Top international court authorizes investigation into Afghanistan conflict war crimes

The court overturned a previous judgement that blocked the investigation.

LONDON —
The International Criminal Court has authorized an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by all sides in the Afghanistan conflict after an appeal overturned a previous decision to block the probe on Thursday.

The investigation will look into the actions of the principal actors in the conflict in Afghanistan since May 2003 — mainly the Taliban, U.S. forces and the Afghanistan government.

In 2016, the ICC published a report which said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that the Taliban and their affiliates had committed “crimes against humanity,” and that on the other side of the conflict, U.S. military forces and the Afghan government are accused of “war crimes of torture and related ill-treatment.”

The decision to proceed with the investigation, which has been advocated the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, overturned a judgment last year which said an investigation would “not serve the interests of justice.”

The Office of the Prosecutor is now authorized to “to independently, impartially and objectively investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan.”

Bensouda had her U.S. visa revoked last year, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that visas would be denied to ICC staff involved in investigations against U.S. forces, according to Reuters.

The ICC, dubbed the “world’s first permanent international criminal court” is an independent body that seeks to complement national courts in trying individuals charged with genocide and war crimes.

In total, 123 countries are state parties to the ICC, including Afghanistan. However, the U.S. is a notable absentee from the court’s remit.

The ruling comes less than a week after the U.S. and Taliban signed a historic agreement to withdraw American troops from the conflict in Afghanistan, in exchange for the Taliban cutting ties with terror groups and entering into peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

A recent escalation in violence has cast doubt over the fate of that agreement, however, as U.S. forces launched an airstrike against Taliban soldiers on Wednesday, as fighters from the militant group were “actively attacking” an Afghan government checkpoint.

Colonel Sonny Legget, the spokesman for American forces in Afghanistan, accused the Taliban of carrying out 43 attacks on government checkpoints on March 3 alone, and called on the Taliban to “stop needless attacks” and “uphold their commitments” in the aftermath of the historic agreement.

That airstrike came just a day after President Trump spoke to Abdul Ghani Baradar, the co-founder and a senior leader in the Taliban, by phone, in the first known conversation between a U.S. president and the militant group.

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