10:56, April 12 288 0 theguardian.com

2019-04-12 10:56:04
ICC rejects request to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan

Judges at the international criminal court have rejected a request by the court’s top prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, a decision described as a “devastating blow for victims”.

In a lengthy written ruling, judges said an investigation “would not serve the interests of justice”; this is because an investigation and prosecution are unlikely to be successful as those targeted, including the United States, Afghan authorities and the Taliban, are not expected to cooperate.

The decision acknowledges that the November 2017 request from prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open an investigation “establishes a reasonable basis to consider that crimes within the ICC jurisdiction have been committed in Afghanistan and that potential cases would be admissible before the court”.

The decision comes a month after the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said Washington would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Bensouda said on 5 April that her US visa had been revoked.

Bensouda’s request to open an investigation said there was information that members of the US military and intelligence agencies “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”.

She also said that the Taliban and other insurgent groups have killed more than 17,000 civilians since 2009, including some 7,000 targeted killings. She alleged that Afghan security forces tortured prisoners at government detention centres.

Bensouda, who started looking into crimes in Afghanistan in 2006, did not immediately comment on the rejection, which she can appeal.

The court said in a statement that the shifting Afghan political scene since then, the lack of cooperation prosecutors had received and the likelihood that cooperation would diminish further if a full-blown investigation was opened combined to hamper the chances of a successful investigation and prosecutions.

Judges said the court needed to “use its resources prioritising activities that would have better chances to succeed”, according to an ICC press release.

Human Rights Watch said the ruling was “a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grave crimes without redress”.

“The judges’ logic effectively allows states to opt out on their obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation,” said Param-Preet Singh, the group’s associate international justice director. “This sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative.”