The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague rejected the request of the prosecutor for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Afghanistan, the ICC announced on Friday.
The court acknowledged that there was a "reasonable basis to believe" that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC's Rome Statute had been committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan forces, and United States personnel.
Due to its prioritization of investigative inquiries, the court has decided that pursuing this investigation would not be an efficient use of its resources.
"The International Criminal Court's judges' rejection of an Afghanistan investigation is a devastating blow for victims who have suffered grievous crimes without redress", said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. "If anything, the court's reluctance to proceed with investigations in the face of such constraints only reveals its overreach and signals its weak resolve", said Biraj Patnaik.
In a phone interview from Kabul, she told The Associated Press that it risks emboldening the perpetrators of crimes in Afghanistan, who were "at least a little fearful" of facing justice.
The court's decision acknowledges that 680 of the almost 700 applications from victims "welcomed the prospect of an investigation aimed at bringing culprits to justice, preventing crime and establishing the truth". It began its formal examination into Afghanistan in November 2017.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Bensouda last month to "change course" or face US sanctions, however, declaring that the US was determined to protect its troops and civilians from "living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation".
In 2006, Bensouda's predecessor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, opened an examination into alleged war crimes by all parties in the conflict in Afghanistan, including the possible role of US personnel in relation to the detention of suspects.
The US has said that it would not cooperate with the ICC and revoked Bensouda's visa to enter the country.
Some critics view the court's decision as a sign that it bowed to USA pressure.
This is a major global victory, not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law.
"Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response", the US president said.
Last week, Washington canceled the entry visa of ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, saying that anyone who dared investigate United States military or intelligence personnel would face the same fate.
The US has not ratified the Rome Statute, the piece of worldwide law that established the ICC in 2002 in order to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of state aggression.
Many African Union countries have expressed support for ousted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who continued to travel widely in Africa and the Middle East despite being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant issued in 2009.
"With this decision, people will lose hope of getting justice and they might take revenge, fueling conflict in the country", she said.
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