A new report by Amnesty International documents the inability of Afghan civilians to obtain justice for family members killed in attacks by NATO forces (Ian Davis, “Amnesty says no justice for Afghan civilians killed in US-NATO operations,” NATO Watch, 11 August 2014).
“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.
The report, Left in the Dark: Failures of Accountability for Civilian Casualties Caused by International Military Operations in Afghanistan, urges the Afghan government to ensure that accountability for illegal civilian killings is guaranteed in any forthcoming security agreements signed with NATO nations, particularly the United States.
Additionally, it calls for the Afghan government to establish its own mechanism to investigate allegations of abuses by the Afghan National Security Forces, which will take over all combat responsibilities by the end of the year.
The report contains three key conclusions: that Afghan civilians have nowhere to turn for justice; that the military justice system of foreign forces does not ensure accountability for these cases; and that the failure to properly address the grievances of Afghan civilians leaves behind a dangerous legacy of resentment.
Among a range of recommendations, the report specifically calls on NATO to carry out prompt, thorough and impartial fact-finding inquiries whenever there are plausible reports of civilian casualties caused by ISAF military operations, and release the results of these inquiries publicly.
The report focuses extensively on air strikes and night raids routinely conducted by U.S. forces. Its findings reveal an organization rife with impunity, such that even apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.
“None of the cases that we looked into – involving more than 140 civilian deaths – were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored,” said Bennett.
Official criminal investigations into the murder of civilians in Afghanistan are exceptionally rare. In their report, Amnesty documents just six known cases since 2009 in which U.S. military personnel have been put on trial.
International law does not label every civilian death that may occur in an armed conflict a legal breach. But if civilians are seen to have been deliberately targeted, or killed indiscriminately, or through a disproportionate attack, then the incident demands a prompt, thorough and impartial inquiry. If said inquiry indicates a transgression of the laws of war, then a prosecution should be launched.
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