ICC rejects investigation on war crimes in Afghanistan

Cheryl Sanders
April 14, 2019

The International Criminal Court's unanimous rejection of a request to investigate US forces for possible war crimes in Afghanistan is a "major international victory", US President Donald Trump said on Friday.

"An investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice and (the chamber) accordingly rejects the request", the judges said.

The International Criminal Court's decision not to authorize an investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan under international law marks a shocking abandonment of victims and will further weaken the court's credibility.

Bensouda also wanted to investigate alleged war crimes closely linked to Afghanistan allegedly committed since July 2002 on the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute.

It did also reference “the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received.” Plus it said such cooperation “is likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized, ” thus “hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution.” It also noted “the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”.

The ruling was hailed by US President Donald Trump as a "major global victory" but human rights group Amnesty worldwide criticised it.

Bensouda's request said there was reason to believe that members of the USA military and intelligence agencies had "committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period".

The Trump administration has taken a tough line against the ICC, which it is not party to, and threatened to deny visas for individuals responsible for investigating American forces.

"We will let the ICC die on its own", Bolton said previous year.

The court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested authorization in November 2017 to start an investigation into alleged war crimes relating to the conflict in Afghanistan.

"ICC judges' decision to reject an investigation in Afghanistan is a devastating blow for victims", Human Rights Watch's Param-Preet Singh said in a statement. National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened the ICC with sanctions last September if they pursued cases against U.S. citizens. “Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution, ” it said, “will be met with a swift and vigorous response.” The doctrine reflects the fact that our GIs are under the jurisdiction of our own juridical authorities.

Human rights groups warned that the decision would have repercussions well beyond Afghanistan.

Some critics view the court's decision as a sign that it bowed to USA pressure. "This sends a unsafe message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative".

Asked if the thought the ICC should have authority to prosecute Sudan's Omar al Bash - who has been indicated by the court - for genocide, Bolton replied plainly: "It's the position of the United States that the court is illegitimate".

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