Four questions on Iran’s legal challenge to US sanctions

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani answers a question during a press conference in New York on September 20, 2017, on the sideline of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 27 August 2018

Four questions on Iran’s legal challenge to US sanctions

  • Iran’s legal challenge against renewed sanctions by the United States goes before the UN’s International Court of Justice
  • Iran’s attempt to block the reinstatement of sanctions is the latest in a series of court battles that Tehran and Washington are fighting at the ICJ

Iran’s legal challenge against renewed sanctions by the United States goes before the UN’s International Court of Justice on Monday.
Here are four key questions regarding the case:

Iran’s attempt to block the reinstatement of sanctions, announced by US President Donald Trump earlier this year, is the latest in a series of court battles that Tehran and Washington are fighting at the ICJ.
Trump announced on May 8 that he was pulling out of a landmark deal between Iran and major powers aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The deal agreed with the UN’s five permanent Security Council members and Germany in 2015 limits Tehran’s stockpile of enriched uranium until 2031 in exchange for sanctions relief.
Blasting the accord as a “horrible, one-sided deal,” Trump reimposed a wave of tough, unilateral sanctions.
Tehran now accuses Washington of “besieging” its economy and wants the Hague-based court — which rules in disputes between countries — to order the US to temporarily halt punitive measures, while the judges mull the deeper merits of the case.

The case has two elements, said Eric De Brabandere, professor of international dispute settlement at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Firstly, “Iran genuinely considers the re-imposition of sanctions a violation of international law.”
Secondly, “Iran has the support of many European states on the question of sanctions, politically speaking,” De Brabandere argued.
Iran’s representatives need to convince the ICJ that its 15 permanent judges indeed have the jurisdiction to hear the case.
Tehran bases its arguments on a little-known 1955 treaty between Iran and the United States. The treaty provides for “friendly relations” between the two countries, encourages mutual trade and investment and regulates consular relations.
However, there have been no formal diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington since the regime of the US-backed Shah was deposed by Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

“My guess is that for this case they will argue that the court has no jurisdiction, as they did in a separate case launched against the US two years ago,” said De Brabandere.
Washington could invoke two arguments.
One is that the 1955 treaty is no longer in force, because it is a “treaty of friendship” between two nations which have been adversaries for the last four decades.
Secondly, US representatives could say that the dispute was “not about the treaty, but about sanctions and Iran’s alleged terrorist activities,” De Brabandere said.
“The US is likely to argue that the dispute is about something much broader than a treaty,” for instance Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the expert said.
Furthermore, there is a clause in the 1955 treaty which allows the states to take “any measures to protect essential security interests.”

“I think it’s very likely that the ICJ will, based on the 1955 treaty, decide to hear the case,” said De Brabandere.
However, whether the case will be successful on its own merits — in other words whether the United States indeed breached its obligations — is more difficult to establish.
“For one, the 1955 treaty is relatively narrow in scope. It means that the ICJ can only rule whether the US violated its obligations under the specific treaty,” De Brabandere said.
This means that the ICJ’s judges will not rule in what they may consider any broader dispute between Iran and the United States.
The outcome of the case — which could still take years before being handed down — “is very difficult to predict,” said De Brabandere.

Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

Updated 19 September 2018

Palestinian schools strive to modernize classrooms

  • Schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity
  • Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates

RAMALLAH: As the teacher pointed to the large touch screen, her first-grade classroom came alive. With the click of a link, an animated character popped up on the screen, singing and dancing as it taught the children how to read.
The day’s lesson was the Arabic letter “Raa,” and the screen displayed cartoon pictures of objects that contain the letter — desert, chair and pomegranate — as the teacher asked the children to come up with other words. The students smiled and sang along.
Just a few years ago, such scenes were unthinkable in most Palestinian classrooms. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, schools in the Palestinian territories have traditionally emphasized memorization and obedience over critical thinking and creativity.
With an eye to the future, some Palestinian educators now hope the use of technology and the arts will create new opportunities in a society that has produced large numbers of unemployed college graduates.
“The students don’t need to memorize things. They need to understand first,” said Ruba Dibas, the principal of the Ziad Abu Ein School in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Then they need to express their understanding through writing, speaking, drawing, acting.”
Ziad Abu Ein is one of 54 “smart teaching schools” introduced last year. This year, the number tripled. By 2020, all 1,800 public schools in the West Bank are to be part of the program.
Dibas said the goal is to eliminate testing from the classroom. Instead, she said students need to enjoy the learning process to absorb information.
On a recent day, her school was buzzing with activity.
In a fifth-grade classroom, each child had a tablet and the teacher guided them through an Arabic lesson, using her own tablet to give assignments. Third-grade students went to the smart board, playing a game to learn the multiplication table.
In other classes, students drew cartoons to learn the physics of how airplanes fly. An English class did a project about evaporation.
Four third-graders recently learned about self-esteem in a lesson called “learning by drama.” They performed a short skit about a shy girl who discovers a passion for journalism and grows up to become a successful reporter.
Their teacher, Sawsan Abdat, said the children learned an important lesson that day — that they need to find what they are good at.
After initial skepticism from parents last year, enrollment at the school has nearly doubled. This year’s first grade has nearly tripled to 43 students.
“I love the school,” said Malak Samara, a 9-year-old fourth grader. “We learn and enjoy. We learn and play.”
These techniques are a radical departure from a system in which generations of students were forced to memorize information and cram for exams under the stern watch of an authoritarian teacher who in some cases would beat them with a stick if they could not complete their work.
But with the unemployment rate for new college graduates hitting 56 percent, according to the Palestinian Statistics Bureau, officials realized that something had to change.
Education Minister Sabri Seidam also introduced vocational training in grades seven, eight and nine last year to meet the needs of the market.
“Society needs singers, carpenters, cleaners, athletes, sergeants,” he said. “We can’t just produce engineers and doctors.”
Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a major problem across the Arab world. It was considered a driving force behind the Arab Spring revolutions that rocked the region in 2011.
Arab governments used to absorb new graduates, often in civil service jobs, but they can no longer afford to do that, in part because of the region’s “youth bulge.”
The private sector offers limited opportunities, leaving large numbers of young graduates unemployed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“There is no greater challenge facing the MENA region in its efforts to build a future based on inclusive growth than job creation,” the International Monetary Fund said in a report early this year. It noted that 60 percent of the region’s population is under 30, the world’s second-youngest after sub-Saharan Africa.
“Pressures on the region’s labor markets are rising. In the past five years, the region’s working-age population increased by 50.2 million, and 27.6 million people joined the labor force. Yet employment increased by only 25.4 million,” it said.
Others in the Mideast have tried to make similar changes. In Egypt, the largest Arab country, the Education Ministry this year is providing students with tablets, along with a new curriculum that enhances critical thinking.
The ministry said it is also trying to improve the level of instruction by increasing training and wages for teachers, building more classrooms and creating a more modern classroom through digital learning facilities. The government this year secured a $500 million loan from the World Bank to help fund the reforms.
For now, it appears too soon to say whether the reforms can make a difference.
The region’s authoritarian governments might encourage education reforms as an economic necessity but could balk in the future at efforts to nurture a new generation versed in critical thinking. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, governments in the region have increasingly stifled expression.
Schools across the Arab world face other obstacles as well. A 2015 study by the UN culture and education agency UNESCO talked about chronic underfunding, a lack of qualified teachers and increased class sizes throughout the region.
Syrian schools have been devastated by a seven-year civil war, while many schools in neighboring Lebanon have been overwhelmed by Syrian refugees. US cuts in funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees have jeopardized the school year for some 500,000 students, most of them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And Israel’s half-century occupation of the West Bank, along with a decade-long blockade over Gaza, continues to stifle the Palestinian economy.
“Education in the Arab world is in a very bad condition. The salaries of teachers are very poor, the classes are overcrowded, and schools lack the essential infrastructure,” said Saeda Affouneh, director of the E-Learning Center at Al-Najah University in the West Bank.
She praised the changes taking place in Palestinian schools.
“But this new system faces real challenges in the Palestinian schools,” she warned. “They need to train the teachers and to provide the proper resources.”