US Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran Case (Hostages Case) US v Iran

On November 1979 several hundred Iranian students took possession of the US embassy in Tehran by force. The students were not opposed, Iranian security forces ‘simply disappeared from the scene’. US asked the ICJ, between other things, to declare violation to several treaties on consular matters and the declaration calling the release of hostages. On December 1979 the ICJ issued at request of US an order indicating provisional measures: release of the hostages, restoration of full diplomatic protection. On April 1980 while the case was pending US intended by military force to rescue the hostages, the attempt was abandoned because of equipment failure. The demonstrators were still in occupation when the present judgement was given. Resolution (37) Iran has provided no explanation (He did not appear and send just a letter) of the reasons why it considers that the violations of diplomatic and consular law alleged by the US cannot be examined by the Court separately from what it describes as the ‘overall problem’ involving more than ’25 years of continual interference by the US in the internal affairs of Iran’…legal disputes between sovereign states by their very nature are likely to occur in political contexts, and often form only one element in a wider and long standing political dispute between the states concerned. Yet never has the view been put forward before that, because a legal dispute submitted to the court is only one aspect of a political dispute, the court should decline to resolve for the parties the legal questions at issue between them. If the court were to adopt such a view, it would impose a far reaching and unwarranted restriction upon the roll of the Court in the peaceful solution of international disputes (In relation to the Bilateral treaty of amity) “any alleged violation of the Treaty by either party could not have the effect of precluding that party from invoking the provisions of the Treaty concerning pacific settlement of disputes” [counterpart in countermeasures of principle of autonomy of arbitration clauses. VCLT 65 (4)] The events fall into two phases

The 1st covers armed attack on the US embassy on 4 November 1979. The militants conduct cannot be regarded as imputable to that State on that basis, but this does not mean that Iran is free of any responsibility in regard to those attacks; for its own conduct was in conflict with its international relations. Iran was placed under the most categorical obligations to take appropriate steps to ensure protection of the US embassy. (68) The Iranian authorities a) were fully aware of their obligations to take appropriate steps to protect the premises of the US embassy b) were full aware of the urgent need for action c) had the means at their disposal d) completely fail to comply with this obligations The 2nd phase of events comprise the whole series of facts which occurs following the completion of the occupation, the action required by GIL to Iran was to make every effort to bring these flagrant infringements to a speedy end, to re-establish the status quo and to offer reparation for the damage… The approval given to these facts by the Ayatollah and the decision to perpetuate them ... the militants, authors of the invasion and jailers of the hostages, had now become agents of the Iranian State for whose acts the state itself was international responsible… these facts constitute breaches additional to those already committed. The (76) Iranian Authorities’ decision to continue the subjection of the premises of the US embassy to occupation by militants and of the embassy staff to detention as hostages, clearly gave rise to repeat and multiple breaches of the applicable provisions of the Vienna Conventions on Consular Relations even more serious than those which arose from their failure to take any steps to prevent the attacks of the inviolability of this premises and staff. The Court noted that even alleged criminal activities of the US against Iran would not have justified breaches of diplomatic inviolability: “diplomatic law itself provides the necessary means of defence against, and sanction for, illicit activities by members of diplomatic or consular missions.” Not only private individuals or groups of individuals have disregard of the inviolability of the foreign embassy but the government of the receiving state, principle which is one of the very foundations of this long established regime, to the evolution of which the traditions of Islam made a substantial contribution…such events cannot fail to undermine the edifice of law carefully constructed by mankind over a period of centuries, the maintenance of which is vital for the security and well being of the complex international community. The court cannot let pass without comment the incursion into the territory of Iran made by US military units on 24-25 April 1980… an operation undertaken in those circumstances is of a kind calculated to undermine respect for the judicial process, the court had indicated that no action was to be taken by either party which might aggravate the tension between the two countries.