Jamaica’s ‘Not voting’ Shame at the UN
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(29 October 2023) — The responsibilities of states to formulate policies, their representatives at the United Nations in New York to execute such policy, requires continuous consultations between the UN Permanent Missions and their respective ministries of foreign affairs, or with the agency of government to which each country’s UN Mission reports. These are appropriate and necessary functions of the respective parts of the government’s foreign policy development and formulation of positions on issues brought before the UN General Assembly for a vote.
The operational mechanism for consultation and decision-making must be responsive in a timely manner whether the issue is urgent or longstanding. For countries in significantly different time zones than New York, this is a special burden.
Jamaica’s unprecedented ‘not voting’ in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) raises several disturbing issues about Jamaica’s foreign policy. Normally, decisions on issues that are of high importance are treated differently than those of lesser importance or complexity for which established policies may already be in place. Such decision-making may take place seamlessly without a great deal of consultations between the Mission and headquarters. But even for issues of lesser importance decisions made at the Permanent Mission level would have to be communicated in a timely manner to the ministry allowing adequate time for response before the vote is taken.
Oftentimes, on lesser complicated issues, consultations are at the level of Permanent Mission and the head of the office of international organizations affairs, who may or may not find it necessary to consult internally with the permanent secretary. The response from the ministry can be quick.
However, issues that are of higher sensitivities must be brought to the attention of the minister who may find it necessary or prudent to consult with the prime minister. The timeframe for a more deliberative process could result in a delay in the response time. However, no matter the issue, decisions are expected to be made in a timely manner so that instructions can be issued to the Permanent Representative who should always be prepared to cast a vote. At no time should the Jamaica government be unprepared to cast its vote in the UNGA, and it never has been before now. At times the vote may be an abstention, but never not voting.
Rather than rely on my own personal experience, however, I did an informal poll of former and current Caribbean ambassadors and former senior diplomatic staff who have experienced service at the multilateral level. No representative of leading Caricom members can recall ever missing a vote due to lack of instructions from their ministries.
Jamaica had a perfect record, until the recent ‘not voted’ in the UNGA on the resolution calling for the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and calling on Israel to abide by its legal and humanitarian obligations under international humanitarian law. The UNGA voted 120 in favor, 14 against, and 45 abstentions. Twelve of the fourteen Caricom members voted in favor. Haiti abstained, which is not unusual. Jamaica joined the deadbeats in not voting.
At the UN each vote is interpreted by the international community as a reflection of a country’s policy. Normally, ‘Not voted’ is registered when a country is delinquent on payment of its annual dues and not related to policy. It is highly unlikely anyone would ascribe such a situation to Jamaica, given Jamaica’s traditionally highly respected status on the international stage. Thus, given Jamaica’s past advocacy on the rights of the Palestinian people, human rights, and humanitarian law, not registering a vote on this very important resolution is more likely to be interpreted as cowardice in the face of pressure from Israel’s allies, especially the United States. Jamaica’s failure to vote and the perception it evokes represent a new nadir, unlike any other, in the country’s foreign policy history.
As a Jamaican and a former ambassador who carried out my representational duties with pride at the UN, I am not only embarrassed, but I am also ashamed. I am being asked what has happened to Jamaica. I know the answer, but I am embarrassed to admit it to those who ask. The fact is: an honest answer is an admission that Jamaica’s foreign policy is at best shambolic. Further, there is no longer any discernible principle for which the country stands or is willing to defend. It also raises the question of whether Jamaica’s foreign policy is determined in Kingston or Washington. It certainly raises the question of whether the current Jamaican government has become a sycophant of U.S. policies.
Those of us who have served as Jamaican diplomats in the past can now only reminisce on the time – mostly during the administrations of former prime ministers Michael Manley and P. J. Patterson but also prime minister Simpson-Miller’s administration – when we represented Jamaica and the proud and unbowed people of Jamaica internationally by doing so on our feet and not on our knees.
In fairness, I must ask prime minister Andrew Holness’s government if there are overarching foreign policy issues which caused this faux pas in Jamaican foreign policy. Or is this failure to vote on this very important resolution expressing the concerns of the international community for the life and death of Palestinian civilians in Gaza attributable merely to incompetence and fault lines in the current consultations process between Kingston and New York and within the ministry itself?
The pattern of votes by the Holness government in recent years on Israeli-Palestinian issues points in a different direction. Thus, the lack of incomplete deliberations claimed by the portfolio minister is a rather lame excuse. By offering this rather brief explanation on social media is an insult to the international community and to the Jamaican people, including members of the Jamaican diaspora who have for decades basked in the correctness of Jamaica’s foreign policy. No more!
It is important that the portfolio minister or the prime minister provides a full explanation and a credible reason for the unprecedented ‘Not voted’. In making this call I am cognizant of the lack of transparency which has become the hallmark of the present government. But it is important for the government to respect the Jamaican people and come clean on what is driving this divergence in Jamaica’s foreign policy, that is, what is at stake for the country.
When there are difficult issues on the agenda, and there is no established policy of the government, internal consultations and deliberations become extremely important. The importance and urgency of the issue require a prompt response. Jamaica’s permanent representative at the UN is responsible for informing the minister on the discussions taking place in the corridors of the UN among the various countries and groups – how governments are lining up to vote.
The failure to vote exposes what appears to be weaknesses in Jamaica’s foreign policy decision-making process. It suggests several things, none of which is favorable. But, most importantly, it suggests incompetence, disrespect for self, and fear in formulating policy which may be upsetting to certain patronizing government or governments. It suggests abandoning core principles that have served Jamaica well diplomatically and internationally for decades.
The reality is that respect for Jamaica’s position on issues before the UNGA, or within the UN System has declined significantly in recent years under prime minister Andrew Holness’s government. It has eroded Jamaica’s foreign policy standing within Caricom and within the Group of Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) states at the UN. Most importantly, consideration should have been given to how other Caricom members intended to vote. This is discernible during consultation of the Caricom caucus at the UN. Yet here again we see Jamaica breaking with Caricom on a very important issue. The frequency with which this is happening is shameful. Although Jamaica’s foreign minister chairs COFCOR, and the permanent representative in NY chairs the Caricom caucus, this Jamaican government has no moral authority to speak on Caricom’s behalf at the UN.
Also, according to usual practice, the Jamaican UN Mission would routinely have advised the ministry of the expected votes of certain countries and various blocs, such as GRULAC, the European Union, Group of African States, etc. That is a part of the normal exchange of information between NY and Kingston. But at the end of the consultations, it is Jamaica’s decision to make based on the government’s policy. But the policy cannot be to avoid voting!
I have postulated in past articles and interviews that the Holness government had abandoned the Palestinian people. This is no longer perception but reality. The statement of the portfolio minister on social media that the government was still deliberating on the issue at the time of the vote is beyond obfuscation! This is another sad day in the rapid decline of Jamaica’s diplomatic standing and respect in the world.
© Curtis A. Ward
CELEBRATING SEVENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WARD POST.
The first two Articles were Published in TWP on 31 October 2016
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