Iran Sues US in International Court

August 27, 2018

3 min read

Claiming President Trump’s policies violate an obscure treaty signed 63 years ago, Iran launched a lawsuit against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to have the economic sanctions lifted.

Iran filed the lawsuit with the ICJ in the Hague in late July, claiming the sanctions violate the 1955 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, demanding the court remove them.

President Dwight Eisenhower and Iranian prime minister Hossein Ala signed the treaty. The agreement was intended to strengthen the country’s economy after the Shah returned to power. The Shah was deposed by the current Islamic regime in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The United States will respond formally in oral arguments on Tuesday, but has not yet issued a public response. It is expected that the U.S. lawyers will challenge the court’s jurisdiction over the issue. The ICJ only has jurisdiction over disputes between countries when both states agree to accept its authority to render a verdict on that case.

This may be a problematic claim to make since the treaty includes a clause which states, “Any dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means.”

The U.S. lawyers are also expected to claim the treaty is no longer valid and that the sanctions do not violate its terms.

The court will hear the case for four days. A decision may require several years.

The ICJ is the United Nations’ tribunal for resolving international disputes. Its rulings are considered binding but it has no power to enforce them and they have sometimes been ignored in the past.

The U.S. government began enacting sanctions in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. A revolution that year ended the 2,500 year reign of the Persian Monarchy. A group of students pledging allegiance to the Ayatollah Khomeini attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 diplomats hostage. President Carter responded with an executive order freezing $10 billion in Iranian assets. The hostage crisis continued for 444 days and the sanctions increased the next year after the U.S. cut political ties with Iran.

It is interesting to note that after Iran took the diplomats hostage, the U.S. made a claim in the ICJ based on the treaty. The court returned a verdict of immediate freedom of the hostages, also referring to the Treaty of Amity, essentially confirming the validity of the agreement despite the change in Iranian regime.

The current sanctions program against Iran was signed in 1996. These were increased in 2010 under President Obama after Iranian President Ahmadinejad expanded his country’s nuclear program.  

The ICJ has ruled that the 1955 treaty signed between the U.S. and the Persian government is still valid despite the Islamic revolution.

The sanctions were lifted in 2015 when President Obama brokered the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) removing them in exchange for Iranian promises to cease their nuclear weapons program for a set period of time. The agreement was also signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and the European Union (P5+1).

Three weeks ago, the Trump administration re-imposed sanctions and warned that anyone doing business with Iran would not be able to do business with the United States. Though some countries have expressed displeasure at President Trump reinstating the sanctions against Iran, it is expected that most countries will choose to adhere to the guidelines, preferring to lose Iranian business rather than risk distancing the U.S.. Several major European corporations have already announced their intention to comply with Trump’s call for sanctions. More U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector are threatened to be set in place in November.

The sanctions appear to be effective as the Iranian Rial has lost half of its value in the last six months and the economy is apparently facing increased hardship.

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