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Lawyer Says Afghan Courts Should Prosecute War Criminals, Not ICC

The International Criminal Court in The Hague
The International Criminal Court in The Hague

A lawyer representing Afghanistan has told the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges that the country opposes a proposed international investigation into possible war crimes and other abuses committed during the Afghan conflict, saying its own courts should be allowed to prosecute war criminals.

Lawyer Rodney Dixon spoke on December 5, the second day of a three-day hearing into the ICC prosecution office's appeal against an earlier decision to reject a request to open a probe into crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan security forces, and the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

Dixon told the ICC's Appeals Chamber in The Hague that Afghanistan had set up an international crimes unit to prosecute cases involving militants and Afghan security forces in domestic courts, adding that the ICC could help the country to carry out local prosecutions and act as a "backstop," if necessary.

In April, pretrial-chamber judges unanimously turned down a 2017 request made by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with a probe into crimes allegedly committed since May 2003.

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.

Speaking at the December 5 hearing, prosecution lawyer Helen Brady said that the judges who rejected Bensouda's request overstepped their powers and "gave inadequate consideration to the gravity of crimes and interests of victims."

On December 4, Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 alleged Afghan victims, told the five-judge panel that the ICC was "the only jurisdiction in the world...that can offer the victims a prompt and impartial investigation into the brutal crimes committed against them."

Even if the proposed international investigation were to go ahead and prosecutors indicted Americans, it is very unlikely that they would ever appear in court.

The United States is among dozens of countries that have not ratified the Rome Treaty that established the ICC in 2002 and refuses to cooperate with the court.

Washington has said it would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate the allegations of abuses.

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
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