Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 12 rejected a request to open an investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan. The request by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda was turned down by Pre-Trial Chamber II, which decided that pursuing this investigation would not be an efficient use of the court's resources. The statement from the Pre-Trial Chamber noted that the prosecutor has not obtained cooperation from sources in Afghanistan, which bodes poorly for any further investigation. The decision also came four days after the US State Department revoked the entry visa for Fatou Bensouda. In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US would deny visas to ICC personnel investigating any allegations against the US or its allies. Bensouda had been making inquiries into allegations of war crimes against all participants in the Afghanistan conflict since the fall of 2017.
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"
More than 60 were killed in US air-strikes that targeted "a known al-Shabaab encampment" near southern Somalia's Gandarshe town Dec. 15-6. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) asserted that no civilians were killed and that the strikes were launched to "prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks." These were the deadliest air-strikes in Somalia since November 2017 when the US said it killed 100 militants. The targeting of Shabaab increased after March 2017, when the Trump administration loosened restrictions on the US military to use force against the insurgent army. The US military has now struck Shabaab targets 45 times in 2018, compared with 31 times last year. The US has a huge military base in neighboring Djibouti, from where it launches air-raids on the militants. (Long War Journal, BBC News)
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a statistical report on the number of Syrian war victims on the occasion of World Human Rights Day Dec. 10. The statistics show that 560,000 people have been killed since March 2011, including civilians, soldiers, rebel fighters, and "martyrs" who died under torture in the regime prisons. The Observatory found: "Over 93 months...Syrians have been crushed between the jaws of death, with each day declaring a decrease in their numbers..." The Observatory documented the deaths of 104,000 Syrians in the regime's prisons, likely under torture in most cases, with 83% executed in these prisons between May 2013 and October 2015. In this period, 30,000 were killed in Saydnaya prison alone, according to the Observatory. The remainder of the total were killed in fighting, with civilians constituting a large plurality at 111,330. The rest were from various armed factions.
The US-led Coalition's ongoing failure to admit to—let alone adequately investigate—the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a "slap in the face" for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust ISIS. On Oct. 17, 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the Coalition's Kurdish-led partners on the ground—announced victory over ISIS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price—almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by Coalition bombardment. In a letter to Amnesty on Sept. 10, 2018, the US Department of Defense made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa, and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.
Yemen war crime investigators on Sept. 25 called upon the UN Human Rights Council to renew their mandate and allow the continued inquiry into Yemen's internal conflict, calling the situation in the county "extremely alarming." The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in their initial report (PDF), released in August, found evidence that "members of the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi armed group have been committing abuses, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, arbitrary and abusive detention, and recruitment of children." At the time of the report, the experts recommended that their mandate be renewed. However, Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have pressed the council to discontinue the inquiry.
The White House announced Sept. 10 that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC.
A UN human rights panel report released Aug. 28 suggests that parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have been perpetuating crimes under international law. The Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen was appointed (PDF) by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country, as well as to examine all alleged violations and crimes of international law to occur since the war began in September 2014. The report concluded that air-strikes carried out by the government of Yemen and its coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have caused a majority of the civilian casualties. Other violations included persistent sexual violence and enlistment of young children into the armed forces of both sides in the war.