainder of the term. 

Abraham and al-Khasawneh are already currently serving on the ICJ, which is based in the Dutch city of The Hague. Their term expires February 5. 

The ICJ was established in June 1945 by the UN Charter to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by states and can also be asked by the General Assembly and other UN organs and agencies to give an advisory opinion on legal questions. -- With Len Almadin Thornhill, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau, and Agence France-Presse