The Associated Press reported Friday that the International Criminal Court (ICC) “has gotten a staggering 1.17 million statements” from Afghan people and organizations alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against them by actors in the 17-year-long armed conflict, including the U.S. military and U.S.-led coalition forces, the Taliban, Afghan Security Forces and government-affiliated warlords, and foreign and domestic spy agencies, said Abdul Wadood Pedram of the Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organisation, one of the local groups working with the Hague-based tribunal.
“I have the names of the organizations, but because of the security issues, we don’t want to name them because they will be targeted,” said Mr. Pedram, whose group is based in Kabul.
Many of the representations include statements involving multiple victims, which could be the result of suicide bombings, targeted killings, or air strikes, he said.
Because one statement might include multiple victims or an entire village, and one organization might represent thousands of victim statements, the number of Afghans seeking justice through the ICC is likely to add up to several million.
The ICC began accepting statements in November after the court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda submitted a request for judicial authorization to the court to begin a formal probe of possible international crimes committed in Afghanistan since it became a member of the court in May 2003 (nearly two years after the U.S.-led intervention began), stating:
“There is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan.”
The claims were collected between November 20, 2017 and January 31, 2018 and sent to the ICC by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan. The development, said Solomon Sacco, head of international justice at Amnesty International, was “a seminal moment for the ICC.”
Individuals and organizations who have spoken to media over the past few months documented many cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, and persecution by local and foreign actors.
Among the victims, BBC News reported this month, is Ahmad Eshchi, a political rival of Afghan Vice-President General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former notorious warlord who has previously worked with U.S. Special Forces and the CIA and has been linked to massacres. Eshchi told BBC, “[Dostum] told his guards, ‘Rape him until he bleeds and film it.’ They put a Kalashnikov [rifle] into my anus. I was screaming in pain.”
Others said that Taliban commanders were in fact connected to the government and thus have received total impunity for the crimes they committed against locals, especially Shiite Muslims.
Established in 2002, the ICC is the world’s first permanent court set up to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The ICC can only investigate any crimes in Afghanistan after May 2003, when the country ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court.
Former President Bill Clinton signed the treaty, but President George W Bush rescinded the signature, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.
Bensouda said in November that the court had been looking into possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Afghanistan since 2006, and had evidence incriminating the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police and its spy agency, known as the NDS.
Bensouda also said evidence existed of war crimes committed “by members of the United States armed forces on the territory of Afghanistan, and by members of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan,” as well as in countries that had signed on to the Rome Statute. The secret detention facilities were operated mostly between 2003 and 2004, she said.
It was the first time that Bensouda has targeted Americans for alleged war crimes. Bensouda said an investigation under the auspices of the international tribunal could break through what she called “near total impunity” in Afghanistan.
The prosecutor’s formal application to the court set up a possible showdown with Washington. While the US is not a member state of the ICC, its citizens can be charged with crimes committed in countries that are members.
At the time of Bensouda’s announcement, a Pentagon spokesman said the US Defense Department does not accept that such an investigation of US personnel is warranted. The US State Department has said it opposes the court’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, argued in the Guardian that a “criminal investigation of U.S. torture—and other serious crimes in Afghanistan—is long overdue.”
“To date,” she continues, “no high-level U.S. official from the civilian leadership, military, CIA, or private contractor has been prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. An ICC investigation could finally change that—bringing an end to the impunity U.S. officials have enjoyed and, critically, some measure of redress to victims of the U.S. torture program.”
“The ICC is deemed a court of last resort, the place to go when other courts in other countries have proved unable or unwilling to prosecute,” Gallagher adds. “The responsibility of U.S. parties for crimes related to the war in Afghanistan, for which impunity has reigned for nearly 15 years, is exactly the sort of case the ICC was designed to take on.”