ICC prosecutor urges all sides in Afghanistan to respect humanitarian law

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FILE PHOTO: Defence Counsel for Kenya's Deputy President Ruto, Khan attends a news conference at the ICC in The Hague
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By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Tuesday called on all parties in the Afghanistan conflict to respect humanitarian law.

In a statement, Karim Khan noted that his office may exercise jurisdiction over any genocide, crime against humanity or war crime committed in Afghanistan since it joined the court in 2003.

"I call on all parties to the hostilities to fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by ensuring the protection of civilians," Khan said, adding that he was concerned about reports of revenge killings and persecution of women and girls.

Khan's call came after U.N. chief Antonio Guterres voiced similar concerns and the U.N. Security Council on Monday called for an end to fighting in Afghanistan.

Khan became ICC prosecutor in June, inheriting a long-running probe by his predecessor Fatou Bensouda into possible crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2003 onwards. Those included alleged killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities, and by U.S. forces and the CIA in 2003-4.

However, the court only approved a formal investigation in March of 2020 - prompting then U.S. President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Bensouda.

In May, the government of Afghanistan asked Bensouda to drop her investigation, arguing that it was already conducting its own, mostly focusing on alleged Taliban crimes.

Under ICC rules, the court only has power to prosecute crimes committed on the territory of member states when they are unwilling or unable to do so themselves.

It is not yet clear how Khan will proceed with the existing investigation.

(Reporting by Stephanie van der Berg and Toby Sterling; Editing by Jon Boyle and Alex Richardson)

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