Foreign Policy Watch: India-Iran

Iran dragged to International Court of Justice (ICJ)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: ICJ

Mains level: Iran's tarnished image in global scenario

iran icj

Central Idea

  • The UK, Canada, Sweden, and Ukraine have jointly initiated legal proceedings against Iran at the International Court of Justice, the highest court of the United Nations.
  • The case pertains to the tragic downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet in 2020, resulting in the loss of all 176 passengers and crew members.
  • Iran recently acquired the membership of SCO.

About the International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Establishment Also called World Court, was established in 1945.

Began its operations in 1946.

Located in The Hague, Netherlands.

Purpose To settle legal disputes between member states and provide advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized UN organs and specialized agencies.
Composition 15 judges elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.

Judges serve for a term of 9 years and can be re-elected.

Judicial Independence Operates independently of the UN.

Its decisions are binding on the parties involved in a dispute.

Member states are obligated to comply with ICJ judgments.

Jurisdiction Over cases submitted to it by sovereign states.

Can only hear cases if both parties involved in the dispute have consented to its jurisdiction.

Provides advisory opinions to UN organs and specialized agencies.

Cases Disputes over territorial boundaries, maritime rights, human rights violations, interpretation of treaties, and state responsibility.

It has jurisdiction over both contentious cases and advisory proceedings.

Legal Systems Applies two primary sources of law:  International treaties and customary international law.

Considers general principles of law and judicial decisions as subsidiary sources.

Proceedings ICJ proceedings are public unless the court decides otherwise or the parties involved agree on privacy.
Binding Nature of Judgments ICJ judgments are legally binding on the parties involved in a dispute.

If a state fails to comply with a judgment, the matter can be brought to the attention of the UN Security Council for further action.

Enforcement Mechanism ICJ lacks its own enforcement mechanism, and it relies on the voluntary compliance of states with its judgments.

However, the UN Security Council has the power to take measures to enforce ICJ rulings.

Accessibility Accessible to all member states of the UN.

Non-member states can also become parties to cases.

Tragedy and International Response

  • Flight PS752: Details of the Ukrainian passenger jet, which was en route from Tehran to Kyiv on January 8, 2020.
  • Shooting Down: The plane was shot down shortly after takeoff.
  • Nationalities: The victims included individuals from Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, and Iran, spanning a wide age range.

Iran’s Admission and Subsequent Actions

  • Failed Arbitration Request: Iran’s lack of response to arbitration request led to the filing of the case.
  • Initial Denials: Iran initially denied responsibility for the downing but later admitted that the Revolutionary Guard had mistakenly shot down the plane using two surface-to-air missiles.
  • Blaming the Operator: Iranian authorities attributed the incident to an air defense operator who allegedly mistook the Boeing 737-800 for an American cruise missile.
  • Judicial Response: An Iranian court sentenced an air defense commander to 13 years in prison for his alleged role in the downing.
  • Critique of the Trial: The countries filing the case criticized the prosecution, referring to it as a “sham and opaque trial.”

Allegations against Iran  

  • Lack of Preventive Measures: The plaintiffs argue that Iran failed to take necessary measures to prevent the intentional commission of an offence.
  • Inadequate Investigation and Prosecution: Iran is accused of conducting an impartial, transparent, and fair criminal investigation, which is inconsistent with international law.
  • Destruction of Evidence: Allegations claim that Iran withheld or destroyed crucial evidence related to the incident.
  • Harassment of Families: Iran is accused of threatening and harassing the families of the victims who sought justice.
  • Failure to Report: Iran neglected to report crucial details of the incident to the International Civil Aviation Organization.


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