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16 Feb, 2018 13:24

‘Shocking’: Afghans make 1.17mn human rights abuse claims in 3 months

‘Shocking’: Afghans make 1.17mn human rights abuse claims in 3 months

The International Criminal Court (ICC) began collecting submissions of alleged war crimes from Afghan citizens three months ago. Since then, it has received over 1.17 million allegations, according to a report by The AP.

The statements were collected between November 20, 2017, and January 31, 2018, by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan who subsequently submitted them to the ICC. Claims of atrocities carried out by the Taliban, Islamic State, IS (formerly ISIS), Afghan security forces, government-affiliated warlords, the US-led coalition, as well as foreign and domestic intelligence agents were all submitted.

The total number of Afghans seeking justice could reach the millions but has yet to be definitively determined, as one statement might be made on behalf of multiple victims, while one organization may be responsible for thousands of such statements.

"It is shocking there are so many," Abdul Wadood Pedram of the Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organization said, as cited by The AP, noting that in some instances, whole villages had given statements. "It shows how the justice system in Afghanistan is not bringing justice for the victims and their families."

Pedram has had to go into hiding on multiple occasions over security concerns emanating from his work. Several warlords who rose to prominence amid the power vacuum left behind in the wake of the 2001 US-led intervention against the Taliban are among the alleged war criminals reported to the ICC.

"The warlords are all here. You have to be very careful," Pedram said. "In the morning, I kiss my little son goodbye, I kiss my wife goodbye because I don't know what will happen to me and when, or if I will see them again."

The ICC is the world's first permanent court established specifically to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. However, the ICC can investigate alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan only after May 2003, when the government ratified the Rome Statute which established the ICC.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has reportedly been seeking authorization to begin an investigation since last November. She told The AP the court has been looking into possible war crimes in Afghanistan since 2006.

Bensouda said in November 2017 that "there is a reasonable basis to believe" that the Taliban, the Haqqani network (an Afghan guerrilla insurgent group), the Afghan National Security Forces, National police and the country's spy agency, the NDS, had all committed some form of war crime. Bensouda also added that evidence existed of war crimes perpetrated "by members of the United States armed forces on the territory of Afghanistan, and by members of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in secret detention facilities in Afghanistan," which were operating mostly between 2003 and 2004.

Bensouda also decried the "near total impunity" enjoyed by armed forces, both foreign and domestic, operating in Afghanistan. The US is not a member state of the ICC but American citizens can be charged with atrocities committed in member countries. The US State Department said at the time of Bensouda's announcement that it opposes the court's involvement in Afghanistan.

A man named only as Shoaib spoke to the Associated Press about his own alleged experience of war crimes in Afghanistan. His father was reportedly travelling through the Ghor Province in 2014 when his bus was stopped by a band of gunmen. All of the passengers were forced off the bus and ordered to show their identity cards. The 14 Shiites among them were then summarily executed one by one.

A Taliban commander was later arrested in connection with the incident but no trial or punishment were ever reported despite widespread media coverage and national outrage. "Everybody knows that they have connection in the government," Shoaib said. "I think in Afghanistan, if you have money, then you can give it to anyone, anywhere, to do anything."

The AP report comes just one day after the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its annual report on civilian casualties in the country. There were more 10,000 civilian casualties reported in 2017 with a total of 3,438 people killed and 7,015 wounded.

Roughly two-thirds of all casualties were attributed to anti-government forces: 42 percent to the Taliban, 10 percent to IS and 13 percent to other anti-government elements.  

ICC judges in The Hague have yet to determine whether they will launch a war crimes investigation. There has been no guidance given on when such an investigation might be launched.

RT.com has contacted Human Rights and Eradication of Violence Organization (HREVO) and the ICC for comment.

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