“A bitter aftertaste”: a commentary to the ICC decisions on the situation in Afghanistan of April 12, 2019 and March 5, 2020

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Author: Kristina Russkikh

DOI: 10.21128/2226-2059-2020-2-47-65

Keywords: Afghanistan; crimes against humanity; International Criminal Court; the USA; war crimes


After years of preliminary examination of the situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the International Criminal Court on April 12, 2019 finally issued a decision, which, brought however more disappointment than contentment. For the first time in the Court's history, the Pre-Trial Chamber rejected the Prosecutor's request to open a full-scale investigation of the situation, even though the acts committed were found to be sufficiently serious and the admissibility requirements were also met. The Court's arguments turned out to be more political than legal: the lack of cooperation from the state, the long while since the crimes were committed, and the ICC’s limited resources. At the same time, since the Prosecutor requested to start an investigation, the US government has bluntly opposed it, threatening the Court and its employees with various types of sanctions. As a result, the decision was harshly criticized by legal scholars, lawyers and victims, and the ICC was accused of choosing “not to rile” a powerful state instead of firmly defending the interests of victims of international crimes. The Prosecutor appealed to the Court, and on March 5, 2020, the ICC Appeals chamber issued a decision completely opposite to the previous one. The Prosecutor was able to start an investigation of the situation, besides not being limited to specific episodes listed in his own request. This article aims to analyze the Court’s position in both cases, to assess political elements of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s argumentation and the prospects for further investigation. Possibly these two decisions should not be perceived as the black and the white, as completely unfounded and exceptionally commendable? The author refers to the Court’s previous practice of authorizing Prosecutor’s investigations initiated proprio motu and tries to understand how such an unpopular decision of 12 April 2019 could have been issued as such, and whether the problems of the ICC as an institution can be solved by simply ruling a “good” decision by the Appeals chamber?

About the author: Kristina Russkikh – LL.M., Lomonosov Moscow State University, LL.M., Aix-Marseille University; Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Russkikh K. (2020) “A osadochek ostalsya”: kommentariy k resheniyam Mezhdunarodnogo ugolovnogo suda ot 12 aprelya 2019 goda i ot 5 marta 2020 goda [“A bitter aftertaste”: a commentary to the ICC decisions on the situation in Afghanistan of April 12, 2019 and March 5, 2020]. Mezhdu­narodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.2, pp.47–65. (In Russian).


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