ICC rejects request to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan

Lester Mason
April 14, 2019

Under pressure from Washington, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has dropped the investigation of alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, a probe directed mainly against U.S. military and intelligence services.

As Common Dreams reported, the ICC's decision to reject the request from ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to probe possible war crimes and crimes against humanity followed bullying efforts by senior members of the Trump administration-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton-who targeted ICC staff over the possible investigation.

Bensouda requested authorisation from the court to open a formal investigation in November 2017. The court noted that the political situation since 2006, the time of the preliminary examination, has changed rapidly in Afghanistan.

So it reckoned that the “prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution” are “extremely limited.” It called “unlikely” the prospect that “pursuing an investigation would result in meeting the objectives listed by the victims favoring the investigation.” Which means, it concluded, that an investigation of the Afghan situation “would not serve the interests of justice.”.

In a statement released by the White House, the Trump administration hailed the decision not to investigate USA personnel as "a major global victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law".

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on ICC personnel involved in investigations of Americans; Bensouda's USA visa has since been revoked.

Angered, President Donald Trump's administration said it would deny visas to any ICC members involved in probing USA troops and, last week, it revoked the visa of the Gambian-born Bensouda.

The US "holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards", and has consistently refused to join the ICC because of its "broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers", threats to US sovereignty, and "and other deficiencies that render it illegitimate", Trump said in a statement.

This is in response to a request from ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2017, a prospect that US officials have strongly criticized. National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened the ICC with sanctions last September if they pursued cases against USA citizens.

Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends the trial of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands August 28, 2018.

"The decision by the International Criminal Court's judges to reject an investigation in Afghanistan is a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grave crimes without redress", Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Some human rights advocates are slamming the decision as a risky precedent.

"This decision is a victory for the rule of law and the integrity of the ICC as an institution, given the United States is not subject to the ICC's jurisdiction", Pompeo said in a statement Friday.

In his statement, he called the ICC "illegitimate" and said it would be met with a "swift and vigorous response" if it tried to prosecute citizens of the U.S. or its allies. "It sends a risky message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative".

The judges' decision appeared to end the quest for accountability for victims of abuses following the US invasion of Afghanistan.

The ICC, which was established when the Rome Statute took effect in 2002, is charged with prosecuting crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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