(Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America)
Judgment of 12 December 1996
On 2 November 1992 the Islamic Republic of Iran instituted proceedings against the United States of America with respect to the destruction of Iranian oil platforms. Iran alleged that the destruction of several oil platforms constituted a breach of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the two countries signed at Tehran on 15 August 1955 (the Treaty). While Iran based the jurisdiction of the Court on Article XXI, paragraph 2, of the Treaty, which contains a compromissary clause for disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the Treaty, the United States argued in a preliminary objection that the Court had no jurisdiction to deal with the merits of the case.
The main question at the preliminary stage was whether the dispute between the two States with respect to the lawfulness of the actions carried out by the United States against the Iranian oil platforms was a dispute "as to the interpretation or application" of the Treaty of 1955.
In a Judgment issued on 12 December 1996 the Court rejected the preliminary objection of the United States. It did not accept the argument that the treaty provisions only concerned commercial and consular matters and hence were not applicable in the event of the use of force. The Court found in this respect that the Treaty does not exclude per se any matters from the Court's jurisdiction (paras. 17-21 of the Judgment).
Furthermore, the Court found that the destruction of the Iranian oil platforms was capable of having an effect upon the export trade in Iranian oil and, consequently, upon the freedom of commerce guaranteed in Article X, paragraph 1, of the Treaty. The lawfulness of that destruction could therefore be evaluated in relation to that paragraph. Hence, the dispute between the parties fell within the scope of the compromissory clause in Article XXI, paragraph 2, of the Treaty and the Court had jurisdiction to entertain the dispute (paras. 37-52 of the Judgment).
Judges Shahabuddeen, Ranjeva, Higgins, Parra-Aranguren and Judge ad hoc Rigaux appended separate opinions to the Judgment of the Court. Vice-President Schwebel and Judge Oda dissented. In his dissenting opinion Vice-President Schwebel argued that given the object and purpose of the treaty, actions concerning the use of force fell outside of its scope. The jurisdiction of the Court could not be based on Article X, paragraph 1, of the Treaty either. That provision concerned only maritime commerce and not commerce at large. Furthermore, the destroyed platforms served as means of production, not of commerce. Production was anterior to commerce and should not be equated with it. Judge Oda argued in his dissent that compromissary clauses in bilateral treaties should generally be interpreted narrowly and concluded that the dispute fell outside the scope of Art. XXI, paragraph 2, of the Treaty.
Counter-Claim of the United States
Order of 10 March 1998
In a counter-claim submitted on 23 June 1997, the United States requested the Court to adjudge and declare that in attacking vessels, laying mines in the Gulf and otherwise engaging in military actions in 1987-1988 that were dangerous and detrimental to maritime commerce, Iran breached its obligations to the United States under Article X of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the two countries signed in Tehran on 15 August 1955 (in the following: the Treaty).
Iran challenged the American counter-claim arguing that the conditions of Article 80, paragraph 1, of the Rules of the Court, which require that the counter-claim be directly connected with the subject-matter of the claim from the other Party and that it must fall within the jurisdiction of the Court, were not met.
In its Order, the Court decided that the United States counter-claim was in fact directly connected with the subject-matter of the claims of Iran, since the claims of both Parties rested on facts of the same nature forming part of the same factual complex. The counter-claim also fell under the jurisdiction of the Court in so far as the alleged facts could have prejudiced the freedoms of commerce and navigation guaranteed by Article X, paragraph 1, of the Treaty. The counter-claim was therefore admissible and formed part of the proceedings.
Judges Oda and Higgins appended separate opinions. Judge ad hoc Rigaux appended a dissenting opinion.