ICC does injustice to Afghan victims

By rejecting an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed by various actors in the Afghan conflict, the International Criminal Court has dealt a deadly blow to the quest for a just peace in Afghanistan. Announcing its decision, the ICC said that such a probe “would not serve the interests of justice”.  It has blamed the lack of co-operation of some actors with investigators. It was, of course, referring to the US, which only a week ago revoked the visa of an ICC prosecutor, who was to visit the country to probe the alleged involvement of American soldiers in war crimes. Although the US signed on to the Rome Statute which established the ICC, it did not ratify it and, hence, is not a member of the ICC. It has argued that its soldiers could become the target of political lawsuits. On the face of it, the ICC decision to turn down a probe into war crimes in Afghanistan is a pragmatic step. After all, the US is unlikely to turn in its leaders or even soldiers to the ICC for trial for war crimes. This being the case, investigating and punishing Afghan civilian or military officials, warlords, the Taliban, etc., would amount to a partial delivery of justice. Punishing some and not others who have committed horrific crimes in the Afghan conflict would trigger a tidal wave of anger against those who go scot-free. It would not result in any kind of peace, let alone a just peace.

And yet the ICC decision is deeply disappointing. Victims of various war crimes will not get the justice they crave for. Importantly, had the ICC pressed on with the process, it would have been acting to preserve the rule of law. It would have sent a strong message at least to the Afghan conflict’s domestic actors that they cannot expect to escape justice if they commit terrible crimes. By rejecting the call for a probe into war crimes, the ICC has accepted defeat at the very first step of the process. This is distressing.

The ICC’s credibility has been on the line for many years. It has been accused of selective delivery of justice, of prosecuting only African leaders and of never putting on trial a Western leader. Earlier, it ruled out putting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on trial for alleged war crimes in Iraq. And now, it has shied away from delivering justice to Afghan victims. The ICC’s craven capitulation to American bullying is shameful. If it doesn’t have the spine to speak truth to power, it doesn’t deserve to exist.

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