U.N. Court: U.S. Must Ease Sanctions on Iran

October 3, 2018

On October 3, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the United States to ease sanctions on Iran for humanitarian reasons. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 and imposed a first round of sanctions on Iran in August. A second round of sanctions, which will target oil exports, will go into effect on November 4. 

The United States must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on May 8 to the free exportation to Iran of medicines and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities; as well as goods and services required for the safety of civil aviation,” the U.N. court ruled unanimously. The ICJ warned that sanctions on humanitarian goods “may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran.” 

Iran filed the lawsuit against the United States in July. It alleged that the reimposition of sanctions violated a treaty signed in 1955, more than two decades before the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent souring of U.S.-Iran relations. Iran asked the ICJ to order the United States to terminate sanctions and compensate Iran “for the violation of its international legal obligations.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the proceedings a “misuse” of the court and the claims “meritless.” 

ICJ decisions are binding and cannot be appealed, but the court does not have an enforcement mechanism. Furthermore, the ruling relates to provisional measures. The final decision may not be issued for years, so the October ruling may be largely symbolic. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, took to Twitter to highlight the decision as a “victory for the rule of law.”

 

Later in the day, Secretary Pompeo argued that the court ruling was a defeat for Iran. “The court denied Iran’s attempt to secure broad measures to interfere with U.S. sanctions and rightly noted Iran’s history of noncompliance with its international obligations under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” he said. Iran is “abusing the ICJ for political and propaganda purposes,” he added. Pompeo also announced the termination of the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran, a decision he said was 39 years overdue. 

 

The following are excerpts from the ICJ order and reactions from Iran and the United States. 

 

International Court of Justice Ruling

80. Iran asserts that there is a real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice will be caused to the rights in dispute before the Court gives its final decision. It considers that some of the measures taken by the United States are already causing and will continue to cause irreparable prejudice to these rights. In this regard, Iran notes that such prejudice has already taken place since 8 May 2018 and that the United States has made it known that it is “determined to cause even greater prejudice” to Iran, its companies and its nationals in the near future. Iran recalls that, on 6 August 2018, the President of the United States issued Executive Order 13846 entitled “Reimposing Certain Sanctions With Respect to Iran”, which entered into force on 7 August 2018. It explains that this Executive Order aims, inter alia, at “reimposing sanctions on Iran’s automotive sector and on its trade in gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions related to the Iranian rial”, and expanding the scope of “sanctions” that were in effect prior to 16 January 2016.

81. According to Iran, the United States’ measures create an imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to airline safety and security. It notes that contracts concluded in the aviation sector between United States and Iranian companies have already been cancelled or adversely affected as a direct result of these measures, leaving Iran’s commercial airlines and civil passengers with an ageing fleet, limited access to maintenance information, services and spare parts. Iran is of the view that, by preventing Iranian airlines from renewing their already old airline fleets, purchasing spare parts and other necessary equipment and services, training pilots to international standards or using foreign airport services, the lives of Iranian passengers and crew, and other customers of Iranian airlines will be placed in danger. Therefore, according to Iran, if nothing is done to prevent the United States from giving full effect to its measures, the situation could lead to “irreparable human damages” notwithstanding the existence of a procedure for applying for specific licences under the United States safety of flight licensing policy. Iran further alleges that the measures taken by the United States create an imminent risk to the health of Iranians. With respect to humanitarian goods, it claims that, despite the exemption under the United States law, the current system makes it impossible for Iran to import urgently needed supplies. With respect to healthcare, it observes that, despite the exemption under the United States law for medicines, chemicals for the production of medicines and medical supplies, access to medicines, including life-saving medicines, treatment for chronic disease or preventive care, and medical equipment for the Iranian people have become restricted because the United States’ measures have deeply affected the delivery and availability of these supplies.

82. Iran further refers to the United States’ measures scheduled for 4 November 2018, which would “considerably tighten the screws on Iran” and “amplify[] the prejudice to its rights under the Treaty of Amity”. Iran also observes that it is impossible for the Court to deliver its final decision before 4 November 2018, the date after which all the United States’ nuclear-related measures that had been lifted or waived in connection with the JCPOA will be reimposed in full effect.

83. Iran asserts that the official announcement by the United States of 8 May 2018 is producing irreparable damage to the whole Iranian economy, both generally and to key sectors, such as the automotive industry, the oil and gas industry, civil aviation and the banking and financial system. It contends that, since the decision was made public, multiple United States and foreign companies and nationals have announced their withdrawal from activities in Iran, including the termination of their contractual relations with Iranian companies and nationals, which the United States could not restore even if ordered to do so by the Court.


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84. The United States, for its part, contends that there is no urgency, in the sense that there is no real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice will be caused to the rights in dispute before the Court gives its final decision. It observes that the measures that were announced on 8 May 2018 are not new measures but, rather, the reimposition of “sanctions” that had previously been in place. Therefore, according to the United States, there cannot be urgency now if there was no urgency when the said measures were first taken.

85. The United States asserts that Iran cannot satisfy the requirements of irreparable prejudice for a number of reasons. As a general matter, it considers that the Applicant has not provided sufficient evidence to prove a risk of irreparable harm to Iranians, Iranian companies and Iran itself. It adds that there could be multiple causes to which the economic stagnation and difficulties in Iran can be attributed, including mismanagement by the Iranian Government. It is also of the view that, if there was a risk of prejudice, it could not be irreparable because economic harm can be repaired. In any event, the United States maintains that it is difficult to assess the specific impact of its measures on the Iranian economy, especially since the European Union has recently stated that it would intensify its efforts at maintaining economic relations with Iran.

86. With respect to the alleged risk of irreparable prejudice caused to airline safety, the United States claims that it has maintained a licensing policy providing for a case-by-case issuance of licences to ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of United States-origin commercial passenger aircraft. It further asserts that, following the reimposition of the remaining “sanctions”, after the expiry of the second wind-down period on 4 November 2018, the United States will continue to consider licence applications regarding civil aircraft spare parts and equipment where there is a safety concern. With respect to the alleged risk of irreparable prejudice caused to health, the United States contends that it has maintained broad authorizations and exceptions to allow for humanitarian-related activity. It adds that the United States has a longstanding policy to authorize exports to Iran of humanitarian goods, including agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, and replacement parts for such devices. The United States also claims to have licensed non-governmental organizations to provide a range of services to or in Iran, including in connection with activities related to humanitarian projects. It further affirms that it has taken specific steps to mitigate the impact of its measures on the Iranian people. In addition to the humanitarian-related authorizations and exceptions, the United States asserts that a series of United States statutes, executive orders and regulations provide explicit exceptions making it clear that third-State nationals who engage in humanitarian-related activity will not be exposed to United States “sanctions”. It specifies that all of these measures have remained intact following the reimposition of “sanctions” after the expiry of the first wind-down period on 6 August 2018, and that they will remain in place following the reimposition of the remaining “sanctions” after the expiry of the second wind-down period on 4 November 2018.

87. The United States finally claims that the provisional measures Iran requests would, if indicated, cause irreparable prejudice to the sovereign rights of the United States to pursue its policy towards Iran, and, in accordance with Article XX, paragraph 1, of the Treaty of Amity, to take measures that it considers necessary to protect its essential security interests. In this regard, the Respondent points out that the issue is not simply whether the rights of the Applicant are in danger of irreparable prejudice but also the impact of the requested measures on the rights of the Respondent. It is of the view that Article 41 of the Statute requires the Court to take account of the rights of the respondent by weighing up those rights against the claimed rights of the applicant.


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95. The Court concludes from all of the above considerations that the conditions required by its Statute for it to indicate provisional measures are met. It is therefore necessary, pending its final decision, for the Court to indicate certain measures in order to protect the rights claimed by Iran, as identified above (see paragraphs 70 and 75 above).

96. The Court recalls that it has the power, under its Statute, when a request for provisional measures has been made, to indicate measures that are, in whole or in part, other than those requested. Article 75, paragraph 2, of the Rules of Court specifically refers to this power of the Court. The Court has already exercised this power on several occasions in the past (see, for example, Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), Provisional Measures, Order of 23 July 2018, para. 73; Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Ukraine v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of 19 April 2017, I.C.J. Reports 2017, p. 139, para. 100).

97. In the present case, having examined the terms of the provisional measures requested by Iran and the circumstances of the case, the Court finds that the measures to be indicated need not be identical to those requested.

98. The Court considers that the United States, in accordance with its obligations under the 1955 Treaty, must remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of Iran of goods required for humanitarian needs, such as (i) medicines and medical devices; and (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; as well as goods and services required for the safety of civil aviation, such as (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and safety-related inspections) necessary for civil aircraft. To this end, the United States must ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to above.

99. The Court recalls that Iran has requested that it indicate measures aimed at ensuring the non-aggravation of the dispute with the United States. When indicating provisional measures for the purpose of preserving specific rights, the Court may also indicate provisional measures with a view to preventing the aggravation or extension of a dispute whenever it considers that the circumstances so require (see Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. United Arab Emirates), Provisional Measures, Order of 23 July 2018, para. 76; Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Ukraine v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, Order of 19 April 2017, I.C.J. Reports 2017, p. 139, para. 103). In this case, having considered all the circumstances, in addition to the specific measures it has decided to take, the Court deems it necessary to indicate an additional measure directed to both Parties and aimed at ensuring the non-aggravation of their dispute.

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100. The Court reaffirms that its “orders on provisional measures under Article 41 [of the Statute] have binding effect” (LaGrand (Germany v. United States of America), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 2001, p. 506, para. 109) and thus create international legal obligations for any party to whom the provisional measures are addressed.

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101. The decision given in the present proceedings in no way prejudges the question of the jurisdiction of the Court to deal with the merits of the case or any questions relating to the admissibility of the Application or to the merits themselves. It leaves unaffected the right of the Governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America to submit arguments in respect of those questions.

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102. For these reasons, 

THE COURT, 

Indicates the following provisional measures:

(1) Unanimously, 

The United States of America, in accordance with its obligations under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, shall remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of 

(i) medicines and medical devices; 

(ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and 

(iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation; 

(2) Unanimously, 

The United States of America shall ensure that licences and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction in so far as they relate to the goods and services referred to in point (1); (3) Unanimously, Both Parties shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.
 

Click here for the full text of the ICJ order. 

 

Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes the decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the only major judicial body of the UN and the tribunal’s issuing of an injunction against the US government’s illegal move to restore unilateral sanctions [against Iran] which came upon this country’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA), and regards the court’s unanimous decision as another clear testament to the truthfulness of Iran and the illegitimacy and unfairness of the United States’ sanctions against our country’s people and citizens.

This global tribunal has reiterated that the verdict it has issued is binding and brings international obligations while announcing that the government of the United States is obliged, under its international commitments, to remove the obstacles created as a result of its actions and illegal decisions made upon its pullout from the JCPOA, including the impediments which have emerged on the path of Iran’s trade in certain domains.

In its ruling, the court has also obliged the United States to guarantee that it will give necessary permits for cases specified in the court order and will handle relevant payments and transactions. In the injunction, the International Court of Justice has also confirmed UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which approves the JCPOA.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Ministry sees eye to eye with the International Court of Justice with regards to its ruling, and the tribunal regards itself as having the preliminary jurisdiction to look into Iran’s lawsuit against the US and, hence, has foiled efforts by the US government and its lawyers to dismiss the court’s jurisdiction and shirk its legal responsibilities.

In its ruling, the tribunal has rejected the US government’s allegations and legal viewpoints, announcing straightforwardly that Iran’s demands are merely related to possible breaches of the agreement that Iran has mentioned, and that the [violation of] specific rights that the Islamic Republic of Iran has referred to in accordance with the agreement can have irreparable consequences.

As a result, and in light of the International Court of Justice’s reconfirmation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s truthfulness and its confirmation that the US government’s approach is illegitimate and illegal, today the world public opinion and all independent countries have more assurance and are determined to show off their resolve to respect international agreements, observe international law and respect government’s responsibilities with regards to the preservation and implementation of the JCPOA.

The injunction issued by the International Court of Justice showed once again that it is the US government that is becoming more and more isolated due to its wrong and extremist policies and, as a result, excessive demands from other countries. Hence, the US should drop its wrong habit of, and inappropriate addiction to imposing unfair and illegal sanctions against people and citizens, and turn into a responsible member and an ordinary country of the international community. In this path, the international community and independent countries shoulder a heavier responsibility to foil the illegal attempts of this country, which has a long history of reneging on its commitments and non-compliance with its international obligations.

—Oct. 3, 2018, in a statement

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

I’m announcing that the United States is terminating the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran.  This is a decision, frankly, that is 39 years overdue.  In July, Iran brought a meritless case in the International Court of Justice alleging violations of the Treaty of Amity.  Iran seeks to challenge the United States decision to cease participation in the Iran nuclear deal and to re-impose the sanctions that were lifted as a part of that deal.  Iran is attempting to interfere with the sovereign rights of the United States to take lawful actions necessary to protect our national security.  And Iran is abusing the ICJ for political and propaganda purposes and their case, as you can see from the decision, lacked merit.

Given Iran’s history of terrorism, ballistic missile activity, and other malign behaviors, Iran’s claims under the treaty are absurd.  The court’s ruling today was a defeat for Iran.  It rightly rejected all of Iran’s baseless requests.  The court denied Iran’s attempt to secure broad measures to interfere with U.S. sanctions and rightly noted Iran’s history of noncompliance with its international obligations under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

With regard to the aspects of the court’s order focusing on potential humanitarian issues, we have been clear:  Existing exceptions, authorizations, and licensing policies for humanitarian-related transactions and safety of flight will remain in effect.  The United States has been actively engaged on these issues without regard to any proceeding before the ICJ.  We’re working closely with the Department of the Treasury to ensure that certain humanitarian-related transactions involving Iran can and will continue. 

That said, we’re disappointed that the court failed to recognize it has no jurisdiction to issue any order relating to these sanctions measures with the United States, which is doing its work on Iran to protect its own essential security interests. 

In light of how Iran has hypocritically and groundlessly abused the ICJ as a forum for attacking the United States, I am therefore announcing today that the United States is terminating the Treaty of Amity with Iran.  I hope that Iran’s leaders will come to recognize that the only way to secure a bright future for its country is by ceasing their campaign of terror and destruction around the world.

—Oct. 3, 2018, in remarks to the press

 

Today, oral proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) began in The Hague in a case brought by Iran against the United States, Certain Iranian Assets. As I have stated previously, Iran’s filings before the ICJ are a misuse of the Court for political and propaganda purposes. Iran brought this case in 2016 to challenge measures the United States adopted to deter Iran’s support for terrorist attacks against the United States and others, as well as to respond to other internationally destabilizing actions taken by Iran. These measures include allowing victims of terrorism to recover damages from Iran and Iranian entities in U.S. courts. The actions at the root of this case, among many others, involve the Iran-sponsored bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, which killed 241 U.S. peacekeepers. 

We owe it to our fallen heroes, their families, and the victims of Iran’s terrorist activities to vigorously defend against the Iranian regime’s meritless claims this week in The Hague, where we will show that Iran’s case should be dismissed. 

We will continue to fight against the scourge of Iran’s terrorist activities in all venues and will continue to increase the pressure on this outlaw state. These malign activities by Iran are among the reasons we decided last week to terminate the 1955 U.S.-Iran Treaty of Amity. We hope that Iran’s leaders will come to recognize that the only way to ensure a positive future for their country is by ceasing their campaign of terror and destruction around the world.

—Oct. 3, 2018, in a press statement