Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The 1979 United States-Iran Hostage Crisis Reviewed from an Islamic International Law Perspective

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The 1979 United States-Iran Hostage Crisis Reviewed from an Islamic International Law Perspective

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Almost all Muslim states (1) signed and ratified the two international diplomatic and consular legal frameworks: the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations ("VCDR") (2) and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations ("VCCR"). (3) The Islamic Republic of Iran, a party to the VCDR and the VCCR, is expected to uphold these conventional principles of diplomatic immunities and international law in all its diplomatic interactions with other states. Three decades ago, the Islamic Republic of Iran seized the United States of America's embassy and its staff. The United States brought a case against Iran in the International Court of Justice ("I.C.J") for violating diplomatic immunity and international obligations. Although the Iranian government was not represented throughout the proceedings before the I.C.J., it sent, through the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two letters dated December 9, 1979, and March 16, 1980, to the I.C.J. (4) These letters summarized the reasons why the Iranian government felt that the case brought by the United States should not be recognized and considered by the I.C.J. (5) After considering the facts of the case and all the evidence adduced, the I.C.J. found the Iranian government guilty. (6) The judgment of the I.C.J. would have been more convincing to the Islamic Republic of Iran had the United States further predicated its arguments on Islamic law.

Considering this background, it may be necessary to reappraise the 1979 seizure of the American embassy in Tehran by examining Islamic law's implication on the entire incidence. The purpose is to ascertain whether the Iranian authorities made adequate provisions for the protection of the American diplomatic personnel within the territory of Iran in accordance with Islamic siyar, otherwise known as Islamic international law. (7) It is crucial to mention here, that not much has been mentioned concerning the position of Islamic siyar on the 1979 Iranian invasion of the United States embassy. The only major work that was written in respect of the position of Islamic law concerning the Iranian invasion of the United States embassy in 1979 was by Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni in 1980 while the invasion of the embassy was still ongoing. (8) This article will, therefore, be evaluating facts surrounding i) the seizure of the embassy and the hostage taking crisis; ii) the applicable international conventions between Iran and the United States and their legal implications under Islamic siyar, iii) the justification for detaining the United States diplomats, if any, under Islamic siyar; iv) the violation of diplomatic immunity under Islamic siyar; and, v) the implication of Iran's violation of the United States diplomatic immunity under Islamic international law. This article then concludes that the general finding of Islamic siyar with regards to the Iranian hostage case may not be different from that of the findings of the I.C.J.

II. SEIZURE OF THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY

On November 4, 1979, a group of Iranian Muslim students, known as the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Policy, (9) invaded the American embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two of its personnel hostage for 444 days. The action of the students was said to be in protest against the decision of the United States in October 1979 to admit the former Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, into the United States under the pretext of a life-saving medical treatment. (10) The hostage takers threatened that unless the Shah was extradited along with his wealth, they would not hesitate to put the hostages on trial for the offense of espionage." But the fact remained that under Section 3181(a) of the United States Code, the United States would not have extradited the Shah due to the absence of any extradition treaty with the Islamic Republic of Iran. (12) That being the case, the United States was legally incapable of extraditing the Shah of Iran. …

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