Mark Townsend / The Observer & Associated Pess – 2010-09-27 00:07:32
Former UN Official Demands Investigation into Coalition Link to Deaths Revealed by WikiLeaks
Call for ‘Gaza Style’ Inquiry on Afghan Deaths
LONDON (September 26. 2010) â€“ A United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan should be launched to identify and prosecute individuals responsible, says a former top-ranking UN official on extrajudicial killings.
Philip Alston called for the UN Human Rights Council to investigate the “conduct of the war” in Afghanistan amid rising concern over the level of civilian casualties caused by coalition forces, including Britain, and by the Taliban. It should be modeled, he said, on the inquiry into Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip.
In his first interview since stepping down last month after six years as the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Alston said the lack of prosecutions concerning alleged war crimes was a major cause of concern because of the large number of Afghan civilians killed in the conflict.
“If states are not carrying out reasonably neutral investigations and prosecutions of what appear to be serious violations, it does leave open the possibility that the international community should be intervening in some way.
“An interesting proposal, but one that would draw disdain, no doubt, would be for some sort of international inquiry into the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, along the lines of Gaza. Otherwise, who is going to do a thorough investigation and track down where the decisions were actually taken?”
Last year’s contentious UN investigation into Israel’s campaign in the Gaza Strip found evidence that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes. Yet the failure of the European Union and the US to endorse the inquiry triggered claims by human rights groups that western powers would pursue war crimes violations only when it suited them.
More than 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed in armed violence and security incidents in the first six months of the year, although most deaths are attributable to the Taliban. A number of instances of alleged civilian killings by British forces in Afghanistan were recently revealed in secret military files published by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. They chronicled 21 separate occasions on which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians â€“ identifying at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last night that no British soldier had been prosecuted in relation to operations in Afghanistan.
The call by Alston, an international law scholar who reported regularly to the UN Human Rights Council, came as sources indicated that UK officials had been contacted by the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court over how the British military investigated war crime allegations.
Afghanistan is a signatory of the treaty that established the Hague-based ICC, which means that any war crime committed on its territory by Afghan nationals or foreigners is relevant to the court. Sources said the UK is among a number of Nato states contacted by the ICC as part of a “preliminary examination” into whether there is sufficient evidence to launch a full war crimes investigation.
Alston said the refusal of the US to become an ICC signatory meant that an inquiry by the Human Rights Council offered a reasonable alternative. He admitted that the controversial nature of the UN investigation into Gaza meant that any debate over a similar venture into Afghanistan would need “to be separated from the single most contentious inquiry undertaken in recent years”. He added: “The problem is that the ICC can’t hold the Taliban to account, and nor can they hold the Americans to account in any practical sense.”
Saman Zia-Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific programme, said the Gaza inquiry made sense because Israel was not an ICC signatory. But in relation to Afghanistan public pressure and “legal jurisprudence” could still mean the ICC was the best authority to investigate serious allegations in Afghanistan. He said: “I think the most appropiate forum is the criminal court.”
An MoD spokesman said: “The protection of the Afghan civilian population is at the core of our military strategy. We have strict procedures, frequently updated in the light of experience.”
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4 Believed Killed in Suspected US Air Strikes
MIR ALI, Pakistan (September 26, 2010) — Suspected US missiles targeted a vehicle Saturday in northwestern Pakistan, killing four alleged militants, intelligence officials said. It was the 17th such attack this month — the most intense barrage since the air strikes began in 2004.
Shortly before the attack, the vehicle left a militant hideout in Datta Khel, a town in the North Waziristan tribal area that is controlled by insurgents focused on attacking NATO troops in Afghanistan, the two intelligence officials said.
It is not clear exactly why the attacks have spiked, but most of this month’s strikes have targeted forces led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a commander who was once supported by Pakistan and the United States during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Haqqani has since turned against the United States, and American military officials have said his network — now effectively led by his son, Sirajuddin — presents one of the greatest threats to foreign forces in Afghanistan. Another militant commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and his forces also hold sway in North Waziristan.
The intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Washington wants Islamabad to launch an army offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan. Analysts believe Pakistan is resisting because it wants to maintain its historic relationship with the groups, which could be an ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. Without a Pakistani offensive, the United States has had to rely on CIA-operated drone strikes to target the Haqqani network, which also has bases in eastern Afghanistan.
The 17 missile strikes this month have killed nearly 85 people since Sept. 2, according to an Associated Press tally.
US officials do not publicly acknowledge the missile strikes but have said privately they have killed several senior militants in the region that is largely out of the control of the Pakistani state.
Â© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
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