On 3 October, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s criminal court in The Hague, came down on the United States over its re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. The Court ordered Washington to lift restrictive measures linked to humanitarian trade, food, medicine and civil aviation.
The ruling from The Hague came three months following Iran’s filing of a petition in the Court over the Trump administration’s sanctions.
Iran claimed that the sanctions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between Iran and the US. The treaty grants the ICJ jurisdiction over disputes.
In the official application the Islamic Republic “respectfully” requested the Court to “adjudge, order and declare that the USA, through the 8 May sanctions referred to in the present Application, with respect to Iran, Iranian nationals and companies, has breached its obligations to Iran under Articles of the 1955 Treaty.” Iran also demanded that “The USA shall, by means of its own choosing, terminate the 8 May sanctions without delay” as well as “immediately terminate its threats with respect to the announced further sanctions” referring to the second round of U.S. sanctions set to kick in next month.
Perhaps the most outrageous demand of the Iranian regime was that the American government “shall fully compensate Iran for the violation of its international legal obligations in an amount to be determined by the Court at a subsequent stage of the proceedings.”
All ICJ judges participating in the hearing ruled in favor of Iran. First off, the judges agreed with Iran that America’s sanctions violated the treaty. It also said the reasons cited by President Donald Trump for re-imposing the sanctions were unfounded because the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had repeatedly confirmed that Iran was complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord signed by Tehran and six world powers.
The conflict between Iran and the United States has taken some interesting turns over the years. From threats of war, to treaty, to pull, to sanctions. But this latest development is likely the most saturated with irony.
Before delving into the details of Iran’s claims against the United States and the subsequent ruling, its worth highlighting the hypocritical nature of the regime’s actions here. First of all, keep in mind that the treaty Iran claims America is in violation of was signed over sixty years ago during the Pahlavi Kingdom (1925–1979) which the current rulers of Iran violently overthrew almost four decades ago. The regime is perfectly happy to invoke the legitimacy of the deposed Shahs and their governments when its suits them. Second, it’s rather strange that Iran’s government is complaining about the economic consequences and the “real and imminent risk [of] irreparable prejudice” being brought on by American sanctions when it is supporting the ongoing civil war in Yemen. This country currently hosts the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with over 9,000 dead, some 50,000 wounded, and eight million people on the edge of starvation, not to mention a deadly cholera epidemic that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of victims.
But all of that is inconsequential to Iran’s strategizing. The fact of the matter is, Iran is desperate to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Since President Trump announced America’s pull-out from the nuclear deal in May, the effects on Iranian markets began to be felt. Currently, the Iranian rial stands at less than two-thirds what it was worth a year ago (approximately 150,000 to the dollar, compared to 43,000 at the end of 2017). A steady stream of social media posts as well as news reports coming from Iran indicate that ordinary people are struggling to acquire basic necessities in the country. It was this major economic downturn that sparked yet another round of street protests throughout the country back in June—that were brutally put down by the government.
America on its part did not take the ICJ’s decision too lightly. In response to The Hague’s ruling, the Trump administration promptly pulled out of the 1955 Treaty the court claimed it was violating. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 4 October that the U.S. would withdraw from the Treaty of Amity over Iran’s move at the ICJ . “This is a decision that is frankly 39 years overdue,” Pompeo told reporters. From a purely legal perspective, it will take a year for U.S. withdrawal to take effect. But that’s just another point serving to underscore the absurdity of this legislative game. The Iranians are trying to wiggle out of a very tight spot based on an irrelevant technicality that they themselves don’t take seriously. As Pompeo pointed out, Iran has been “ignoring [the treaty] for an awfully long time” by funding jihadist militancy that has directly led to the deaths of Americans.
One really has to wonder what Iran was planning to gain from its appeal to The Hague. Did it think the U.S. would be perturbed by an ICJ ruling? Very unlikely. Especially considering National Security Advisor John Bolton’s recent attack on the court’s legitimacy during a September address. Not surprisingly, Bolton was one of the first American diplomats to comment on the ICJ ruling, by announcing that all U.S. international commitments would undergo a review to ensure no basis for future Iranian claims via the court. Perhaps they sought to gain a diplomatic win in the eyes of the international community? Perhaps it was simply a political “Hail Mary” the Iranian’s hoped would produce some positive result.
The important message to extract from this incident is that Iran is feeling the crunch of sanctions—and scrambling for options. Time is the regime’s biggest enemy.