Afghanistan, to many in the West, may seem like yesterday’s war, out of the headlines and forgotten as new conflicts grab media attention.
But the crimes committed in the country over the course of the conflict are still fresh in the minds of their victims. Thankfully, once again, justice for those crimes is back in focus in The Hague.
After much delay, criticized in this newsletter last month, judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) yesterday announced that the prosecutor’s investigation into atrocities in Afghanistan can resume.
It is good news, if late, because it offers, “a rare opportunity to advance justice in a country where accountability is completely absent,” as my colleague and Afghanistan expert Patricia Gossman says.
The ICC’s investigation covers serious crimes committed in the country since May 2003, when Afghanistan first joined the ICC. The crimes within the court’s jurisdiction include alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Taliban and affiliated forces, and Afghan National Security Forces.
The mandate also includes alleged crimes in other ICC member countries since July 1, 2002, that are connected to the situation in Afghanistan. That means the court could examine alleged crimes by US armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), both in Afghanistan and in clandestine CIA detention facilities in Poland, Romania, and Lithuania, all ICC members.
In the past, the ICC prosecutor indicated his investigation would focus on alleged crimes by the Taliban and the local ISIS affiliate, Islamic State of Khorasan Province, while deprioritizing alleged crimes by Afghan security forces and US personnel.
However, given the near complete lack of accountability for alleged crimes by Afghan and US forces, the ICC prosecutor should reconsider that decision.
For the victims of serious abuses and their families, what does it matter what uniform the perpetrator wore? They seek – and deserve – justice all the same.