International prosecutors and victims of violence in Afghanistan began a “historic” appeal on Wednesday against a decision to block a probe into war crimes that include possible offenses by U.S. forces.
The International Criminal Court rejected a demand by its chief prosecutor in April to investigate crimes committed in the war-torn nation since 2003.
“This is a historic day for accountability in Afghanistan,” said Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 victims, as a three-day hearing opened.
The decision to deny prosecutors an investigation in Afghanistan “without exaggeration, denies victims everything,” she added.
The United States, which has never ratified the ICC’s founding Rome Statute, has been at loggerheads with the Hague-based ICC since its creation in 2002.
Shortly after the establishment of the court, the U.S. Congress passed legislation granting the president authority to invade the Netherlands should any American service member or official be tried at The Hauge.
President Donald Trump‘s administration has bitterly opposed an Afghan probe, threatening to deny visas to ICC members involved in investigating U.S. troops.
Earlier this year it revoked the visa of the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Gambian-born Fatou Bensouda.
Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow will appear before the ICC to “defend the rights of U.S. soldiers,” the American Center for Law and Justice said in a statement.
ICC prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation in 2006 into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan, and Bensouda requested a full-blown probe in 2017.
But judges turned down the prosecutor’s request in April, saying it “would not serve the interests of justice” and that the court should focus on cases that had a better chance of success.
Wednesday’s hearings opened with technical arguments to decide whether victims would be allowed to take part in the appeal.
Rights groups denounced April’s decision to block an investigation as a blow for thousands of victims in the long-running conflict, warning that impunity could embolden perpetrators around the world.
Prosecutors not only wanted to examine alleged crimes by the Taliban and Afghan soldiers but also by international forces, including U.S. troops and the CIA.