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Home Archive for category "Sanctions"

Tanker Games – The Law Behind the Action

Published on August 20, 2019        Author: 

The conflict between some western States and Iran has reached a new phase. Last month, both sides arrested tankers off their coasts. Whereas the political intentions of either side are evident, difficult questions come up with regard to the legal assessment of these actions. They concern the extraterritorial application of a sanction regime, the law of the sea and countermeasures. The post will describe the facts related to the detention of a tanker off Gibraltar (1). It will be investigated if the regime of the transit passage (2) or of innocent passage (3) is applicable under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Thereafter, the post will study which State may rely on the respective rights (4). The post then will turn to the facts of the second case which happened in the strait of Hormuz (5). It will shortly mention Iran’s right to take measures for the safety of navigation beyond its territorial waters (6), and the regime of countermeasures (7). In part (8) the compatibility of military patrols by western States in the strait of Hormuz with the law of the sea will be studied.

The Facts related to the case off the coast of Gibraltar

On July 4, 2019 the British navy detained the tanker Grace 1, allegedly in the territorial waters of Gibraltar. The vessel was passing through the strait of Gibraltar after having circumnavigated Africa. The chief minister of Gibraltar declared in a press release that the vessel was seized in order to enforce EU sanctions against Syria. The decision was based on the EU regulation 36/2012, a law of Gibraltar of 29 March 2019 and a regulation of Gibraltar of 3 July 2019. According to art. 14 para. 2 of the EU regulation it is prohibited to make available economic resources to corporations listed in Annex 2 to the regulation which includes the Banyas Oil Refinery Company. The chief minister of Gibraltar alleged that the oil carried by the tanker came from Iran and was destined to the refinery; this is denied by Iran.

The EU regulation and the above-mentioned legislation of Gibraltar is applicable on the territory of Gibraltar and the territorial waters. Gibraltar claims territorial waters up to 3 nm.

Grace 1 is owned by a shipping company located in Singapore and flew the flag of Panamá. However, according to the Autoridad Marítima de Panamá the vessel was removed from the open registry of Panamá on 29 May 2019.

Transit Passage

It is generally recognized that this strait falls under art. Read the rest of this entry…

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Humanitarian Assistance and Security Council Sanctions: Different Approaches to International Humanitarian Law

Published on April 11, 2019        Author: 

Under the sanctions regimes established by its resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can currently impose sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance in eight non-international armed conflict situations. This imposition of sanctions stems from the UNSC’s responsibility to maintain peace, security, and stability. Yet, its approach to humanitarian law (IHL) in these eight regimes has been inconsistent. In most of its current sanction regimes, the UNSC arguably has moved beyond the IHL applicable to humanitarian assistance, with the consequence that it can now sanction obstructions, which are broader than those which would constitute a violation of IHL. This post examines what this means for sanctions investigators and for the enhanced protection of civilians. 

Different Approaches of the UNSC with Respect to Imposing Sanctions on Obstructions to Humanitarian Assistance

The UNSC imposes sanctions in order to respond to threats to peace, security and stability. In the eight sanctions regimes discussed in this post, impediments to peace, security and stability explicitly or implicitly include obstructions to the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance and access obstructions.

Yet, the UNSC takes two different approaches when it imposes sanctions on obstructions to humanitarian assistance. In the first approach,  which is taken with respect to Libya and Sudan, there is no stand-alone criterion (the basis for listing by the UNSC or for being sanctioned) on humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian assistance and access obstructions may be considered under other listing criteria relating to violations of human rights or IHL. In these cases, Read the rest of this entry…

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Non-Precluded Measures Clause: Substance or Procedure? A comment on Certain Iranian Assets

Published on March 6, 2019        Author: 

On 13 February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its Judgment on the preliminary objections raised by the US to Iran’s claims in the Certain Iranian Assets case. The dispute involves the exercise of jurisdiction over Iran by US courts and the seizure of assets of Iranian state-owned companies to satisfy those court’s judgments. According to Iran, these actions are in breach of the US obligations under the 1955 Iran-US Treaty of Amity. The background to the case and the Court’s recent decision have been analysed elsewhere (see, eg, here). In this post, I want to comment on one specific element of the Court’s reasoning: its decision in relation to the US objection based on Article XX(1) of the Treaty of Amity.

Article XX(1) states, in relevant part, that:

The present treaty shall not preclude the application of measures …

(c) regulating the production of or traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war, or traffic in other materials carried on directly or indirectly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment; and

(d) necessary to fulfil the obligations of a High Contracting Party for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security, or necessary to protect its essential security interests.

The US argued that the function of this provision was to exclude certain matters from the substantive scope of the Treaty, with the consequence that they fell outside the Court’s jurisdiction which is limited, under Article XXI, to disputes relating to the interpretation and application of the Treaty. The Court rejected the US preliminary objection and decided, as it had done on previous occasions, that the provision in question constituted a ‘defence on the merits’ (para 47). This seems to be the right approach: Read the rest of this entry…

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WTO Dispute on the US Human Rights Sanctions is Looming on the Horizon

Published on January 31, 2019        Author: 

At the turn of the year, Venezuela initiated a WTO dispute with the United States. In a nutshell, Venezuela questions WTO-consistency of a number of coercive trade-restrictive measures (economic sanctions) imposed by the United States. Some of those restrictions were allegedly imposed on the human rights grounds.

US sanctions against Venezuela

The United States has been consistently imposing trade-restrictive measures against Venezuela, yet none of them has ever been challenged at the WTO. Most likely, the last wave of such restrictions is a spark that lit the fuse. In recent years, the Trump Administration introduced additional restrictions on Venezuela’s financial sector, leaving the country’s finances in shambles, as well as sanctions directed against the country’s gold sector. According to the media reports published in January 2019, the United States considers even tougher sanctions, particularly the ones that can impede Venezuela’s oil industry.

Human rights sanctions against Venezuela

The United States is notorious for its practice of economic coercion, which has been debated at length within the international community. Economic measures imposed to promote human rights entered the US foreign policy agenda under President Carter. In the following decades, the US has made ample use of them. 

In December 2014, the US Congress enacted the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. The enactment of the act was triggered by a number of events, particularly by the deteriorated living standards and the violent crackdown on the anti-government protesters. The act authorizes the President to impose various targeted sanctions, – sanctions against current or former government officials responsible for acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against protesters. The ambit of such sanctions includes blocking of assets of the designated individuals as well as travel restrictions. In pursuit of its authority, President Obama declared the national emergency in respect of the situation in Venezuela and issued an Executive Order 13692 of March 8, 2015, which implements the aforesaid human rights sanctions.

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The ICJ’s Provisional Measures Order in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty (Iran v United States)

Published on October 3, 2018        Author: 

The ICJ this morning issued its Order regarding Iran’s request for the indication of provisional measures in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Iran v United States). This post is intended as a brief summary of the reasoning of the Court. After a short introduction, I will outline the Court’s approach to the three core elements required for an indication of provisional measures: prima facie jurisdiction, plausibility of rights and nexus with provisional measures requested, and risk of irreparable prejudice and urgency.

The facts of the case, including the hearings on the request for provisional measures, are covered in an earlier post. In brief, Iran claims that the re-introduction by the United States of sanctions against it following the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 violates the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two States. In its request for the indication of provisional measures, Iran sought the Court’s order that the US shall, inter alia, suspend its reintroduction of the sanctions, as well as allow transactions already licensed to be implemented.

In its Order of this morning, Iran, in part, prevailed, with the Court indicating some of the provisional measures requested by Iran. Thus, the Court required that the US ‘remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of (i) medicines and medical devices; (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation’. The Court also ordered that the US must ‘ensure that licenses and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction’ where they relate to the goods and services noted above, and that both parties ‘refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.’

It is interesting to note that the provisional measures in this case were adopted by the Court unanimously, and thus with the support of the US Judge ad hoc Charles Brower. This is, by no means, the first time a US judge has supported a Court ruling against the US, but it is nevertheless interesting (particularly from a judge ad hoc). Judge Thomas Buergenthal supported judgments of the Court against the US in a number of previous cases, including the Oil Platforms merits judgment (after Judge Schwebel had dissented from the Court’s 1996 finding of jurisdiction in that same case).

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The Iranian Suit against the US Sanctions and the 1955 Treaty of Amity: Brilliant Plan or Aberration?

Published on September 7, 2018        Author: 

The Iranian economy is already feeling the effects of the United States economic sanctions that are successively being reinstated following the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 8 May 2018. In an attempt to save what can be saved, Iran seized the International Court of Justice in July requesting the latter to order and declare that the 8 May and subsequent sanctions are unlawful; that the United States shall stop its threats with respect to the further announced sanctions and that it shall compensate Iran. The claim is accompanied by a request for provisional measures by which Iran seeks to obtain, in particular, the immediate suspension of the sanctions and the non-implementation of the sanctions announced. Last week, both parties met in court for the hearings on the provisional measures request.

Iran has not claimed a violation of the JCPOA but alleges breaches of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights signed by Iran and the United States in 1955. The reason is simple: neither Iran nor the United States accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, both states having withdrawn their optional clause declarations. A compromis not being in sight, Iran can only ground the ICJ’s jurisdiction on a compromissory clause. While the JCPOA does not contain such a clause, the Treaty of Amity stipulates in its Article XXI (2) that “[a]ny dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means.”

The case, and the provisional measures request, raises many interesting questions, including  for example, whether the mainly economic damages alleged by Iran are irreparable as is required for the indication of such measures, and whether the request could possibly pre-empt the decision on the merits. However, this post is uniquely concerned with whether the idea to rely on the Treaty of Amity helps overcome the hurdle of jurisdiction. While the existence of jurisdiction need only be proved prima facie in the provisional measures phase, the Court will at a later stage have to take a definite decision (assuming the case is not dismissed for manifest lack of jurisdiction at the provisional measures stage). One of the most problematic issues is whether the dispute is about the interpretation or application of the Treaty of Amity despite the existence of the JCPOA. If this is the case, invoking the Treaty of Amity was a smart move by Iran.

The Iranian idea can potentially be attacked in two places: the actual scope of the application and the request, as well as the potential inapplicability of the Treaty of Amity. Read the rest of this entry…

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Sanctioning Qatar Continued: The United Arab Emirates is brought before the ICJ

Published on June 22, 2018        Author: 

On 11 June, Qatar initiated proceedings (“Application”) against the United Arab Emirates (“the UAE”) at the International Court of Justice under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and requested provisional measures. This step is yet another episode in the diplomatic standoff that took the world by surprise last year when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt (“the Quartet” or “Gulf States”) adopted a series of stringent measures against the oil-rich kingdom. When the crisis first erupted the Qatari foreign minister alluded to a violation of the principle of non-intervention when he claimed that the genuine motive behind the sanctions was “about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing [its] foreign policy”. Rather than resort to retaliatory sanctions Qatar has turned to diplomacy, lobbying and various dispute settlement mechanisms. It has seized the United Nations, notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (see also here and here) in search for support in condemning the coercive measures as unlawful. Qatar added pressure to the sanctioning States when it filed a request for consultation before the WTO’s dispute settlement body in August 2017 but ultimately decided to only pursue the complaint against the UAE. As noted by Johannes Fahner (see here) the proceedings before the WTO could lead to a GATT Article XXI case, which States have tended to avoid. By engaging the ICJ Qatar is taking its dispute against the UAE to the next level. Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt adopted reservations to the ICJ’s jurisdiction under Article 22 of the Convention upon ratification.

In its Application, Qatar claims the expulsion of Qatari nationals from the UAE’s territory violates General Recommendation 30, adopted by the CERD Committee in August 2004 (para. 59), and have led to human rights violations:

“including the rights to marriage and choice of spouse, freedom of opinion and expression, public health and medical care, education and training, property, work, participation in cultural activities, and equal treatment before tribunals”

solely on the basis of their nationality contrary to CERD Article 5 (para. 63). The Application further lists the travel embargo – which closes off air, sea and land to and from Qatar – among the discriminatory measures as well as the shutting down of local Al-Jazeera offices and the blocking off of transmissions from Al-Jazeera and other Qatari-based media outlets. In addition, Qatar alleges the UAE has encouraged rather than condemned discrimination by:

“allowing, promoting, and financing an international anti-Qatar public and social media campaign; silencing Qatari media; and calling for physical attacks on Qatari entities”

in violation of CERD Articles 2 and 7 (paras 57 and 61 to 63). The UAE is also said to be responsible for breaching CERD Article 4 and inciting hate speech (para. 60). According to Qatar it has “fail[ed] to provide effective protection and remedies to Qataris to seek redress against acts of racial discrimination through UAE courts and institutions” in violation of Article 6 CERD (para. 64). Read the rest of this entry…

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‘With Friends Like That, Who Needs Enemies?’: Extraterritorial Sanctions Following the United States’ Withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Published on May 29, 2018        Author: 

On Monday 21 May 2018, the US Secretary of State announced that, as a result of its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (‘JCPOA’ or ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’), the United States is set to impose the ‘strongest sanctions in history’ against Iran. While the remaining states parties are committed to preserve the Iran Nuclear Deal, whether the JCPOA can in fact survive in the face of the US change of heart is a matter of uncertainty. Of particular concern is the effect that the resumption of US economic sanctions will have on non-US companies that have flocked to Iran in the aftermath of the JCPOA. Unlike the sanction programmes implemented against Iran by various states before 2015, the US measures present distinctively extraterritorial features, directly targeting foreign companies carrying out business with Iran despite the absence of a significant connection with the United States. The European Union has already vowed to take action in order to protect its trade interests and to ‘block’ unwarranted interference by the United States. As tension in the transatlantic relations mounts, serious questions arise concerning the legality of the US sanctions regime under international law. This post will focus in particular on the compatibility of these measures with the international rules governing the assertion of jurisdiction by states. It will be shown that, in the absence of an adequate jurisdictional basis, the extraterritorial aspects of the US sanctions regime must be considered unlawful. Some measures that the European Union and other JCPOA states can take in order to react to these wrongful acts will further be considered. Despite the availability of legal means to counter the US sanctions, a negotiated settlement between the United States and its economic partners remains the most viable solution to this standoff.

The long arm of the US sanction regime

Despite the Trump administration’s lack of specific directions on the issue, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recommends that persons engaged in transactions with Iran:

‘should take the steps necessary to wind down those activities to avoid exposure to sanctions or an OFAC enforcement action under U.S. law after August 6, 2018, or November 4, 2018, depending on the activity’ (Question 1.4).

Of particular concern for foreign firms are the provisions contained in Executive Order 13590 (providing for an almost complete ban on the Iranian petrochemical sector), Executive Order 13622, and Executive Order 13645 (which prohibit foreign financial institutions from carrying out a vast set of transactions on behalf of Iranian entities). As recently as August 2017, Congress also vested the US President with ample powers to take measures against:

‘any person that … knowingly engages in any activity that materially contributes to the activities of the Government of Iran with respect to its ballistic missile program, or any other program in Iran for developing, deploying, or maintaining systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction’ (Section 104 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).

Alongside their broad content, these measures all are characterised by an unspecified — and potentially unlimited — jurisdictional scope. Through these provisions, the United States seeks to compel not only US persons, but ‘any person’ — wherever located and regardless of their connection with the United States — to refrain from engaging in certain transactions with Iran. This is problematic in several respects. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Iran, Nuclear Weapons, Sanctions
 

Sanctioning Qatar: Coercive interference in the State’s domaine réservé?

Published on June 30, 2017        Author:  and

On 23 May, the Qatar News Agency published content attributing statements to Qatar’s Emir which laid bare simmering regional sensitivities and quickly escalated into a full-blown diplomatic row between Qatar and other regional Powers.

Indeed, on Monday 5 June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt adopted what has been dubbed a ‘diplomatic and economic blockade’ (to the annoyance of some). Not only did these States close their land, naval and aerial borders for travel and transport to and from Qatar, the three Gulf States also appeared to expel Qatari diplomats and order (some) Qatari citizens to leave their territory within 14 days. In addition, websites from the Al Jazeera Media Network, as well as other Qatari newspapers, were blocked and offices were shut down in several countries. At the end of a feverish week, on Friday 9 June, targeted sanctions were furthermore adopted against Qatari organizations and nationals believed to have links to Islamist militancy.

In justification of the measures, the sanctioning States invoked the Gulf Cooperation Council’s 2013 Riyadh Agreement and its implementation mechanisms as well as the Comprehensive Agreement of 2014. Although the contents of these agreements are not public, it is believed that the Gulf States expected Qatar to curtail its support to groups that purportedly pose a threat to the region’s stability, such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Read the rest of this entry…

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Non-UN Financial Sanctions against Central Banks and Heads of State: in breach of international immunity law?

Published on May 12, 2017        Author: 

Conventional Wisdom Challenged?

Recent years have seen a wide range of non-UN financial sanctions being adopted against States and their instrumentalities, including central banks, as well as against high-level State officials. Prominent examples include the EU and US sanctions against the central banks of Syria and Iran, and the asset freezes against the serving Presidents of Zimbabwe and Syria. In spite of the EU’s firm assertion that its ‘restrictive measures’ “are fully compliant with obligations under international law”, one might be inclined, intuitively, to regard such sanctions as a prima facie breach of international immunity rules (whether or not they qualify as (third-party?) countermeasures is a different story altogether – one which the present post will not touch upon). Thus, given the lack of a general exemption in respect of activities de jure imperii, Castellarin argues that the EU’s financial sanctions against central banks are contrary to State immunity law – a position which is also subscribed to by Thouvenin and Dupont. Others have arrived at the same conclusion in respect of asset freezes targeting Heads of State (see e.g. Pillitu). When discussing the matter with fellow scholars, it seems that the applicability of, and incompatibility with, immunity rules is often taken for granted.

Yet, is this conventional wisdom (if that is what it is) justified? It is quite remarkable to see how, on the one hand, the EU goes to some lengths to insert tailor-made exemptions to asset freezes in order to enable payments to or from diplomatic or consular posts (or exceptions to travel bans to allow officials to participate in international conferences) – even if the practice seems far from consistent –, while at the same time seeing no problems in the imposition of financial sanctions on Syria’s central bank and Head of State. Equally remarkable Read the rest of this entry…

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