Iran Urges UN High Court to Hear Fight Against US Sanctions

The Peace Palace, home of the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — U.S. sanctions against Iran are aimed at ruining the Middle Eastern county’s economy and they violate a 1955 treaty, Iran argued before the United Nations’ top court on Wednesday. 

The International Court of Justice is holding preliminary hearings over whether it has jurisdiction to hear the dispute over the sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration after the U.S. backed out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal two years ago.  

Hamidreza Oloumiyazdi, head of Iran’s Centre for International Legal Affairs, called the United States’ arguments on Monday “untrue, prejudicial and politically motivated.” 

The American government claims the Treaty of Amity, one of many agreements the U.S. signed following World War II to counter the Soviet Union, does not apply to the economic sanctions because they apply to secondary parties, including companies that do business with Iran, not to the country itself.

“All that matters now for this U.S. administration is whether its measures are succeeding in ruining the Iranian economy and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iranians,” Oloumiyazdi said Wednesday.  

Iran wants the ICJ to move forward to a hearing on the merits of its claims and accused the U.S. of trying to circumvent the jurisdiction of the court, which is based in The Hague. 

The decades-old friendship treaty guarantees that people and commerce can move freely between the two countries and was signed 20 years before the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days after the U.S. embassy was overrun. 

“The court is solely concerned in this case with what the U.S. itself calls ‘the toughest U.S. sanctions on Iran,’” Essex Court Chambers lawyer Samuel Wordsworth told the judges via video link on behalf of Tehran. In response to the Cold-19 pandemic, the court is holding hearings in a virtual/in-person hybrid model.

In 2018, the ICJ ordered the U.S. to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods, such as those affecting medicine and food, following an Iranian request for provisional measures. The same day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would terminate its participation in the Treaty of Amity.

“The text should have the last word in these matters,” Jean-Marc Thouvenin, professor of law at the University Paris Nanterre, said for Iran on Wednesday.

He then showed a slide with the treaty’s text, highlighting the phrase: “Neither High Contracting Party shall impose restrictions or prohibitions on the importation of any product of the other High Contracting Party or on the exportation of any product to the territories of the other High Contracting Party.” 

Last year, the court found that it had jurisdiction to hear an unrelated case based on the same treaty. In that case, Iran argues the U.S. violated the treaty when it seized assets held by Iranian state-owned companies to compensate victims of attacks linked to Iran.

President Donald Trump abruptly withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in May 2018. The Obama-era agreement lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its nuclear capacity.

Hearings will continue on Friday.

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