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US war crimes in Afghanistan must be investigated, says Reprieve

A LEADING human rights organisation warned of “a dangerous new era of impunity” today as victims of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan challenged the International Criminal Court (ICC) on its refusal to open investigations.

The court was in session in The Hague last week, hearing an appeal against its decision not to hold an inquiry into the alleged abuses despite thousands testifying in preliminary investigations.

In April this year, the court made an unprecedented ruling that an investigation “would not serve the interests of justice.”

It said the refusal of states to co-operate, the difficulty in gathering evidence in Afghanistan and the time elapsed since the alleged crimes were behind its decision.

But the move had come just days after the US refused to issue a visa for ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said those involved in the investigations should not expect to be issued visas.

“We’re prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course,” he said at the time.

Human rights group Reprieve was in court on behalf of Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani taxi driver who was rendered to Afghanistan by the US and tortured for 540 days — including in the infamous “dark prison” near Kabul.

The appeal heard that the CIA torture and rendition programme “was designed to avoid any jurisdiction … The court’s decision leaves victims of the torture programme outside of the scope of the investigation with no remedy, no effective investigation, no accountability.”

A representative of three former United Nations rapporteurs said: “Declining to authorise an investigation because the relevant states refuse to co-operate is not in the interests of justice but, rather, supports impunity … It is precisely for situations like this that the ICC exists.”

The appeal comes as the US and Britain try to block investigations into abuses during the so-called war on terror.

The British government faces a legal challenge over failures to hold a judge-led inquiry into the allegations. US President Donald Trump has recently pardoned two military personnel convicted of war crimes.

Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “These victims have been denied justice in every domestic court available to them. The ICC represents their only hope of any kind of accountability for the terrible abuses they suffered.

“At a time when states are making concerted efforts to block investigations into torture, rendition and war crimes, its role as a court of last resort is more important than ever.

“Shutting down the prosecutor’s investigation would send an alarming signal that we are entering a dangerous new era of impunity.”

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