prosecutors at the International Criminal Court will investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and U.S. forces after an appeals panel said on Thursday the “truth-seeking” inquiry should go ahead.
The ICC decision, which came days after the United States agreed to pull its troops from the long-running conflict, opens the way for prosecutors to launch a full investigation, despite U.S. government opposition.
“The appeals chamber considers it appropriate to…authorize the investigation,” presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski said at the court in The Hague. He said prosecutors’ preliminary examination in 2017 had found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the ICC has jurisdiction.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly condemned the decision as “a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body”.
“It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan – the best chance for peace in a generation,” he said.
“The United States…will take all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, so-called court.”
Afghanistan is a member of the ICC, though Kabul has argued that any war crimes should be prosecuted locally.
The U.S. government has never been a member of the court, which was established in 2002. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration imposed travel restrictions and other sanctions against ICC employees a year ago.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by U.S. forces and the CIA.
“The many victims of atrocities committed in the context of the conflict in Afghanistan deserve to finally have justice,” Bensouda said after the ruling. “Today they are one step closer.”