The United States Loses at the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

A few days ago, in a 13-2 vote the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the US government violated a decades-old (and since terminated) treaty with Iran by allowing the assets of the country to be seized and distributed to relatives of people killed in terrorist attacks that the US blames on Tehran. The ICJ panel ordered the US government to compensate Iran for violating the Treaty of Amity within two years.

The question now is whether the United States should comply with the ICJ ruling. While the ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, and its jurisdiction covers disputes between states, the US has a history of objecting to ICJ jurisdiction based on legitimate concerns about sovereignty and the potential for biased or politicized decisions. In fact, the United States has refused to comply with prior ICJ rulings—especially those involving Iran.

For example, in Iran vs. United States (1980), the ICJ ruled that the U.S. violated international law by freezing Iranian assets during the Iran hostage crisis. The U.S. did not comply with the ruling and eventually settled the case outside of court.

Likewise, in United States vs. Iran (2018), the ICJ ruled that the U.S. must lift some sanctions against Iran related to humanitarian goods and civil aviation. The U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, ignoring the ICJ’s ruling. The United States ought not comply with this ruling which infringes on US sovereignty. Moreover, the US should carefully consider any further participation in any matters before the ICJ given the value of US sovereignty and general notions of fair play.