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.”


Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

Updated 23 September 2018
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Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

  • Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a ‘People’s Vote,’ or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU
  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as ‘for the birds’
LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party prefers a new election to a second referendum on Brexit, its leader said on Sunday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May whose plans for a deal with the EU have hit an impasse.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a “People’s Vote,” or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU.
But the political landscape has changed since May was ambushed by the European Union on Thursday over her plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit in Austria last week and chances of Britain exiting the bloc without a deal rising, Labour is under pressure to start setting the Brexit agenda.
Corbyn, a veteran euroskeptic who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said that while he would listen to a debate about any possible second vote on Britain’s membership, he preferred a snap election if May failed to get a deal that Labour could support in parliament.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“We would vote it down if it didn’t meet our tests in order to send the government, if it is still in office, straight back to the negotiating table and if there is a general election and we are in office we would go straight to the negotiating table.”
Corbyn’s close ally, Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, told the BBC any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘do we want to go back into the European Union?’” as that had been answered in the 2016 referendum.
Britain is to exit the EU in March. After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour on Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc’s leaders, one by one, came out to criticize May’s Chequers plans.
A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.
May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the prime minister’s country residence where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.
But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that May’s team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as “for the birds.” He said Britain would not “flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
“We are going to be resolute about this,” Raab added.
While saying she will stick to her guns, May might have little chance but to change tack after a party conference where the deep divisions over Europe that have riven her Conservatives for decades will be in plain sight.
A senior pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, Nicky Morgan, said May would have to give ground on trade and customs arrangements to overcome the biggest obstacle to a withdrawal accord — the prevention of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.
“I am not sure there is life left in Chequers,” Morgan, chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee and a former cabinet minister under May’s predecessor, told Sky News.
“We want to see a deal. The question I think that has to be answered now by the government, by the EU leaders, is what room for movement is there, how do we move on from where we ended up last week?”