International court says it’s ‘undeterred’ by US threats

Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that a blistering US attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan. (File Photo / AFP)
Updated 11 September 2018
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International court says it’s ‘undeterred’ by US threats

ISLAMABAD: Afghan rights workers warned Tuesday that a blistering US attack on the International Criminal Court investigating war crimes allegations will strengthen a climate of impunity in Afghanistan, prolong the war and embolden those committing acts of violence.
In a speech Monday, US National Security Adviser John Bolton said Washington would not cooperate with The Hague-based court and threatened it with sanctions, saying it put US sovereignty and national security at risk.
The CIA and US forces have been accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan.
“It’s very unfortunate because delivering justice to victims will help to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan,” said Sima Samar, head of Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission. “Justice is not a luxury. It is a basic human right.”
In The Hague, the ICC said it will continue to do its work “undeterred,” despite Bolton’s condemnation.
The court said in a statement that it was established by a treaty supported by 123 countries. It says it prosecuted cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so “genuinely.” Afghanistan is a signatory.
During a three-month period that ended in January, the court received a staggering 1.7 million allegations of war crimes from Afghanistan, although some of those accusations involved entire villages.
Still, thousands of individual statements as well as those filed on behalf of multiple victims were received by the ICC in The Hague. The statements were collected by organizations based in Europe and Afghanistan.
Bolton’s speech came as an ICC judge was expected to announce a decision soon on a request from prosecutors to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants as well as US forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.
While the Bolton speech “was shocking in many parts,” Washington was not expected to embrace the investigation, said Amal Nasser, permanent representative of the International Federation of Human Rights to the ICC.
Still, “the ICC prosecutor has not hesitated before in demonstrating that it will prosecute major powers,” Nasser said.
“I think what the US is promoting is a sense of the ‘righteousness’ and being above the law,” she said in an email interview, noting the ICC has yet to decide whether there will be an investigation or its scope.
The 181-page prosecution request, dated November 2017, said “information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that members of United States of America armed forces and members of the Central Intelligence Agency committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period.”
Washington’s unequivocal rejection of the court seems likely to embolden Afghanistan’s US-backed government, which refused Tuesday to respond directly to Bolton’s outburst, but similarly dismissed war crimes allegations against Afghan National Security Forces as well as its intelligence agency.
President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesman, Shahussain Murtazawi, said the Taliban, the Daesh affiliate and as many as 21 other anti-government groups have committed war crimes. He dismissed allegations against Afghan security forces, saying “government forces are always trying to save the people. It is the insurgents who are the killers of civilians.”
The prosecutor’s request says there is “a reasonable basis to believe that members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), in particular members of the National Directorate for Security (NDS) and the Afghan National Police (ANP), have engaged in systemic patterns of torture and cruel treatment of conflict-related detainees in Afghan detention facilities, including acts of sexual violence.”
For human rights activists in Afghanistan, Bolton’s assault dealt a punishing blow to their efforts to end a culture of impunity that has hampered efforts to bring those who committed crimes to justice.
“The solution to put an end to war is by making everyone accountable, whether it is the Taliban or the Haqqani network or whether it is the Americans or the Afghan army or Afghan government,” said Ehsan Qaane, of the Kabul-based Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which represents 26 organizations working in Afghanistan.
The coordination group helped many who wanted to file a claim with the international court.
Victims need to see justice done if they are to begin to heal, Qaane said. He added that some insurgents turned to the Taliban after being detained, tortured and released. Their fight is more about revenge than ideology, he said.
“These people will perhaps stop fighting if they feel they have justice,” Qaane said.
Samar said rights groups cannot dispense justice.
“There is a difference between a human rights defender and a judge,” thus the need for the ICC, she said in a telephone interview. “My concern is that to deny justice is to deny a basic human right and human dignity.”


Afghans vote in crucial parliamentary elections, amid attacks, major irregularities reported

Updated 20 October 2018
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Afghans vote in crucial parliamentary elections, amid attacks, major irregularities reported

  • Scores of people, including 10 candidates, have died in a series of attacks by Taliban and Daesh in recent months
  • Initial results of the vote will be released in three weeks’ time

KABUL: Afghans cast their vote on Saturday for a new parliament despite numerous attacks in several parts of the country, including Kabul, and amid reports of widespread irregularities.
Initial results of the vote, delayed by more than three years because of a power struggle in the government, will be released in three weeks’ time.
Final results will be published after two months.
The ballot is regarded as crucial for the stability of Afghanistan, wracked by more than four decades of war, foreign interventions and tribal rift.
The latest poll is the third for choosing a legislative body since the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.
Many candidates are young and educated men and women who want to replace current MPs at the house, regarded as one dominated by corrupt elements and factional members as Taliban and Daesh spread their attacks in the country.
The Taliban guerrillas had threatened to disrupt the process, conducted various attacks, including firing mortars, suicide raids and bomb blasts near some polling stations, including in at least five areas of Kabul.
There were reports of some casualties among voters and security forces.
“Today, we proved together that we uphold democracy with casting out ballots without fear, we honor the sacrifices of the fallen,” President Ashraf Ghani told reporters after casting his vote in a highly protected school near the presidential palace in Kabul.
Cases of widespread irregularities across the country were reported by journalists, locals and even government officials.
They include late opening of sites, lack of knowledge of some election works in recording votes and use of biometric devices, aimed at reducing fraud, which is another major concern apart from security threats.
Observers and media were barred from visiting some sites. Some stations did not open at all. The country’s second Chief Executive, Mohammad Mohaqiq, openly said that at least 22 stations did not open at all in only two areas in Kabul city itself.
Simar Soresh, a spokesman for the election commission, confirmed that some sites remained closed owing to “technical challenges,” vowing to prolong voting hours when they open.
Many blamed the government appointed elections body for the shortcomings. The body has faced organizational problems and a rift owing to a power struggle among government leaders.
Some frustrated voters even went back home after waiting for hours for the opening of polling stations in Kabul.
In one such station, a policeman asked voters if they knew the voting process so he could let the station open. In northern Maimana, people complained that there were no biometric devices in place.
In others, voters said they could not find their names on the books where they had registered months before during the registration process. It would take at least five minutes for a voter to cast a vote.
One journalist covering the event closely described the situation as “Mismanagement and chaos across the country.”
“This is just a joke, I am leaving. I came to vote despite the Taliban warning, but you see the mess and confusion and heard the blasts. It is not worth dying for this because the process is not handled properly,” Zaman Khan, a bewildered voter in a central area of Kabul, told Arab News.
The irregularities that led to closure and caused slow voting process are seen as a further blow to the voting, which is funded by donors’ money.
The government already had said it could not open some 2,000 sites because of security threats.
Scores of people, including 10 candidates, have died in a series of attacks by Taliban and Daesh in recent months.
The government delayed the holding of the polls in the historically important southern Kandahar for a week after an attack that killed its powerful police chief and intelligence head.
Bilal Sarwary, a candidate from eastern Kunar, said like some other parts of the country, there were “high irregularities” during the voting there.
“Some sites opened very late. The biometric system did not work in some sites and in others they were slow or election workers did not know how to use them,” he told Arab News by phone.
“Some state officials interfered in some sites; there were no voting papers in some areas. Overall there were irregularities and confusion. It is a pity that with the sacrifice and so much money, irregularities marred the process.”