Washington bears full responsibility for imposing illegitimate sanctions on Iran. Other countries are pressured to agree. Doing so harms their own interests.
Heavy-handed US bullying largely gets its way. Rule of law principles and norms are violated. At issue is advancing Washington’s imperium.
America’s 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) lets presidents claim unusual and/or extraordinary foreign threats, declare a national emergency, and regulate commerce accordingly.
Presidents have taken full advantage deceptively, unjustifiably, and illegally.
In November 1979, Washington seized $12 billion in Iranian government bank deposits, securities, gold, and other properties. They included $5.6 billion held by overseas branches of US banks.
A full trade embargo followed. In January 1981, it was lifted under provisions of the Algiers Accords. Most Iranian assets were unblocked. Nonetheless, Iranian Assets Control Regulations remained in effect.
For decades, Washington ruthlessly targeted Iran and its people. It continues relentlessly today. More on that below.
Ronald Reagan imposed Iranian sanctions. Fraudulent pretexts were used. They included claiming Tehran supports international terrorism and aggressively acts against Persian Gulf shipping.
Reagan’s 1987 Executive Order (EO) 12613 embargoed Iranian goods and services.
In March 1995, Clinton’s EO 12957 prohibited US involvement with Iranian oil development. His 1995 EO 12959 substantially tightened sanctions further. His 1997 EO 13059 prohibited virtually all trade and investments with Iran.
In 1996, the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) became law. In 2006, it was renamed the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA).
It prohibited US and foreign oil development investments. Violators face stiff penalties. They include denial of Export-Import Bank of the United States help, rejection of export licenses, and a ban on all or some violating company imports.
In 2008, banks and other US depository institutions were prohibited from processing transfers between Iranian and non-Iranian banks.
In 2010, America’s Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) became law. It extended sanctions imposed by the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act. It punishes companies doing business with Tehran’s oil sector and went further.
Section 103 prohibited importing certain Iranian foodstuffs and carpets. Other provisions banned other Iranian product and service imports directly or through third party countries.
Exporting goods, technology, or services are prohibited, including from offshore locations. Some humanitarian related exceptions were made.
Overall, US individuals and companies located anywhere are prohibited from engaging in dealings of any kind. They include purchases, sales, transportation, swaps, financing, or brokering transactions related to goods or services of Iranian private or government origin.
On July 1, an EU oil import embargo took effect. It covers crude oil, petroleum and petrochemical products, oil-related businesses, equipment and technology, selling Tehran’s refined products, new investments, and dealing with its central bank.
Europe buys up to 20% of its oil from Iran. Ending it means greater strain on economically stressed countries. Higher prices exacerbate problems.
Washington granted India, Malaysia, South Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan waivers. In March, other countries got 180-day exemptions. Currently, 20 nations have qualified waivers.
Japan increased its Iranian oil purchases. China relies on Iranian oil and buys it freely. So do other nations. On August 1, the House overwhelmingly (421 – 6) passed the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012. The Senate passed it unanimously. Doing so mocks rule of law legitimacy.
New sanctions imposed include punishing financial institutions, insurers, and shippers involved in helping Iran sell oil. Previous loopholes were closed. An illegal embargo was tightened.
Prohibitions were enacted against companies involved in mining uranium with Iran; selling, leasing or providing oil tanker services; or offering insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Company.
Overall, the measure penalizes anyone involved with Iran’s oil, petrochemical, or natural gas industries. Earlier sanctions imposed were hardened.
Ahead of the House vote, Obama ordered new sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors. ByExecutive Order he prohibited foreign financial institutions from doing business with Iran. Violators face stiff penalties.
Specifically, Iran’s oil, petroleum products, and petrochemicals were targeted.
Separately, the Treasury Department sanctioned China’s Bank of Kunlun and Iraq’s Elaf Islamic Bank for providing financial services to Iranian banks.
Beijing reacted furiously. Relations between the two countries are strained. Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Washington violated “norms of international relations.”
The U.S. has invoked domestic law to impose sanctions on a Chinese financial institution, and this is a serious violation of international rules that harms Chinese interests.
Sanctions and International Law
The General Assembly’s 1974 Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States says no nation may use or encourage use of economic, political or other measures to coerce another country to to subordinate its sovereign rights in any way.
Under Part IV, Section 1, Chapter III, Article 54 of the Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions (1977):
- Starving civilians during war is prohibited.
- Attacking, destroying, removing, or compromising indispensable items is prohibited. They include foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies, irrigation works, and other essential products, services, and facilities relating to them.
UN General Assembly Resolution 44/215 (1989) prohibits political and economic coercion against developing countries.
It specifically covers trade and financial restrictions, blockades, embargoes, and other economic sanctions. It calls them incompatible with UN Charter provisions. They adversely affect the ability of nations to function politically, economically and socially. They harm civilians most.
The International Conference on Nutrition, World Declaration on Nutrition, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization (1992) recognized the right to access nutritionally adequate and safe food as a fundamental right.
US Code defines international terrorism as follows:
A. violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;
B. appear to be intended –
i. to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
ii. to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
iii. to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
C. occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States….
The US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism (TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37, 1984) shortens the definition to be “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature….through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear.”
Crimes against humanity breach fundamental international law. Civilian populations must be protected at all times.
Illegitimate sanctions harm human rights grievously. They violate international laws and norms. Targeting nonbelligerent countries ups the ante.
On July 31, Iranian lawmaker Seyyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini denounced Western sanctions, saying:
The sanctions in the area of health and similar fields are a violation of human rights, and can be legally pursued.
On July 29, Iranian Presidential Center for International Legal Affairs head Majid Jafarzadehsaid Tehran will take legal action against America and European countries.
“The complaint will be registered and pursued soon, based on international regulations,” he said.
Ron Paul calls Iranian sanctions an act of war. The New New England Journal of Medicine called them “a war against public health.”
They also violate World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions. WTO members may curb trade with other nations for security reasons. Doing so on dealings with third countries has no legal legitimacy.
Iran is nonbelligerent. It’s lawful and non-threatening. Its nuclear program complies fully with Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty provisions.
Challenging Washington in the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism would likely succeed.
Francis Boyle urges Iran to sue Washington, Britain and France at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if they refuse to negotiate directly and continue making belligerent threats.
Add Israel and make it a quartet. It menaces the region.
In early July, Boyle told Press TV if someone refuses “to talk to you, sue them, and then they have to talk to you.”
If Washington won’t engage in direct negotiations, “Iran should sue….at the World Court, protect itself, and then by means of the World Court proceeding, force negotiations which Iran can do.”
If crisis conditions escalate, Iran should also sue Britain and France, said Boyle. It should request an “emergency hearing,” and use it to prevent war or other belligerent acts.
A restraining order could be gotten. It would prevent “any type of blockade….to prevent the imposition of further economic sanctions….and pursuit of” additional ones.
Blockades are acts of war. Multiples rounds of sanctions targeting vital state functions have similar effects if pushed too far. Ones in place now violate fundamental human rights.
They’re illegal. Iran should sue. Unlike the International Criminal Court, ICJ rulings are more measured and just. It called Israel’s Apartheid Wall illegal.
It ruled for Nicaragua during Washington’s Contra war. It condemned American terrorism against its people. It awarded Managua $17 billion. Reagan administration officials ignore it. They then blocked Security Council enforcement.
Nonetheless, a precedent was set. It was repeated against Israel. Iran stands a good chance of prevailing. Proceeding posthaste is wise.