U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced as "reckless" a ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that an investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan could go ahead.
“This is a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable political institution, masquerading as a legal body,” Pompeo said on March 5 following the ICC judges’ decision to overturn on appeal a previous decision to block the probe into crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan security forces, and the U.S. military and intelligence agencies.
The ruling by the ICC’s Appeals Chamber in The Hague came days after the United States and the Taliban signed a deal aimed at putting an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
“It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan -- the best chance for peace in a generation,” Pompeo said in his statement.
He said the United States, which is not a party to the ICC, will take “all necessary measures to protect our citizens from this renegade, so-called court.”
Afghanistan is a signatory of the ICC but officials have expressed opposition to the investigation.
Human rights groups welcomed the Appeals Chamber’s decision, with Amnesty International saying: “This is an historic moment where the International Criminal Court has reversed a terrible mistake and decided to stand by the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides to the conflict in Afghanistan."
In November 2017, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges to initiate an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003.
But in April 2019, an ICC pretrial chamber rejected the inquiry as not being in the “interests of justice” because it would likely fail due to lack of cooperation.
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed this ruling, which was condemned by victims and rights groups, calling it "a major international victory…for the rule of law."
Judge Piotr Hofmanski, president of the ICC's Appeals Chamber, said in rendering the March 5 judgment that the pretrial chamber “erred in deciding that investigation into the situation in Afghanistan in this stage would not serve the interest of justice."
The Appeals Chamber “considers it appropriate to amend the appeal decision to the effect that the prosecutor is authorized to commence an investigation," Hofmanski said.
After the announcement, Solomon Sacco of Amnesty International said the ICC “represents the first true hope of justice for the victims of conflict, who have been shamefully ignored for years.”
Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Afghans who are skeptical about whether the U.S.-Taliban agreement and planned intra-Afghan peace talks can deliver a better future, now have reason to believe that justice might not be squandered in the process."
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 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.