Hague court turns down Afghan war crimes probe as US hails victory

National security advisor John Bolton called the ICC’s decision vindication of his long-standing opposition to the court

The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, unanimously rejected a prosecutor's request to proceed with a probe of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity following the US -led invasion of Afghanistan in early 2002.

According to a media release about the decision, the three judge panel "concluded that an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice".

The International Criminal Court has announced it will not pursue an investigation into alleged war crimes by USA troops and allies in Afghanistan.

The court decision also comes a month after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the USA would put visa restrictions of any ICC personnel seeking to investigate allegations of war crimes involving U.S. citizens.

According to the International Criminal Court, the request established a reasonable basis for investigation, however, the situation in Afghanistan has changed and much time has elapsed since the opening of the preliminary examination in 2006.

The White House also commented, calling the decision a "major worldwide victory" for the rule of law.

In early April, Bensouda's office and the State Department confirmed that her entry visa to the USA had been revoked.

The ICC's decision comes after the Trump administration threatened to take away the visas of officials seeking an investigation.

Bensouda, who says that the United States and Afghanistan have taken no steps to properly investigate alleged crimes, offered a measured response, with her office saying it would "analyse the decision and its implications, and consider all available legal remedies".

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This is in response to a request from ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2017, a prospect that USA officials have strongly criticized.

While Washington has pushed for the creation of ad-hoc global tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), the United States voted against the establishment of the ICC in 1998, and has refused to join or submit to its authority after the court was officially created in 2002.

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

On April 12, 2019, a pretrial chamber unanimously rejected the November 2017 request by the court's prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to investigate alleged crimes against humanity by the Taliban and alleged war crimes by Afghan National Security Forces and the USA military and Central Intelligence Agency. She said that the groups allegedly responsible for possible crimes are the Taliban and other armed groups, Afghan forces, and USA personnel.

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

Last week, she was denied entry to the United States, following a US government revocation of visas to ICC representatives.

In an unusual ruling, the ICC judges said Bensouda's case seemed to have met the court's criteria for jurisdiction and admissibility, but given an array of practical considerations that made chances of success remote, it did not make sense to pursue it further. "It sends a unsafe message to perpetrators that they can put themselves beyond the reach of the law just by being uncooperative".

The US has not ratified the Rome Statute, the piece of global law that established the ICC in 2002 in order to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of state aggression.

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