ICC prosecutor eyes possible Afghanistan war crimes

UNITED NATIONS Wed Sep 9, 2009 7:26pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court said on Wednesday that he was gathering information about possible war crimes committed by NATO soldiers and insurgents in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a signatory of the treaty that established The Hague-based ICC, and any war crime committed on its territory by Afghan nationals or foreigners is of interest to the court, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters.

"What we are trying to assess is ... different types of allegations, including massive attacks, collateral damage exceeding what is considered proper, and torture," he said.

Moreno-Ocampo said the ICC had received "allegations from many different sources" that he was looking into in Afghanistan. If the preliminary examination shows grounds, a full investigation would be then launched.

He also said the court was continuing to gather information about possible war crimes committed during Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip in December-January, last year's Russia-Georgia war and in Colombia.

Moreno-Ocampo added that his preliminary examination of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan was "exceedingly complex" and time-consuming because of the difficulty of gathering information there. But he said non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in the country have been helping him out.

WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS

He declined to provide details on what incidents the ICC was looking into but said officials were examining the actions of coalition forces, Taliban and al Qaeda. He also said there was no certainty they would ask the court to charge anyone.

"Before we open an investigation, my office has a duty to conduct preliminary examinations to define exactly whether or not I should open an investigation," Moreno-Ocampo said.

Last week a NATO air strike in Afghanistan killed scores of civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the strike, which was called in by a German officer, as a major "error of judgment."

Afghan officials have previously complained about what they said were heavy civilian death tolls caused by unwarranted NATO air strikes.

NATO officials have accused Taliban and al Qaeda of various criminal acts in Afghanistan, including attacking schools and kidnapping and murdering aid workers and other innocent civilians.

Rights groups have also charged that members of the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush authorized the use of torture in Afghan jails after a U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban government. The invasion followed al Qaeda's attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.

Bush administration officials have denied the charge.

Moreno-Ocampo added that there would be no need for an ICC investigation if the Afghan authorities launch credible proceedings of their own, unless Kabul or the U.N. Security Council specifically ask the court to get involved.

The United States has the most troops in Afghanistan. It is not a member of the ICC and U.S. officials have long insisted that American soldiers abroad should be subject to U.S. law, not international treaties.

Members of President Barack Obama's administration have spoken more positively about the court than their predecessors, but analysts say it is doubtful U.S. lawmakers would ever agree to give a foreign court blanket jurisdiction over U.S. troops.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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