0221 GMT December 12, 2019
The ICC opened a three-day hearing on Wednesday at which prosecutors and victims aim to overturn a decision scrapping the proposed investigation into alleged crimes in Afghanistan's brutal conflict.
Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 Afghan victims, called it a historic day for accountability in Afghanistan, AP reported.
ICC judges in April rejected the request of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to examine atrocities allegedly committed in the conflict between 2003 and 2004, including by US troops, Afghan forces, and the Taliban, Reuters reported.
Judges argued that a successful prosecution was unlikely.
The prosecution has appealed that decision and is arguing the case in three days of hearings before a panel of appeals judges in The Hague.
Lawyer Fergal Gaynor called the hearings “a historic day for accountability in Afghanistan”. The 82 victims he represented were “united” in wanting an investigation, he said.
About 20,000 foreign troops, most of them American, are now in Afghanistan as part of a US-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.
The Taliban continue to stage major attacks against Afghan forces and people while they were engaged in the dialogue with the United States to negotiate an end to the 18-year-long war that the US-led coalition launched in 2001 under the guise of the war on terror.
More than 32,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations.
Trump has denounced the ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes court, for its “broad, unaccountable, prosecutorial powers”. Washington revoked US travel visas for ICC personnel in response to its work on Afghanistan.
Another legal representative of victims, Katherine Gallagher, who acts for two Guantanamo Bay detainees, stressed that so far no high-level US official has been held accountable for alleged violations of the rules of war in Afghanistan or at CIA “black” sites.
“The opening of an investigation into the US torture program would make clear that no one is above the law,” she told judges.
Prosecutors have cited preliminary evidence suggesting that international forces in Afghanistan, including employees of the US Central Intelligence Agency, mentally and physically abused detainees, which could constitute a war crime.
The ICC, which opened in 2002, has jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity if they have been committed by nationals of a signatory state or if they took place on the territory of one of its members. Afghanistan is a member, the United States is not.
The ICC is also only empowered to act when a country is found to be unable or unwilling to examine misdeeds by its own military and leaders. It has struggled due to opposition from the United States, Russia, and China.