The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) says he is seeking urgent authorization to resume investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, focusing on the actions of the Taliban and the Islamic State’s local affiliate.
The request was being made to the court's judges in light of developments since the Taliban seized control of most of Afghanistan last month, Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement on September 27, citing concerns that Afghanistan could not carry out independent investigations.
Judges at the ICC authorized a probe by Khan's predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, in March 2020, but the investigation was paused shortly thereafter on request by the now-deposed government in Kabul while it investigated war crimes there itself.
The probe covered offenses allegedly committed by Afghan government troops, the Taliban, and U.S. forces dating back to 2002. The decision to investigate Americans led to the Trump administration slapping sanctions on Bensouda, who left office over the summer at the end of her nine-year term.
Khan, who was sworn in as the new chief prosecutor in June, said there was "no longer the prospect of genuine and effective domestic investigations" in Afghanistan.
"Current de facto control of the territory of Afghanistan by the Taliban...represents a fundamental change in circumstances necessitating the present application" to reopen the investigation, he said.
"I have therefore decided to focus my office's investigations in Afghanistan on crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K) and to deprioritize other aspects of this investigation," the prosecutor added.
The decision to end the ICC focus on alleged U.S. abuses in Afghanistan triggered criticism.
"Stunned," tweeted Katherine Gallagher, a lawyer for Afghan victims of what they say was torture by U.S. forces, adding that Khan had given them no advance warning of the move and they only found out when they read a press release.
Amnesty International campaigner Samira Hamidi said a U.S. drone strike days before the U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan following a 20-year presence that killed 10 members of an Afghan family showed that the ICC "needs to revisit this decision and hold the U.S. accountable too."