International Court of Justice allows Iran claim to proceed to the merits phase but upholds jurisdictional objection on sovereign immunity

On 13 February 2019, the International Court of Justice dismissed one of the United States’ jurisdictional objections to a claim by Iran, upheld another and deferred a final jurisdictional objection to the merits phase in the case concerning Certain Iranian Assets (Iran v United States). The substantive claim, brought by Iran against the United States, relates to legislative and executive acts by the latter permitting enforcement against Iranian assets.

Iran filed its application instituting proceedings on 14 June 2016 under the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the United States of America and Iran (a “Party” or the “Parties“) (the “Treaty“), from which the United States has since indicated it will withdraw. This is one of two cases currently pending before the Court between Iran and the United States.

The Judgment on Preliminary Objections (the “Judgment“) is available on the Court’s website, and can be accessed here. Our previous post concerning Iran’s application instituting proceedings in the same case is available here.

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Iran files case against the USA before the ICJ

In a press release published on 15 June 2016 (available here), the International Court of Justice ("ICJ") announced that Iran has instituted proceedings against the USA, in respect of alleged violations under the 1955 US-Iran Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights (the "Treaty").

Notably, Iran's application concerns allegations that the US, through measures taken under its national law, has subjected assets and interests of Iran and Iranian entities, including the Iranian Central Bank ("Bank Markazi"),  to enforcement in the US in violation of immunities and other principles of international law that are upheld under the Treaty.

This case is likely to put the spotlight on the legality of the wide-ranging unilateral sanctions measures that have been and continue to be imposed by the US against Iran, notwithstanding the recent relaxation in January 2016 (see our previous blog post here), as well as questions of extra-territoriality and immunity under international law more generally.

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