1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UN court orders US to ditch Iran sanctions

October 3, 2018

The International Court of Justice has ruled that US sanctions on "humanitarian" goods must be dropped immediately. The US has contested the right of the court to intervene in matters between Washington and Tehran.

The International Court of Justice
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Corder

The United Nations' top court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods to Iran.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling is a blow to the Trump administration, which withdrew from the 2015 international nuclear accord in May and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the decision, saying the court has no jurisdiction. Pompeo also said Washington would terminate the "Treaty of Amity," a 1955 agreement of friendship between Iran and the US. The terms of this treaty were the basis for the Iranian case at the ICJ.

The ICJ unanimously ruled that Washington "shall remove by means of its choosing any impediments arising from the measures announced on May 8 to the free exportation to Iran of medicines and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities." 

The Netherlands-based court said sanction on goods "required for humanitarian needs... may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran."

US sanctions on spare parts for aircraft were also ordered to be lifted because of the "potential to endanger civil aviation safety in Iran and the lives of its users."

Decisions made by the ICJ are binding and cannot be appealed, but the court has no means of enforcing its rulings. The ruling is preliminary as hearing the full case is a process that could take years.

Ruling bolsters Iranian claims?

Iran argued that Wednesday's verdict gave weight to Tehran's claim that the sanctions amount to collective punishment on the Iranian people.

"The decision proved once again that the Islamic Republic is right and the US sanctions against people and citizens of our country are illegal and cruel," Iran's foreign ministry said. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that the international community must work together against "malign US unilateralism," a reference to US accusations Iran is engaged in malign activities across the Middle East. 

"Another failure for sanctions-addicted USG and victory for rule of law. Imperative for int’l community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism," he wrote. 

The US withdrawal from the agreement has already caused tensions with European allies, who are scrambling to provide Iran economic benefits to keep the nuclear deal afloat. US sanctions have devastated the Iranian economy and led to foreign firms pulling out of the country. 

'Defeat for Iran'

Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that the ICJ ruling showed that Iran's case lacked merit. He insisted that Washington already exempted humanitarian goods from the sanctions.

 "The court's ruling today was a defeat for Iran. It rightly rejected all of Iran's baseless requests," Pompeo said. "The court denied Iran's attempt to secure broad measures to interfere with US sanctions."

Iran filed a lawsuit against the US at the ICJ in July, arguing that the sanctions violate the Treaty of Amity signed between the two states when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was in power. The treaty continued to remain in force following the 1979 Islamic Revolution despite diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington being severed.  

Lawyers for the Trump administration argued that the sanctions were justified by national security concerns and that the ICJ did not have the jurisdiction to rule on them.

cw, ap/msh (AP, AFP)