ICC to resume Afghan war crimes probe, ‘deprioritise’ US role

New chief prosecutor says he wants to focus his investigation on the Taliban and Da’ish


AFP September 27, 2021
US service members assist at an Evacuation Control Check Point (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The International Criminal Court's (ICC) new chief prosecutor said on Monday he wanted to focus his investigation in Afghanistan on the Taliban and Islamic State-Khorasan, and to "deprioritise" alleged war crimes by US forces.

Karim Khan said he had asked judges to allow him to re-launch the probe — put on hold last year at the request of Kabul's then-government while it said it would investigate war crimes itself — following the Taliban takeover in August.

"Recent developments in Afghanistan and the change in the national authorities, represent a significant change of circumstances," Khan, who took over as prosecutor in June at the Hague-based court, said in a statement.

"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."

Khan asked judges for "expedited" permission to resume the probe.

The Afghanistan probe's inclusion of alleged US crimes had infuriated Washington.

Also read: ICC calls for an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan

The administration of former US president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Khan's predecessor Fatou Bensouda over the issue.

Khan said that he would now narrow his focus in Afghanistan due to the "limited resources" of the ICC as it investigates various situations around the world.

"I have therefore decided to focus my office's investigations in Afghanistan on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province ("IS-K"), also known as Dai’sh, and to deprioritise other aspects of this investigation," he said.

This was because of the "gravity, scale and continuing nature of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the Islamic State" and the need to "construct credible cases capable of being proved beyond reasonable doubt in the courtroom," Khan said.

The ICC prosecutor specifically mentioned the deadly August 26 attack on Kabul airport claimed by IS-K in which 13 US service members and more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed.

"In relation to those aspects of the investigation that have not been prioritised, my office will remain alive to its evidence preservation responsibilities, to the extent they arise," he said.

The ICC was set up in 2002 to investigate the world's worst crimes in cases where member states were either unable or unwilling to investigate them themselves.

Former prosecutor Bensouda asked ICC judges to approve a formal investigation into Afghanistan in 2017. Appeals judges ruled in March 2020 that it could go ahead.

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