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ICC Judges Reject Request To Probe Possible War Crimes In Afghanistan

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

The International Criminal Court has turned down a request made by the ICC prosecutor to open a probe into possible war crimes committed during the conflict in Afghanistan.

In its decision issued on April 12, the judges cited a lack of evidence and a poor outlook on state cooperation.

"The chamber hereby decides that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice and accordingly rejects the request," the decision said.

The United States welcomed the decision.

"This is a major international victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law," U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement, adding that the U.S. "holds American citizens to the highest legal and ethical standards."

Trump reiterated U.S. reservations about the Hague-based ICC, saying it has "broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers" and presents a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

"Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response," Trump warned.

"The United States will always protect Allied and American military and civilian personnel from living in fear from unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a separate statement.

Human rights groups warned that the decision would have repercussions well beyond Afghanistan.

It is "a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grave crimes without redress," said Param-Preet Singh, the international justice associate director of Human Rights Watch.

"This sends a dangerous message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative."

The American Civil Liberties Union said that the Trump administration had played "a dangerous game."

"It is outrageous that victims of war crimes are far less likely to get justice for well-documented atrocities because of the Trump administration's authoritarian efforts to sabotage an investigation before it even started," said Jamil Dakwar, director of the group's human rights program.

In November 2017, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network fighters, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

On April 5, Bensouda's office said in a written statement that U.S. authorities revoked her entry visa.

Pompeo said last month that Washington would revoke or deny visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The United States is among dozens of countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP