The International Criminal Court (ICC) has started hearing an appeal against an earlier decision to reject a request to open an investigation into possible war crimes and other abuses committed during the conflict in Afghanistan.
Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 alleged Afghan victims, told the IC'’s Appeals Chamber in The Hague on December 4 that the court was "the only jurisdiction in the world...that can offer the victims a prompt and impartial investigation into the brutal crimes committed against them."
Calling the three-day hearings "an historic day for accountability in Afghanistan," Gaynor said his clients were "united" in wanting an investigation.
Jay Sekulow, one of U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyers, is to address the five-judge panel later in the day.
He has said he intends to defend the interests of members of the U.S. military "who sacrifice everything to defend us."
In April, judges unanimously turned down a request made by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with a probe into crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan security forces, and the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
In a ruling condemned by victims and rights groups, the judges said that an inquiry "would not serve the interests of justice" because it would likely fail due to lack of cooperation.
Human Rights Watch warned that the decision "sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative."
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the ruling, calling it "a major international victory…for the rule of law."
In November 2017, Bensouda asked judges to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003.
Washington has said it would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate the allegations of abuses.
The United States is among dozens of countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002.
U.S. forces and other foreign troops intervened in Afghanistan 18 years ago following the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and overthrew the Taliban government.
There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in the country, as well as European forces participating in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
More than 32,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.
With reporting by AP and Reuters