Committee of U.S. Citizens Living In Nicaragua v. Reagan

1986 I.C.J. 14

Facts: 1986, the International Court of Justice held that US financial support of paramilitary activities by the Contras against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua violated both a treaty between the countries and customary international law. But, the US withdrew from the ICJ’s jurisdiction before the court’s decision. P seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. The D.Ct. dismissed the complaint on political question grounds. P appeals here.

Issue: Whether alleged violations of the UN Article 94 can be remedied by an American court or whether they can only be redressed on an international level. In short, do violations of international law have domestic legal consequences?

Holding: Yes, international law has legal consequences unless the US constitution or US law contradicts. Treaty obligations may be overridden by subsequent inconsistent statute. Therefore, the court can’t say as a matter of domestic law that congressional enactments violate prior treaties.

  • The court also held that “in determining whether a treaty is self-executing” in the sense of its creating private enforcement rights, “courts look to the intent of the signatory parties as manifested by the language of the instrument.”
  • The court wasn’t specifically saying whether the US had upheld its treaty obligations as a matter of law in this case.
  • Argued that it is not political question because it’s international customary law and therefore not a political issue. These argument do not rise to the level of jus cogen categories in order to be customary international law.
    1. Jus Cogens: Defined Principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties.

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