ICC judges deny Afghan war crimes probe

Sergio Conner
April 14, 2019

The exterior view of the headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Just days after the United States' government revoked the visa of the International Criminal Court's prosecutor, judges at the ICC on Friday rejected her request to open an investigation into alleged atrocities in the war in Afghanistan, citing practical reasons.

Rights groups denounced the judges' decision as a blow for thousands of victims in the long-running Afghan conflict and warned it could embolden perpetrators around the world to act with impunity.

"Thus the Chamber concluded that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice and rejected the Prosecutor's request for authorisation to investigate".

The International Criminal Court has announced it will not pursue an investigation into alleged war crimes by US troops and allies in Afghanistan.

Bensouda's US visa already has been revoked.

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 welcome this decision and reiterate our position that the United States holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards", the White House said Friday.

He said the court's decision would not change the State Department's previously announced visa restrictions on ICC personnel.

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Trump, however, said he reiterated "our position that the USA holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards".

"This is a vindication of the president's support for American sovereignty and a rejection of the idea that there can be accountability for American citizens by any authority other than American constitutional institutions", Bolton said.

While former president Barack Obama cooperated in a limited way with the court, notably supporting efforts for accountability in African conflicts, the Trump administration has been unremittingly hostile and has also threatened to seize funds and prosecute in USA courts any judges and prosecutors who target Americans or their allies.

The ACLU, which represents victims of torture in Afghanistan whose cases would have fallen under the probe, was equally outraged.

"This decision will likely come to be seen as the beginning of a broader effort by the judges and the Prosecutor to orient the Court's very limited resources toward those investigations where there exists some meaningful prospect of success", Whiting wrote.

Human Rights Watch said the ruling establishes a risky precedent.

The court's decision acknowledges that 680 of the almost 700 applications from victims "welcomed the prospect of an investigation aimed at bringing culprits to justice, preventing crime and establishing the truth".

"With its decision today, the International Criminal Court sends a risky message: that bullying wins and that the powerful won't be held to account", Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer Katherine Gallagher said, according to The New York Times.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that the Trump administration had played "a risky game".

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