On January 6, a deadline set by four foreign nations for Tehran to join talks over reparations for the Flight 752 disaster officially passed. Prior to this, it has emerged, the Islamic Republic had already stated its unwillingness to engage.
In a joint statement issued on Thursday, the countries that make up the International Coordination and Response Group for Flight 752 - Canada, Ukraine, Britain and Sweden – said they had received an “unequivocal” response from the Tehran that it “[did] not see a need to negotiate with the Group”.
As anticipated, the group said it now plans to seek recourse for the victims’ families in accordance with international law. “It is clear that Iran continues to avoid its international legal responsibilities, including by refusing to negotiate further,” the statement concluded. “We will not stand for this affront to the memories of the 176 innocent victims.
What is the International Coordination and Response Group?
Citizens and residents of Canada, Ukraine, the UK and Sweden – alongside others from Iran, Germany and Afghanistan – were among those killed on January 8, 2020, when a passenger plane was knocked out of the sky by two missiles fired by the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran.
The International Coordination and Response Group was established to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for the incident, and to pursue reparations and legal redress for the victims and their families. A memorandum of understanding between the member states, which initially also included Afghanistan, was signed by the countries’ respective foreign ministers in July 2020.
How Did the Islamic Republic Reject the Deadline?
In a joint statement on December 16, 2021, group members asked Tehran to confirm its willingness to engage in talks on reparations for families. They set a deadline of January 5, 2022, for the Islamic Republic to respond. Otherwise, they said, the parties would have to “seriously consider other actions within the framework of international law”.
The update issued on January 6 read: “On December 27, 2021, we received an unequivocal response from Iran that it does not see a need to negotiate with the Group. After initially agreeing to engage during our first round of negotiations held on July 30, 2020, Iran is now categorically rejecting any further negotiations related to our collective demand for reparations... The Coordination Group will now focus on subsequent actions to take to resolve this matter in accordance with international law.”
What Could the Next Step Be?
The group has not yet specified what action may be taken in response to the Islamic Republic’s intransigence. But the course of action is fairly clear.
Two years after the tragedy, as the issue is still unresolved, Canada, Ukraine, the UK and Sweden can now take the case to the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
Members of this council, excluding those countries involved in the case, will then give suggestions as to how the dispute be dealt with. They may suggest an arbitration panel. But decisions by this council are not binding. If one of the parties – including Iran – does not agree to arbitration, the case can be referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as stipulated by the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. Both Iran and the member countries of the International Coordination and Response Group are signatories to the Convention.
What Could the International Court of Justice Do?
The International Court of Justice in The Hague is qualified to rule on any alleged violations of the Chicago Convention by a member state – in this case, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The group members accuse Tehran of committing several major violations. These include failing to tell the truth about the missile attack on the plane for three days, removing evidence from the crash scene, refusing to constructively cooperate in fact-finding inquiries – including a seven-month delay in handing over the “black box” flight recorders – and refusing to pay fair compensation to the victims’ families.
If the Flight 752 case reaches this stage, it will be the third international complaint brought against the Islamic Republic in The Hague since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The previous two were the US’s complaint over the hostage taking of US embassy staff in November 1979, and Iran’s military use of its offshore oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.
What Could Reparations Look Like?
The Islamic Republic has announced that is ready to pay US$150,000 for each of the 176 people killed in the downing of Flight 752. This is around $30,000 lower than the usual compensation paid after aerial accidents.
In this case, the fact that the plane was downed as a result of military action could increase the reparations expected of the Islamic Republic. Canada’s highest civil court has also ruled that PS752 was brought down by a deliberate act of terror and awarded $107m in damages to the families of six of the 176 victims.
If a compensation order were issued in The Hague, and the Islamic Republic refused to abide by it, the ICAO council could impose punishments which could be as harsh as asking member countries to either reduce or stop flights to Iran, or to bypass Iranian airspace altogether.
Naturally, many of the victims’ families and loved ones have said justice and accountability are more important to them than any material compensation. The government of Ukraine has also said it prioritizes the Islamic Republic committing to preventing such a tragedy from occurring again.
What About the Criminal Case?
The International Court of Justice has no authority to hear criminal complaints related to Flight 752. One of the member countries of the International Coordination and Response Group could refer the case to International Criminal Court, or choose to try alleged perpetrators in their own countries in absentia. As of now, there is no indication that such a course of action is being considered.