Ordinary Afghans are looking with ever hopeful eyes at the International Criminal Court to deliver some formal kind of justice against individuals, groups and institutions believed to be responsible for scores of deaths in their country. Judges at the global accountability body based in the Hague are set to begin examining submissions from victims in Afghanistan about whom and what any potential investigation should focus on. Upon studying these testimonies they will decide whether or not to go ahead with war crime inquiries against the US Central Intelligence Agency, the Afghan army and the Taliban.
Just last year an ICC prosecutor had held out the possibility of opening war crime inquiries against the perpetrators. If the ICC does indeed decide to carry out such inquiries, it would be a watershed moment for the accountability body and the first time it would be tasked to investigate the role of any individual, group or institution outside Africa. In Afghanistan’s case the ICC will probe murder, violence and abuse committed since 1993 when Kabul formally joined the ICC. One of the most systematic and catalogued complaints of torture and abuse against Afghan inmates came from Bagram airbase and elsewhere allegedly at the hands of US forces and the CIA. There are many cases of detainees dying of wounds sustained during torture. Even Afghan Vice-President Gen Rashid Dostum has been accused of torturing his opponents and has fled the country to avoid prosecution.
Since US soldiers are protected by a Congress adopted immunity law, it is unclear how they can be successfully prosecuted by the ICC for alleged war crimes. Washington opposes any ICC hearing against any member of its armed forces. Yet it is open to the idea of prosecuting Taliban militia members for crimes against humanity. Such a one-sided attempt at accountability will hardly serve the cause of justice.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2018.
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