North America

ICJ Case Regarding Illegal Freezing of Iranian Assets Remains Open

By: Tiffany D. Johnson

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

THE HAUGUE, The Netherlands – In March of 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rendered a landmark judgment in the case concerning “Certain Iranian Assets” (United States Diplomatic and Consular Staff in Tehran, United States of America v. Iran), requiring the United States to justly compensate the Islamic Republic for economic sanctions that violated the Treaty of Amity. However, both parties have yet to come to an agreement on the amount due.

 
Members of the Delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran listen to the International Court of Justice’s judgment in the case concerning Certain Iranian Assets on March 30, 2023, at the Peace Palace in The Hague. | Photo courtesy of Wiebe Kiestra via the International Court of Justice.
 

The case stems from a dispute between the United States and Iran regarding the freezing of Iranian assets by the U.S. government during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) was modified by the US in 1996 to revoke immunity for states identified as “State sponsors of terrorism.” Many plaintiffs filed lawsuits against Iran, which the US designated as a “State sponsor of terrorism” in 1984, alleging that Iran supported acts that caused damages. This was due to the FSIA’s terrorism exception. Enacted in 2002, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) allowed for the enforcement of judgments entered in accordance with the FSIA’s 1996 amendment.

Crucially, Section 201 of TRIA states that in these situations, an entity designated as a “terrorist party” may have its assets executed or attached in order to aid in its execution. Executive Order 13599 issued by President Barack Obama in 2012 resulted in the blocking of all Iranian government assets within U.S. jurisdiction. Then, in order to comply with default judgments against Iran, the United States passed the Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act (ITRSHRA), which put Bank Markazi’s assets up for execution.

Iran filed a suit against the United States with the ICJ in 2016, alleging that by allowing private litigants to pursue lawsuits against Iran and attaching confiscated Iranian assets to satisfy judgments obtained against Iran in those actions, the United States had violated both the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two nations and international law norms on State immunity. Iran argued that these actions constituted a violation of international law, specifically the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the two nations. The ICJ was tasked with adjudicating on the legality of the U.S. government’s actions and determining the reparations owed to Iran.

In its March 2023 judgment, the ICJ acknowledged the delicate balance between state sovereignty and international obligations. The Court affirmed that the U.S. government’s freezing of Iranian assets indeed violated the Treaty of Amity. Notably, the ICJ emphasized the principle that states must respect the rights of other nations, irrespective of political tensions or conflicts.

The Court held that the freezing of assets had adversely affected Iran’s economic interests and, by extension, violated its rights under the Treaty. Although the Court ruled that it could not order the United States to unfreeze assets held by the Iranian central bank worth nearly $1.75 billion, it did mandate that the U.S. reimburse Iranian companies for the sanctions it had imposed and the other assets it had seized.

If the U.S. and Iran are unable to agree on the amount of compensation due to Iran within 24 months of the ruling, the matter, at the request of either party, will be settled by the Court. As of right now, there has been no agreement on appropriate compensation between the United States and Iran and the case remains open on the Court’s General List.

For further information, please see:

Just Security – After ICJ’s “Certain Iranian Assets” Judgement, Iran and United States Both Claim Victory – 17 April 2023.

International Court of Justice – Certain Iranian Assets (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America), Judgment – 30 March 2023.

International Court of Justice – Press Release: The Court delivers its Judgment on the merits of the case – 30 March 2023

Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the United States of America and Iran, 1955, 8 U.S.T. 899.

UN Press – International Court of Justice Docket Reflects Legal Questions Concerning All Humanity in Every Region, President Says, as General Assembly Takes Up Report – 26 Oct 2023

Despite Newly Passed Avenues for Support to the ICC, the Biden Administration and Pentagon are at Odds in Determining Which Documents to Provide the ICC regarding Putin’s Actions in Ukraine

By: Patrick Farrell

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – As previously reported by Impunity Watch News, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin’s arrest due to his role in the atrocities perpetrated during Russia’s war in Ukraine. The public issuing of the warrant was heralded as a significant step for two major reasons. First, in deterring further crimes in Ukraine, and second, widespread support for the indictment has been characterized as a win for the basic principles of humanity. Yet, the Kremlin has directly condemned the ICC’s actions, labeling them as “outrageous and unacceptable” and even rejected the warrant. Given this response, the ICC is now in need of support for the investigation and eventual prosecution. With that said, the Biden Administration is currently at odds with the Department of Defense in determining the nature of the evidence that the United States will share with the ICC regarding Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

Following a National Security Council cabinet-level principals committee meeting on Feb. 3, President Biden has yet to make a decision to resolve the dispute. Although President Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 2000, he never sent it to the Senate for ratification, thus leaving the United States as a non-party to the Treaty. Further, in 1999 and 2002, Congress enacted laws that limited the support that the government could provide the ICC. However, following the bipartisan push to hold Putin accountable, Congress returned to the question of whether to help the ICC. Pursuant to regulations passed by Congress in December 2022, exceptions now exist that allow the U.S. Government to assist with “investigations and prosecutions of foreign nationals related to the situation in Ukraine.” These new laws, including the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act, and the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act contain new elements highlighting the importance attached to supporting accountability for those responsible for atrocities such as these. Most importantly, the amendments in the Consolidated Appropriations Act allow the United States to provide assistance to the ICC Prosecutor’s efforts in Ukraine, even regardless of whether accusations have been made.

Despite these new powers, the Pentagon has maintained the position that the United States should remain separate from the ICC and that the Court should undertake its own investigation, especially since neither the United States nor Russia are parties to the Rome Statute.

Even amidst these internal tensions, national security experts and other government officials see an opportunity in using the ICC as a tool for enforcing accountability. According to John Bellinger, a lawyer for the National Security Council, the U.S. can assist in investigating and prosecuting war crimes by assisting the ICC, which is the successor to the Nuremberg tribunals. In addition, both Senator Lindsey Graham and Attorney General Merrick Garland have reiterated their commitment to helping Ukrainian prosecutors pursue Russian war crimes.

Even after modifications to longstanding legal restrictions which previously stifled America from aiding the ICC, a dispute now exists over whether the U.S. should provide such evidence. Still, it is hopeful that U.S. officials will come to a solution to assist the collaborative effort to bring justice for Russian atrocities committed in Ukraine.

For further information, please see:

Beatrice Nkansah, Impunity Watch News – ‘ICC’ Issues Warrants for Putin’s Arrest Regarding His Role in Russia’s War in Ukraine – 23 Mar. 2023

CNN – ICC issues war crimes arrest warrant for Putin for alleged deportation of Ukrainian children – 17 Mar. 2023

The New York Times – Pentagon Blocks Sharing Evidence of Possible Russian War Crimes With Hague Court – 8 Mar. 2023

Just Security – Unpacking New Legislation on US Support for the International Criminal Court – 9 Mar. 2023

Child Labor Violations Skyrocket in the U.S. with the Forced Labor of Migrant Children

By: Kendall Hay

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Associate Member

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – New reports have recently surfaced bringing to light issues of forced labor among migrant children in the United States. The government has recently resolved the first of many cases brought against major companies that are at the heart of the exploitation. Packers Sanitation Services Inc. LTD. was prosecuted and fined $1.5 million in civil penalties in what is one of the largest cases in the history of labor violations. As violations have just begun to surface, it is expected that more litigation will ensue.

Child migrant worker. Photo courtesy of NBC news

Those being targeted are children who cross the border into the United States unaccompanied. Because U.S. law forbids unaccompanied minors to be turned away, many cross into the United States alone and are held in a holding facility until the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is able to locate an American sponsor. In the past, HHS has taken time to ensure that the vetting process is thorough by verifying that the sponsors are who they claim to be (typically relatives) and ensuring their agreement to provide for these children. However, due to the large number of unaccompanied children who have recently been crossing alone, detention facilities are at capacity, and the vetting process has become almost nonexistent, as the current administration has demanded that kids are moved through as quickly as possible.

This kind of quick processing has led to the exploitation of kids, as “sponsors” who have ill intentions for the kids are now able to traffic these kids and demand work in exchange for living expenses. These kids accrue a debt they are never able to repay and are forced to choose low-paying jobs and night shifts in local factories so that they are still able to attend school.

Although child labor laws in the United States allow 14-year-old children to work, there are many restrictions in place. Factory work, construction work, and other dangerous positions are restricted until the age of 16, and because school attendance is mandatory, the work chosen must not interfere with a child’s education.

However, recent reporting has found that children as young as 12 are working full-time jobs with extremely low pay and no experience. They are also often hired for the night shift because of the unpopularity of the hours, so they will still have the option to attend school. Because the work available to them is found in meatpacking plants, factories, food production plants, and construction sites, these children are constantly faced with dangerous and life-threatening conditions. As a result, serious injuries and many deaths of these minors have been reported. Machinery accidents, loss of limbs from assembly line work, and falls in construction jobs have all been documented.

Violations have been reported in all 50 states with major brands such as Target, Ben & Jerry’s, Walmart, Whole Foods, General Motors, Fruit of the Loom, Ford, and J Crew among the 850 companies all guilty of attributing to child labor violations.

While some companies are simply looking the other way when hiring these child workers and are failing to do due diligence when checking identification, others contract with hiring services and are not vigilant in overseeing who these services are actually hiring. Because the maximum penalty for violations is $15,000, there simply isn’t enough of a deterrent to prevent these practices from continuing.

The Biden Administration has vowed to crack down on these violations and the Department of Labor has begun investigations of over 600 violations. Lawmakers are also pushing for stricter laws in order to protect these minors that include larger penalties for violators. But with an unprecedented number of unaccompanied children crossing the border, a systemic change will be necessary.

 

For further information, please see:

NPR – How Child Labor Violations Have Quadrupled Since 2015 – 6 Mar. 2023

The New York Times – Lawmakers Clamor for Action on Child Migrant Labor as Outrage Grows – 3 Mar. 2023

CBS News – U.S. takes action to prevent migrant child labor amid rise in violations – 27 Feb. 2023

Reuters – U.S. to crack down on child labor amid massive uptick – 27 Feb. 2023

Economic Policy Institute – Child labor laws are under attack in states across the country – 14 Mar. 2023

Nicaragua Releases Hundreds of Political Prisoners, IACHR Condemns Treatment by Government and Deprivation of Citizenship

By: Sydney Krause

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

Managua, Nicaragua – On February 9, 2023, Nicaraguan authorities released hundreds of political prisoners to the United States, declaring them traitors and stripping them of their citizenship. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) condemned the prisoners’ treatment during their detention and the “arbitrary deprivation of nationality,” calling for Nicaragua to repeal recent legislation permitting the revocation of citizenship.

Activists await arrival of political prisoners at Washington Dulles International Airport (Photo Courtesy of the Independent, Jose Luis Magana/AP)

The 222 prisoners were met in Washington D.C. by a small group of relatives and supporters. They were deported per an order issued by the First Chamber of the Managua Court of Appeals, citing national security concerns related to terrorism and economic destabilization. The U.S. Department of State said the transfer was made “unilaterally” by Nicaragua, but that the United States organized transport of the political prisoners who would be admitted to the United States for “humanitarian reasons” for up to two years.

Many of the releasees – including students, political opponents, journalists, and priests – were detained during President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on political dissidents beginning in 2018. Mr. Ortega described the prisoner release as part of a drive to expel criminal provocateurs and traitors from the country. Shortly after their release, the National Assembly voted to strip them of their Nicaraguan citizenship.

The Special Reform Law amends Article 21 of the Political Constitution, the basis for determining Nicaraguan citizenship. The change states that “the acquisition, loss, and recovery of nationality will be regulated by law. [And] traitors to the homeland lose the quality of Nicaraguan nationality.” The change also builds on Law 1055, known as the “sovereignty law,” which establishes that citizens who “harm the supreme interests of the nation” are “traitors to the homeland.” Under the amended Article 21, those sentenced under Law 1055 will lose their citizenship.

International law strictly prohibits the deprivation of nationality and rendering a person stateless. “Stateless” persons face immense legal concerns such as the loss of social security benefits, restriction of free travel, including to visit family, and the possibility of detention and prosecution by local authorities.

Nicaragua’s unprecedented action has garnered criticism from states and agencies worldwide, including the United Nations refugee agency, the IACHR, and the U.S. State Department. The IACHR condemned Nicaragua’s actions in its February 9 press release, citing international law and noting that Nicaragua has been a party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons since 2013.

Since the mass release, the Nicaraguan government has revoked the citizenship of at least an additional ninety-four people.

 

For further information, please see:

Associated Press – Nicaragua’s vote to strip opponents of citizenship – 14 Feb. 2023

Constitution Net – In Nicaragua, constitutional amendment revoking citizenship for crimes against state expedited, pending approval in subsequent legislature – 10 Feb. 2023

Department of State – Press Statement: Release of Political Prisoners from Nicaragua – 9, Feb. 2023

Independent – Why has Nicaragua suddenly released more than 200 political prisoners? – 10 Feb. 2023

New York Times – Nicaragua Strips Citizenship from Hundreds Days After Prisoner Release – 17 Feb. 2023

New York Times – Nicaragua Frees Hundreds of Political Prisoners to the United States – 9 Feb. 2023

NPR – Nicaragua has freed 222 political prisoners and sent them to the U.S. – 9 Feb. 2023

OAS, IACHR – IACHR Welcomes Release of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua but Rejects Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality – 13 Feb 2023

Prensa Latina – Law in Nicaragua withdraws nationality from traitors to the homeland – 9 Feb. 2023

Reuters – Defiant Ortega frees political prisoners in Nicaragua, expels them to U.S. – 9, Feb. 2023

Michigan Court of Claims Declares “Adopt and Amend” Unconstitutional

By: Mikaylah Heffernan

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

Lansing, MICHIGAN – The Michigan Court of Claims has declared that the previously used legislative practice of “adopt and amend” is unconstitutional under Article 2, § 9 of the Michigan Constitution, as it barred the Michigan electorate from proposing, enacting, and rejecting laws through the established initiative process.

Partial aerial view of the Michigan State Capitol Building. Photo Courtesy of Mikaylah Heffernan.

Under the Michigan State Constitution, an issue may become a statewide ballot proposal through several different mechanisms, including through a ballot initiative, as allowed by Article 2, § 9. Michigan Election Law, specifically 1954 PA 116, outlines the requirements and circumstances under which citizens may add statewide proposal to the ballot. The proposal must serve the following reasons; to enact a new law, approve or reject an existing law, or amend the constitution. In order to complete this process, the responsible party must gather signatures from registered electors of no less than eight percent of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

In 2018, two petitions were circulated, one to set rates for accumulated paid sick time, and the other to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour, including tipped employees who currently earn a lower minimum wage. Article 2, § 9 of the constitution allows the legislature to adopt ballot proposals as written by a majority vote, and the Michigan legislature voted to adopt both acts, keeping the proposals off the ballot. Had these proposals passed via a ballot vote, they could only have been amended by a three-fourths majority in the Legislature.

After the statewide election in November of 2018, the legislature substantially amended the legislation, compromising the original purpose. In May of 2021, several interested groups brought a petition directly to the Court of Claims, challenging the constitutionality of the Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act on the basis of the ‘adopt and amend’ procedure used by the legislature.

In the July 2022 ruling, the Court found that the enacting and amending of the Acts during the same legislative session violated the purpose of Article 2, § 9, and that under Article 2, § 9, the Legislature has only three options, adopt the initiative as presented, reject the petition, or propose a new alternative law.  In the decision, Judge Shapiro stated the following; “Once the Legislature adopted the Earned Sick Time Act and the Improved Workforce Opportunity Act, it could not amend the laws within the same legislative session. To hold otherwise would effectively thwart the power of the People to initiate laws and then vote on those same laws—a power expressly reserved to the people in the Michigan Constitution.” Also considered and addressed by the Court was the inability of the State to establish why the Legislature substantially amended 2018 PA 337 and 338 other than as a means to deprive the voters of their access to the initiative process.

The ruling is stayed until February 19, 2023, and pending the outcome of appeal, these changes may not go into effect. 

 

For further information, including further discussion of the actions taken by the legislative body in 2018, please see:

Michigan Supreme Court – In re House of Representatives Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Constitutionality of 2018 PA 368 – 18 Dec. 2019

Foster Swift – Michigan Court of Claims Declares “Adopt and Amend” Unconstitutional – 5 Aug. 2022

Art. 2 Sec. 9 – Michigan Constitution

1954 PA 116 – Michigan Election Law

Mothering Justice et al. v. Nessel – 19 July 2022