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What Law Did Tehran Break? Capture of British Sailors a Gray Area in Application of Geneva Conventions

Publication Date: 
April 01, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle
Matthew B. Stannard

Allen Weiner, Associate Professor of Law (Teaching), Warren Christopher Professor of the Practice of International Law and Diplomacy, and codirector of the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation is quoted in this coverage of the Iranian government's capture of British Royal Navy sailors:

Even if Iran has not violated the Geneva Conventions, however, it has violated other international norms and treaties, said Allen Weiner, an international law expert at Stanford University who represented the United States in litigation before the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, which was created in 1979 to try to resolve the Iran hostage crisis.

"There is a general duty, for foreign nationals in your country, to treat them with a minimum standard of justice," he said. "Any time you detain a foreign national, you at least have an obligation to notify their consulate. The one thing the Iranians have done that is clearly illegal is not let the British consulate see these guys."

...Iran has taken hostages in the past, and has a history of disregarding the international legal process, Weiner said, adding, "I don't know that any kind of judicial process -- even if there were an avenue for one -- would be likely to get the Iranians to change their behavior."

However, Weiner said, a finding that Iran went outside the bounds in its treatment of the British captives could come up again in future deliberations over, say, tighter international sanctions against Iran's nuclear program.

"Getting a reputation as a scofflaw has negative consequences for you. Iran is already paying that price -- the fact that they are refusing to cooperate with the (International Atomic Energy Agency) is driving the Russians nuts, and they are much more isolated as a consequence," Weiner said. "It clearly weakens Iran's standing internationally."