ICC chief defends decision not to probe U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan

Karim Khan. Pic: ICC

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor, Karim Khan, has defended his decision to drop the United States from an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

Rights groups criticised Khan for his decision in September in which he deprioritised the investigation into American invasion and occupation forces.

Khan told a meeting of ICC countries in The Hague on Monday: “I made a decision, based upon the evidence, that the worst crimes in terms of gravity and scale and extent seem to be committed by the so-called Islamic State Khorasan and also the Taliban…

“And I said I would prioritise these and I have asked the judges for authorisation to carry out those investigations,” added the British prosecutor.

“The gravity, scale and continuing nature of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State, which include allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, targeted extrajudicial executions, persecution of women and girls, crimes against children and other crimes affecting the civilian population at large, demand focus and proper resources from my office if we are to construct credible cases capable of being proved beyond a reasonable doubt in the courtroom.”

The planned probe into U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan irked the Donald Trump administration, and they imposed sanctions on Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda.

The probe was first launched in 2006, but Bensouda asked judges in 2017 to authorise a full investigation into war crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan. She said that there were reasonable grounds for suspicion that war crimes were committed by both U.S. forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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The former occupation government in Afghanistan had asked the ICC to halt their inquiry into the war crimes because the administration was investigating the crimes within the country.

However, in September this year, Khan relaunched the probe stating that the Taliban can’t investigate war crimes properly. The Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, after resisting foreign occupation for more than twenty years.

Khan said: “Recent developments in Afghanistan and the change in the national authorities, represent a significant change of circumstances with import for our ongoing assessment of the deferral request. After reviewing matters carefully, I have reached the conclusion that, at this time, there is no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations into Article 5 crimes within Afghanistan. It is this finding that has necessitated the present application…

“This is not to suggest that there can never be any prospect of adequate and effective proceedings in Afghanistan, carried out by State authorities in compliance with the Statute. They are not, however, available in Afghanistan at this time. I remain willing to constructively engage with national authorities in accordance with the principle of complementarity.”

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