ICJ finds jurisdiction to hear Iran case against US

Timor-Leste succeeds in initiating UNCLOS compulsory conciliation proceedings against Australia

In a judgment delivered on 13 February 2019, the ICJ held that it has jurisdiction to entertain part of Iran’s Application against the United States for purported violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights (the Treaty), and that the Application is admissible.

The enforceability of the Treaty and its dispute resolution clause were not contested by the United States.  However, the United States argued, inter alia, that Iran did not seek settlement of a legal dispute, but rather was seeking to “embroil the Court in a broader strategic dispute” and that Iran’s violations of international law could not be disregarded.  In finding jurisdiction, the ICJ dismissed this objection, holding that it is not uncommon for applications to arise in the context of a “broader disagreement” between disputing parties.  The Court nevertheless upheld a single alternative objection, agreeing with the United States that Iran’s specific allegations concerning sovereign immunities should be dismissed as falling outside the scope of the Treaty’s compromissory clause.

The United States also raised two admissibility objections, arguing abuse of process and unclean hands on the part of Iran.  The Court dismissed both objections.  It found no exceptional circumstances that would warrant rejecting Iran’s claims for abuse of process.  With respect to the clean hands doctrine, the Court noted that the United States had not argued that Iran breached the Treaty.  It found that, even if it were shown that Iran’s conduct was “not beyond reproach”, this would still not constitute a sufficient basis to reject the claims as inadmissible.

The full text of the judgment can be found here.