The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor has defended omitting the United States from an investigation in Afghanistan, saying the “worst crimes” were committed by the Taliban and the ISIL (ISIS).
Rights groups criticised Karim Khan’s decision in September to “deprioritise” the investigation into American forces, and focus instead on Afghanistan’s new rulers and the rival Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), an ISIL affiliate.
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“I made a decision, based upon the evidence, that the worst crimes in terms of gravity and scale and extent seem to be committed by the so-called Islamic State [in] Khorasan and also the Taliban,” Khan told a meeting of ICC countries in The Hague on Monday.
“And I said I would prioritise these and I have asked the judges for authorisation to carry out those investigations,” added the British prosecutor.
The ICC’s Afghan investigation into US crimes had long enraged Washington, and prompted the administration of then-President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Khan’s predecessor Fatou Bensouda.
The world’s only permanent war crimes court launched a preliminary investigation in Afghanistan in 2006, and Bensouda asked judges to authorise a full investigation in 2017.
Bensouda said there was “reasonable” suspicion of war crimes by the Taliban and US forces in Afghanistan and the CIA in secret detention centres abroad.
The now-deposed government in Kabul then asked the court in early 2020 to pause its inquiry while it investigated war crimes domestically.
However, Khan in September asked judges to relaunch the process, saying the Taliban’s takeover in August meant war crimes would no longer be investigated properly.
Judges have asked for more clarity over who is officially in charge in Afghanistan before deciding.
The British prosecutor, meanwhile, said while the recent coup in Sudan had “caused a bit of a hiatus”, he expected his team to be able to return soon to continue its war crimes investigation there.
Khan visited Khartoum in August to sign a cooperation deal to push through a “genocide” trial for ex-leader Omar al-Bashir over the Darfur conflict.
He added that the “time for change is ripe” at the ICC in general, reiterating earlier promises to focus on cases with a likely chance of conviction and drop those where successful prosecution is unlikely.