Iran's Suit Against U.S. Begins at The Hague

The International Court of Justice began hearings Monday on a case Iran filed against the U.S. for seizing $2 billion in funds without proof of any crime.

The International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands. The ICJ is the United Nations' highest level body ruling on judicial matters between UN members. Photo: Dennis Jarvis, CC

In early 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled ~$2 billion of frozen Iranian assets could be seized and given to families of those killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut.

The catch with that lawsuit is that the U.S. never provided any evidence proving Iran arranged the attack.

In June 2016, Iran filed suit with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands, demanding the return of the assets. That lawsuit finally came to trial on October 8.

In the first day of hearings, the United States argued that the 15-member ICJ, the highest judicial body of the United Nations, has no jurisdiction to consider the case. Both the U.S. and Iran are members of the United Nations, and as such have already agreed as a condition of their membership that the ICJ does have jurisdiction in international cases like this. The White House disagrees of course, in a policy consistent with other positions it has taken that no international authorities have any standing to judge the U.S.

The U.S. has asked the ICJ to dismiss this lawsuit.

This has been a bad month for the U.S. with the ICJ. That court ruled just last week that the U.S. must ease sanctions which Trump re-imposed on Iran earlier in 2018. The decision specifically ordered the United States to stop all sanctions connected with “medicine and medical devices, food and agriculture commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation”. In the ruling, the ICJ’s 15 members unanimously agreed that the U.S. had overstepped its authority in applying sanctions against any products and services considered essential as humanitarian aid.

The basis for the decision was “The Treaty of Amity” that the U.S. and Iran signed in 1955.

John Bolton, a long-time hawk in U.S. Republican administrations and now currently National Security Advisor to the White House, expressed anger at the court when last week’s decision came down. He criticized the court for allowing “Iran to use it as a forum for propaganda”. He also argued -- just as in this week’s case – that the ICJ had no jurisdiction in that case either, saying the sanctions were necessary for the U.S. “to protect its own essential security”.

Just to make things even clearer, Bolton announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the 1955 treaty that was behind why the U.S. lost last week’s case. Bolton even took that a step further when he said that the White House “will commence a review of all international agreements that may still expose the United States to purported binding jurisdiction and dispute resolution in the International Court of Justice”.

This is another example of an increasingly extreme position of nationalism under Trump’s “America First” policy. On this and many other issues, including both the previous NAFTA agreement and the multilateral JPCOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) negotiated with Iran to help keep its nuclear programs in check, the current White House is setting a dangerous course by unilaterally withdrawing from agreements when they appear to create problems. With Trump at the helm in the White House, fewer countries than ever are interested in signing agreements with the U.S. on much of anything.

Hearings in the current ICJ case between Iran and the U.S. will continue at least over the next few days. It is not known when a ruling might be announced.