Litigation Over the U.S. Role in the Iranian Coup

Yesterday Iran’s parliament approved a bill requiring the Iranian government to sue the United States in international court for orchestrating the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mosaddegh. Given the timing, I’m guessing that the National Security Archive prompted this move by releasing evidence last week that officially confirmed the CIA’s involvement.

The bill probably isn’t going anywhere for a host of reasons; here’s just one: the International Court of Justice wouldn’t have jurisdiction over the lawsuit. There are only four ways to get a case to the ICJ: (1) by special agreement among the disputing parties, (2) on the invitation of one party and implied consent of the other, (3) in accordance with a dispute-settlement clause in a treaty, or (4) by the prior agreement of both parties in accordance with Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute.

None of these options apply. The United States and Iran have no special agreement providing for jurisdiction, and Washington obviously won’t consent. Additionally, there is no applicable treaty with a dispute-settlement clause that refers cases to the ICJ; several years ago the court held in the Oil Platforms Case that a provision in the 1955 U.S.-Iran Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights conferred jurisdiction over part of a dispute that arose back in the late 1980s, but that provision can’t apply to the coup because the coup predates the Treaty and the Treaty is non-retroactive. Finally, neither the United States nor Iran has accepted ICJ jurisdiction under Article 36(2).

If Iran’s going to prevail against the United States in a legal forum, it will have to be elsewhere.

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