[Diary of a Vengeance Foretold] Part 84


“The Court decides that the United States of America, by failing to make known the existence and location of the mines laid by it […] has acted in breach of its obligations under customary international law in this respect.”

International Court of Justice – June 27 1986 [1]

Today, Iran’s official press agency reported that the Iranian Navy has begun mine-clearing operations in the Persian Gulf today,

Upon hearing the announcement, an American official said that the news was ”tantamount to admitting that they laid the mines.” The US acusation is not without irony.

In 1986, the International Court of Justice found that the U.S. had violated international law by supporting Contra guerrillas in their war against the Nicaraguan government and by mining Nicaragua’s harbors.

In Jan. 1984, CIA operatives laid mines in Sandino harbor in Nicaragua. Other operations included sabotage of Sandanista communications, destruction of an arms depot, and other mine-layings.

When it was disclosed last April that the CIA had conducted mine-layings of the Sandina harbor, a Senate resolution overwhelmingly condemned the action 84-12.

The mines were not designed to destroy the ships. Their primary intent was to damage them and therefore interrupt business by scaring off the crews. Nevertheless, these actions were a clear violation of international law.

The Sandanistas took their case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, popularly known as the World Court. The US administration refused in advance to recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

The Court ruled in favor of, and awarded reparations to Nicaragua.

“The laying of mines in the waters of another State without any warning or notification is not only an unlawful act but also a breach of the principles of humanitarian law underlying the Hague Convention No. VIII of 1907,” the judges wrote in their ruling.

Nicaragua also brought the matter to the U.N. Security Council. The United States vetoed a resolution calling on all States to observe international law.

On Nov. 12 1987, the General Assembly called for “full and immediate compliance” with the World Court decision. Only two States, Israel and the United States, refused to abide to the ruling.

A bit of Legal History

At the suggestion of the Security Council, the Corfu Channel Case [2] (UK v. Albania) was brought before the World Court

On Oct. 22 1946, two UK destroyers, passing through the Corfu channel off the Albanian coast, struck mines. Forty six seamen died in the explosions. The ships were severly damaged. The British decided to mine-sweep the channel.

The court found Albania “responsible under international law for the explosions… and for the damage and loss of human life that resulted therefrom”.

The Court determined the compensation due to the UK at £843,947. (This amount is equivalent to approximately US$2.4 million at that time.)

But the court interestingly also found that the British mine-sweeping activities in Albanian territorial waters had violated International Law.

The court unanimously rejected the British claim that the action was justified under the principle of “self-protection”.

The ruling constituted the first judicial finding that, at least in some circumstances, the use of force for self-help is contrary to International Law.



The Corfu Channel Case

Iran Clearing Mines , September 23, 1988



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