ICC prosecutor urges all sides in Afghanistan to respect humanitarian law

Stephanie van den Berg, Reuters

Posted at Aug 18 2021 09:01 AM

People wait outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021. Reuters stringer
People wait outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021. Reuters stringer

THE HAGUE—The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Tuesday called on all parties in the Afghanistan conflict to respect humanitarian law.

In a statement, Karim Khan noted that his office may exercise jurisdiction over any genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed in Afghanistan since it joined the court in 2003. 

"I call on all parties to the hostilities to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by ensuring the protection of civilians," Khan said, adding that he was concerned about reports of revenge killings and persecution of women and girls.

Khan's call came after UN chief Antonio Guterres voiced similar concerns and the UN Security Council on Monday called for an end to fighting in Afghanistan. Khan became ICC prosecutor in June, inheriting a long-running probe by his predecessor Fatou Bensouda into possible crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2003 onwards. Those included alleged killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities, and by U.S. forces and the CIA in 2003-4. 

However, the court only approved a formal investigation in March of 2020, prompting then U.S. President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Bensouda.

In May, the government of Afghanistan asked Bensouda to drop her investigation, arguing that it was already conducting its own, mostly focusing on alleged Taliban crimes.

Under ICC rules, the court only has power to prosecute crimes committed on the territory of member states when they are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. 

It is not yet clear how Khan will proceed with the existing investigation. (Reporting by Stephanie van der Berg and Toby Sterling; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alex Richardson) 

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