Judge Rosemary Barkett to serve as judge ad hoc on the International Court of Justice
Judge Rosemary Barkett’s trailblazing legal career in the United States stands nothing short of remarkable. A short 14 years after becoming a member of The Florida Bar, Barkett was appointed by Gov. Bob Graham to the Florida Supreme Court in 1985, before becoming chief justice in 1992. Barkett was the first woman on Florida’s high court and the first to hold the role of chief.
In 1993, Barkett was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit by President Bill Clinton, where she served faithfully for nearly 20 years.
Toward the end of her run on the 11th Circuit, Barkett was looking to make her next move and got a call from the State Department.
“I had already reached the age where I could take senior status [with the eleventh circuit] and was considering doing that,” Judge Barkett said. “During that time, the State Department contacted me and indicated that the arbitrator that had been appointed to the [Iran-United States Claim Tribunal] IUSCT was ill and was therefore retiring and wanted to know if I wanted to replace her.”
The Iran-United States Claim Tribunal is an international arbitral tribunal located at The Hague, Netherlands, which was formed in 1981 following the Algiers Accords, which resolved the Iran Hostage Crisis created by the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran back in 1979.
Barkett explained: “The Algiers Accords addressed generally three basic things: (1) the return of the hostages, (2) compensating American businesses and business people for the loss of property in Iran during the Revolution and (3) returning to Iran property either frozen or remaining in the United states.”
In retaliation, the U.S. froze all the assets that Iran had anywhere the U.S. had jurisdiction, including property, businesses, and cash in banks.
Barkett said American companies wanted to be compensated for their losses and the Iranians wanted their money and their property returned. The IUSCT was established to resolve these claims. It consists of a nine-judge panel — three from Iran, three from the U.S., and three from neutral countries.
When Barkett got the call from the State Department inquiring about the seat on the international tribunal, she had a lot of questions.
“I was a little unsure. It meant pretty much living in Europe for three-quarters or most of the year, and it was a tribunal that I was not intimately aware of ,” Barkett said.
Barkett eventually took the position with the IUSCT. Prior to her appointment, some 4000 claims associated with the Algiers Accords were resolved for private parties, both Iranian and American. Many of the other claims were individual businesses against Iran or individual Iranian companies against the United States. Currently, the tribunal is working on the final issues associated with the Accords and those are the claims the Iran has against the United States as a country.
Due to her work in Iranian-U.S. affairs, Barkett was selected to be a judge ad hoc for a case between Iran and the U.S. regarding certain Iranian assets in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The ICJ is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is the only international court that adjudicates general disputes between countries. Its rulings and opinions serve as the primary sources of international law.
Barkett said she was asked to serve due to another judge’s recusal.
“When a country is a party in the ICJ and they don’t have a representative on the court they are permitted to appoint a judge ad hoc on that case,” she said.
The case, which the ICJ heard oral arguments last September, is centered around the settlements provided to Americans from terrorist bombings funded by Iran.
These bombings included the 1983 Beirut Marine barrack attack which killed 241 United States Marines and the 1996 Khobar Towers Bombing in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 United States airmen.
The plaintiffs obtained judgments in the American court of over $2 billion, but there were problems that arose on how to satisfy those judgments.
There were executive orders [in the US] that were still blocking the assets of Iran and the plaintiffs couldn’t get that money. Congress then passed laws that suspended the blocking order and said it didn’t apply when you have a judgment against a terrorist state.
Following new legislation, the plaintiffs were successful in executing upon assets from the national bank of Iran and from other Iranian companies, as agencies or instrumentalities of Iran. When these companies did not succeed in US Courts, Iran filed its claim in the International Court of Justice.
The Iranian bank and companies claim that the United States violated the Treaty of Amity. The treaty was signed between the two countries in 1955 with the Shah of Iran and President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was still on the books during the bombings in question.
During oral arguments before the ICJ, Iran claimed that the United States violated the Treaty of Amity which says that the United States cannot interfere with Iran’s ability to do business and that by taking the money from these banks the United States is interfering.
“The Treaty of Amity has since been repudiated, but this court case revolves around actions that took place while the treaty was still on the books,” Barkett said.
Following the oral arguments, the court is continuing its deliberations and plans to issue its final opinion on March 30.
Judge Barkett’s work on this court has been praised by many of her colleagues.
The current Senior Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida Daniel Hurley said, “I consider Judge Barkett’s current work to be the capstone on her remarkable career in the law.”
Barkett says that serving on this court and learning about the cultural differences has been fascinating.
“I think it has been a wonderfully fascinating learning experience because you’re having to work with people of different cultural backgrounds and different legal education and that has been very interesting to hear different perspectives and different ways cases are analyzed and resolved and trying to work within those parameters has been interesting,” Barkett said.