THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court gave the green light Thursday for prosecutors to open an investigation targeting the Taliban, Afghan forces and U.S. military and intelligence personnel for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The global court upheld an appeal by prosecutors against a pretrial chamberâ€™s rejection in April last year of Prosecutor Fatou Bensoudaâ€™s request to open a probe in Afghanistan.
Pretrial judges last year acknowledged that widespread crimes have been committed in Afghanistan, but rejected the investigation saying it wouldn’t be in the interests of justice because the likely lack of cooperation meant convictions would ultimately be unlikely.
That decision drew fierce criticism from human rights organizations who said it neglected the desire of victims to see justice in Afghanistan and effectively rewarded states that refused to cooperate with the Hague-based court.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. APâ€™s earlier story follows below.
Judges are set to rule on an appeal by International Criminal Court prosecutors against a decision rejecting an investigation into atrocities committed by all sides in the Afghanistan conflict – including U.S. forces.
Thursdayâ€™s hearing could clear the way for Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to open a full-blown investigation into alleged crimes by the Taliban, Afghan government forces and U.S. forces at secret detention centers.
At a hearing in December, prosecutors argued that pretrial judges at the global court overstepped their powers in April last year when they refused to authorize an investigation.
In a decision that drew fierce criticism from human rights activists, the pretrial chamber said an investigation would not be in the interests of justice because it was unlikely to lead to successful prosecutions.
After a preliminary probe in Afghanistan that lasted more than a decade, Bensouda asked judges in November 2017 to authorize a far-reaching investigation.
She said there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies â€œcommitted 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.â€
She also said the Taliban and other insurgent groups have killed more than 17,000 Afghan civilians since 2009, including some 7,000 targeted killings, and that Afghan security forces are suspected of torturing prisoners at government detention centers.
Thursdayâ€™s hearing comes days after an ambitious peace deal was signed by the U.S. and the Taliban.
Even if an investigation is authorized, the prospects of meaningful cooperation by any of the sides in Afghanistan are dim.
At the December hearing, the government of Afghanistan said it objected to the investigation and has set up a special unit to investigate war crimes. The ICC is a court of last resort that only takes on cases if domestic jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to prosecute.
The United States does not recognize the court and refuses to cooperate with it.
There was no official U.S. delegation at December’s appeal hearing but President Donald Trumpâ€™s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, appeared on behalf of the European branch of the American Center for Law and Justice and told judges that U.S. position would not change.
He told appeals judges that â€œit is not in the interests of justice to waste the courtâ€™s resources while ignoring the reality of principled non-cooperation.â€