Oil Platforms (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America)
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Overview of the case
On 2 November 1992, the Islamic Republic of Iran filed in the Registry of the Court an Application instituting proceedings against the United States of America with respect to the destruction of Iranian oil platforms. The Islamic Republic founded the jurisdiction of the Court upon a provision of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between Iran and the United States, signed at Tehran on 15 August 1955. In its Application, Iran alleged that the destruction caused by several warships of the United States Navy, in October 1987 and April 1988, to three offshore oil production complexes, owned and operated for commercial purposes by the National Iranian Oil Company, constituted a fundamental breach of various provisions of the Treaty of Amity and of international law. Time-limits for the filing of written pleadings were then fixed and subsequently extended by two Orders of the President of the Court. On 16 December 1993, within the extended time-limit for filing the Counter-Memorial, the United States of America filed a preliminary objection to the Court’s jurisdiction. In accordance with the terms of Article 79, paragraph 3, of the Rules of Court, the proceedings on the merits were suspended ; by an Order of 18 January 1994, the Court fixed 1 July 1994 as the time-limit within which Iran could present a written statement of its observations and submissions on the objection, which was filed within the prescribed time-limit.
In its Judgment of 12 December 1996, the Court rejected the preliminary objection raised by the United States of America and found that it had jurisdiction, on the basis of Article XXI, paragraph 2, of the Treaty of 1955, to entertain the claims made by Iran under Article X, paragraph 1, of that Treaty, which protects freedom of commerce and navigation between the territories of the Parties.
When filing its Counter-Memorial, the United States of America submitted a counter-claim requesting the Court to adjudge and declare that, through its actions in the Persian Gulf in 1987 and 1988, Iran had also breached its obligations under Article X of the Treaty of 1955. Iran having disputed the admissibility of that counter-claim under Article 80, paragraph 1, of the Rules, the Court ruled on the matter in an Order of 10 March 1998. It found that the counter-claim was admissible as such and formed part of the current proceedings, and directed Iran to submit a Reply and the United States to submit a Rejoinder. Those pleadings were filed within the extended time-limits thus fixed. In its Order of 1998, the Court also stated that it was necessary, in order to ensure strict equality between the Parties, to reserve the right of Iran to present its views in writing a second time on the counter-claim, in an additional pleading, the filing of which might be the subject of a subsequent Order. Such an Order was made by the Vice-President on 28 August 2001, and Iran subsequently filed its additional pleading within the time-limits fixed. Public sittings on the claim of Iran and the counter-claim of the United States of America were held from 17 February to 7 March 2003.
The Court delivered its Judgment on 6 November 2003. Iran had contended that, in attacking on two occasions and destroying three offshore oil production complexes, owned and operated for commercial purposes by the National Iranian Oil Company, the United States had violated freedom of commerce between the territories of the Parties as guaranteed by the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the United States and Iran. It sought reparation for the injury thus caused. The United States had argued in its counter-claim that it was Iran which had violated the 1955 Treaty by attacking vessels in the Gulf and otherwise engaging in military actions that were dangerous and detrimental to commerce and navigation between the United States and Iran. The United States likewise sought reparation.
The Court first considered whether the actions by American naval forces against the Iranian oil complexes were justified under the 1955 Treaty as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States (Art. XX, para. 1 (d), of the Treaty). Interpreting the Treaty in light of the relevant rules of international law, it concluded that the United States was only entitled to have recourse to force under the provision in question if it was acting in self-defence. The United States could exercise such a right of self-defence only if it had been the victim of an armed attack by Iran and the United States actions must have been necessary and proportional to the armed attack against it. After carrying out a detailed examination of the evidence provided by the Parties, the Court found that the United States had not succeeded in showing that these various conditions were satisfied, and concluded that the United States was therefore not entitled to rely on the provisions of Article XX, paragraph 1 (d), of the 1955 Treaty.
The Court then examined the issue of whether the United States, in destroying the platforms, had impeded their normal operation, thus preventing Iran from enjoying freedom of commerce “between the territories of the two High Contracting Parties” as guaranteed by the 1955 Treaty (Art. X, para. 1). It concluded that, as regards the first attack, the platforms attacked were under repair and not operational, and that at that time there was thus no trade in crude oil from those platforms between Iran and the United States. Accordingly, the attack on those platforms could not be considered as having affected freedom of commerce between the territories of the two States. The Court reached the same conclusion in respect of the later attack on two other complexes, since all trade in crude oil between Iran and the United States had been suspended as a result of an embargo imposed by an Executive Order adopted by the American authorities. The Court thus found that the United States had not breached its obligations to Iran under Article X, paragraph 1, of the 1955 Treaty and rejected Iran’s claim for reparation.
In regard to the United States counter-claim, the Court, after rejecting the objections to jurisdiction and admissibility raised by Iran, considered whether the incidents attributed by the United States to Iran infringed freedom of commerce or navigation between the territories of the Parties as guaranteed by Article X, paragraph 1, of the 1955 Treaty. The Court found that none of the ships alleged by the United States to have been damaged by Iranian attacks was engaged in commerce or navigation between the territories of the two States. Nor did the Court accept the generic claim by the United States that the actions of Iran had made the Persian Gulf unsafe for shipping, concluding that, according to the evidence before it, there was not, at the relevant time, any actual impediment to commerce or navigation between the territories of Iran and the United States. The Court accordingly rejected the United States counter-claim for reparation.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.