Sunday, 25 August, 2019

ICC drops Afghan war crimes probe under U.S. duress

The ICC decision shows justice is dead for Afghanistan The ICC decision shows justice is dead for Afghanistan
Patty Aguilar | 14 April, 2019, 18:39

In a decision decried as "deeply flawed" and a "devastating blow for victims", International Criminal Court judges on Friday rejected a request by the court's prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan and alleged crimes by USA forces linked to the conflict.

According to a media release about the decision, the three judge panel "concluded that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice".

The refusal of the Pre-Trial Chamber to authorize the investigation does not preclude the Prosecutor presenting a new request based on new facts or evidence regarding the same situation.

The time elapsed since the opening of a preliminary probe in 2006, Afghanistan's changing political scene and the "lack of political cooperation the prosecutor has received" was likely to grow scarcer should an investigation proceed, the judges said.

In a statement released by the White House, the Trump administration hailed the decision not to investigate US personnel as "a major worldwide victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law". In March, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that the U.S. would restrict visas of ICC staff responsible for a potential Afghanistan investigation, and Bensouda confirmed on April 5 that the USA had revoked her visa.

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

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

In a speech before the Federalist Society, Bolton declared, "We will not cooperate with the ICC".

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"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.

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

In an unusual ruling, the ICC judges said Bensouda's case seemed to have met the court's criteria for jurisdiction and admissibility, but given an array of practical considerations that made chances of success remote, it did not make sense to pursue it further.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said ICC officials who prosecute Americans or Israelis would be denied entry into the United States. She said that the groups allegedly responsible for possible crimes are the Taliban and other armed groups, Afghan forces, and USA personnel.

"With its decision today, the International Criminal Court sends a unsafe 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 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 worldwide justice director.

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

The United States is one of the countries not to ratify or sign the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the ICC.

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