Appeal judges at the International Criminal Court have given prosecutors the go-ahead to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes by Taliban, Afghan und US forces.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday authorized an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan. The probe targets US, Afghan and Taliban forces as well as intelligence personnel.
The Hague-based international court upheld an appeal by prosecutors against an earlier deision to block an investigation.
Pretrial judges last year acknowledged that widespread crimes had been committed in the war-torn Asian country and that there was sufficient basis for the investigations. However, they rejected a probe on the basis that too much time had passed and that the anticipated lack of international cooperation would also result in a likely unsuccessful inquiry.
The rejection triggered criticism from human rights organizations who said the decision impeded justice for victims in Afghanistan and effectively rewarded countries that refused to collaborate with the ICC.
At a hearing in December, prosecutors argued that pretrial judges at the ICC abused their powers when they rejected the request. The appeals judges then agreed to authorize an investigation.
"The Appeals Chamber considers it appropriate to amend the appealed decision to the effect that the prosecutor is authorized to commence an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan,'' Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski said.
However, despite the authorization, it remains to be seen if any suspects eventually indicted by prosecutors will appear in The Hague court.
Both the US and Afghanistan have strongly opposed the probe. Washington refuses to cooperate with the ICC and does not recognize its jurisdiction over US citizens.
After a decades-long preliminary probe in Afghanistan, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges in November 2017 to authorize an in-depth investigation.
The ICC prosecutor said there is information that members of the US military and intelligence agencies "committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other
locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.''
Bensouda also said the Taliban and other rebel groups have killed more than 17,000 Afghan civilians since 2009, including around 7,000 targeted killings, and alleged that Afghan security forces tortured prisoners at government detention centers.