On Thursday, August 1, 2019, the US Department of the Treasury placed the name of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif on the list of sanctioned individuals.
Potential assets in the US of the people in the list will be frozen and US citizens will be prohibited from trading with them. Although the IRI Foreign Minister in response to the action by the US Treasury declared that he and his family had no assets or even bank accounts in the US territory, this issue does not reduce the importance of a legal analysis of the US action against the Foreign Minister of a UN member state.
Although the scope of this unusual action which is in contradiction with the UN host nation’s obligations to provide facilities to UN members (including visas, travel facilities, logistical requirements for entry into and exit from US territory) is not clear, Mike Pompeo in remarks made before the measure taken by the US Treasury and in the course of IRI Foreign Minister and his accompanying delegation’s recent visit to New York on July 13 to attend a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council said Zarif had been issued with a US visa so he can visit New York to attend a United Nations meeting, “but his movements will be strictly curtailed.” The US Secretary of State said that Zarif and his delegation will be restricted to traveling only to within six blocks of the UN headquarters and the Iranian mission.
According to the Treasury Department and the US Secretary of State, the main reason Zarif had been blacklisted was his interviews with the mass media and his publicity for the IRI foreign policy.
Rather than being a political act against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the US government’s action reflects a deeply passive move arising from deep concern of the White House occupants over the enlightenment of the chief of the IRI foreign diplomacy apparatus to American and international audiences and an eye-opener repetition of the ridiculous efforts of the Quraysh leaders against the emancipatory messages of Islam.
On the other hand, from the point of view of international law, there are several questions, including the most obvious and fundamental obligations of states in maintaining international peace and security:
- Isn’t blocking the mission of a senior political representative of a United Nations member state in contravention with the UN mission?
- What is the relationship between the UN host government’s sovereignty and its obligations under the UN Charter and the Headquarters Agreement?
- Isn’t the UN function incompatible with the host country’s political preferences in providing or refusing to provide travel facilities to UN members?
To answer these questions, it would be appropriate to scroll through the handbook of the multilateral international system and take a look at the first page of the UN Charter, a charter which was adopted on June 26, 1945 in San Francisco, and at the end of the UN Conference on the Formation of an International Organization and was signed by the victorious governments in World War II and thus the cornerstone of a new multilateral system was laid.
The Preamble of the UN Charter says:
We the Peoples Of The United Nations Determined
- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
- to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
And For These Ends
- to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and
- to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
- to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
- to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,
Have Resolved To Combine Our Efforts to Accomplish These Aims
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
The formation of the United Nations came after two painful and bloody experiences of World War took place as the last choice and to escape war, the nations’ decision was made not by choice but by emergency.
Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organization.
Article 105 (2) of the Charter, which recognizes facilities granted to members of the United Nations for the independent exercise of their functions at the United Nations headquarters, has also been developed in response to the concern of the host country for the abuse of its sovereignty. The Charter defines the condition of countries’ membership in the Organization as “the possibility” and “the will” of states to accept the obligations contained in the Charter.
The United Nations system was shaped with such aspirations and ideas with the settlement of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, and the legal regime governing the responsibilities and obligations of the host country was established in the context of “Headquarters Agreement” on June 26, 1947.
Chapter Four of this Agreement expressly states the Host Nation’s obligations to refrain from any obstacles (whether to deny visa or other facilities necessary for carrying out its mission) on the movement of United Nations Representatives:
The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of : ( 1 ) representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations, or of specialized agencies as defined in Article 57, paragraph 2, of the Charter, or the families of such representatives or officials, (2) experts performing missions for the United Nations or for such specialized agencies, (3) representatives of the press, or of radio, film or other information agencies, who have been accredited by the United Nations (or by such a specialized agency) in its discretion after consultation with the United States, (4) representatives of non-governmental organizations recognized by the United Nations for the purpose of consultation under Article 71 of the Charter, or (5) other persons invited to the headquarters district by the United Nations or by such specialized agency on official business. The appropriate American authorities shall afford any necessary protection to such persons while in transit to or from the headquarters district. This section does not apply to general interruptions of transportation which are to be dealt with as provided in Section 17, and does not impair the effectiveness of generally applicable laws and regulations as to the operation of means of transportation.
It is important to note that the host country’s commitment to “refrain from imposing any impediments to the movement and transit of the United Nations representative to / from the United Nations headquarters”) has a broader meaning than “visas” and includes all the facilities needed for this traffic (financial transactions, refueling, meeting people and figures on the sidelines, etc.).
The Headquarters Agreement in this regard also prevents the host country from implementing any of the provisions of Article 11 on any form of mutual political relations with other members of the United Nations.
The provisions of Section 11 shall apply irrespective of the existing relations between the Governments of the persons referred to in that section and the Government of the United States.
In this regard, even the laws and regulations of the host country regarding the granting of visas to the representatives of the United Nations have been declared blunt.
(a) The laws and regulations in force in the United States concerning the entry of aliens shall not apply in such a manner as to interfere with the privileges referred to in Section 11. Where visas are required for persons referred to in that section, they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible.
The wide scope of the Host Country’s obligations in exercising its sovereignty over the Members of the United Nations is such that even if the delegates abuse the privileges and immunities granted and violate the internal rules of the Host State, no decision will be taken and implemented on these Representatives without the Secretary General’s opinion.
(b) No proceedings shall be instituted under such laws or regulations as may require any such person to leave the United States except with the prior approval of the Secretary of State. Such approval shall be granted only after consultation with the appropriate Member in the case of a Member’s representative (or a member of his family) or with the Secretary-General or the Chief Executive Officer of the appropriate specialized agency in the case of any other person referred to in Section 11;
Here it is appropriate to take a look at the practices of the United Nations and other countries that have periodically hosted the UN summit.
These practices all reflect the refusal of the host country to host an UN-flagged meeting of political tastes to provide visas and facilities for UN representatives.
In November 2009, the Danish government pledged to grant Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir a visa to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, despite an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.
In 1960, the United Nations declared that Pakistan could not refuse to grant a visa to a representative of the Zionist regime to attend an international summit in the country. Also that year, the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs announced that African countries were not allowed to block the entry of South African and Portuguese representatives to attend the Economic Commission for Africa meeting. In the case of Yasser Arafat in 1988, the US government refused to grant him a visa, citing Arafat’s presence in the United States as a threat to its security. The United Nations Office of Legal Affairs said in a statement on pages 305-308 that the Headquarters Agreement between the United States and the United Nations lacks a regulation enabling the United States to deny a visa to a United Nations representative under the pretext of security. The same position was endorsed by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 48/43 of 1988 and explicitly stated: “non-granting of a visa to a United Nations representative, is in clear conflict with the international obligations of the host country and breach of obligations under the Headquarters Agreement”.
In November 2009, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who was banned from traveling to the European Union, was granted visa solely because he had applied for a visa to attend an international meeting (World Food Summit) in Rome.
History has repeatedly shown that blocking the message of truth, even when there was no 21st-century media technology is doomed to failure and the story of the Meccans who turned deaf ears to the realities and lived in neglect and ignorance proves this claim.
The United Nations is an opportunity for dialogue and conveying the messages of nations to the world peoples. It is an opportunity to speak and listen and an excuse for dialogue and practice of patience.
I cited the Preamble of the United Nations Charter at the beginning of this article to show that the UN is based on dialogue and tolerance against the views of others and any restrictions on conveying messages and dialogue (whether granting visa, restricting accesses, travel restrictions, and creating problems in the course of travels…) not only will undermine the roots of collective reasoning and multilateralism of the United Nations, but is also in open conflict with the independence of the United Nations and the host nation’s obligations to the organization and its members.
UN member states are required to participate freely in United Nations meetings and its specialized committees in order to participate in the decision-making process and implementation of UN decisions. In this respect, the host country has no right to impose any impediment (except in particular criminal cases).
The important point in sanctioning the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a United Nations member, regardless of whether the decision is implemented or not, is an insult to a nation that elects a representative to express its political views but faces restrictions and sanctions in performing his duties by another member state hosting the UN tribune.
In sum, the commitment of the host country in facilitating the presence of representatives of the United Nations is based on the following three principles:
- Article 105 (2) of the United Nations Charter provides: Representatives of the Members of the United Nations and officials of the Organization shall similarly enjoy such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the independent exercise of their functions in connection with the Organization.
- Under the 1946 UN Convention on the Privileges and Immunities (Article 4, Section 11, d)): Officials of the United Nations shall be immune together with their spouses and relatives dependent on them from immigration restrictions and alien registration.
- Articles 11, 12 and 13 of the United Nations and the United States Headquarters Agreement (1947) describe the host country’s non-suspended obligations in granting visa and transport facilitation of UN representatives.
Recent and past US efforts to restrict access and impose any impediment in granting visas to delegates clearly show hostage-taking at the United Nations Headquarters at 42nd Street in Manhattan.
In this hostage-taking, countries opposed to the unreasonable policies of the United States have been denied free access to the UN tribune, set up after the painful experiences of two world wars, or to convey their voices to other countries, think tanks and the media. They face serious challenges and, ultimately charge international peace and security for these deprivations and restrictions.
Now it is necessary to provide an answer to the question that what political achievement US statesmen are seeking to gain by sanctioning and limiting the reflection of the IRI foreign policy messages and what would be the reaction of the UN and the others UN members in the face of this blatant hostage-taking of the White House?