International Criminal Court (ICC) judges are weighing over one million statements from Afghans who allege they are victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by actors in the armed conflict there, including Afghan forces, the Taliban, the CIA, and the U.S. military.
The victims began submitting their statements to the ICC judges in late November after ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court for authorization to begin a formal probe of possible war crimes committed in Afghanistan, saying, “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan.” The development, said Solomon Sacco, head of international justice at Amnesty International, was “a seminal moment for the ICC.”
Victims had until January 31, 2018 to submit their testimonies.
The Associated Press reports Friday that the Hague-based court “has gotten a staggering 1.17 million statements,” and since “one statement might include multiple victims and one organization might represent thousands of victim statements, the number of Afghans seeking justice from the ICC could be several million.”
After reviewing all the statements, the judges will then decide whether or not to begin the war crime probe requested by Bensouda.
Among the victims, BBC News reported this month, is Ahmad Eshchi, a political rival of General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
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Dostum, the vice president and a former notorious warlord, previously worked with U.S. Special Forces and the CIA and has been linked to massacres. Eshchi told BBC, “[Dostum] told his guards, ‘Rape him until he bleeds and film it.’ They put a Kalashnikov [rifle] into my anus. I was screaming in pain.”
Dostum is in exile in Turkey, and the Afghan government has not investigated the claims.
Writing at the Guardian on Friday, Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, argues that a “criminal investigation of U.S. torture—and other serious crimes in Afghanistan—is long overdue.”
“To date,” she continues, “no high-level U.S. official from the civilian leadership, military, CIA, or private contractor has been prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. An ICC investigation could finally change that—bringing an end to the impunity U.S. officials have enjoyed and, critically, some measure of redress to victims of the U.S. torture program.”
“The ICC is deemed a court of last resort, the place to go when other courts in other countries have proved unable or unwilling to prosecute,” Gallagher adds. “The responsibility of U.S. parties for crimes related to the war in Afghanistan, for which impunity has reigned for nearly 15 years, is exactly the sort of case the ICC was designed to take on.”