How many countries have the war crimes violated?

War crimes in Afghanistan - Western democracies must fully investigate the acts of their soldiers

An investigation points to serious crimes committed by elite Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. All Western countries in this conflict have a duty to fully investigate such events and to punish the guilty.

It is part of war that people are killed. Soldiers are allowed to wipe out an opponent's life without being punished. But martial law sets clear limits: civilians must be spared just as much as enemy fighters who have been injured, have surrendered or have been captured. Otherwise it is a war crime.

In theory, that's clear. And yet again and again cases are known where soldiers grossly violate these fundamental rules. Also members of well-organized armies who instruct their soldiers and officers in matters of martial law.

Australia is currently having to come to terms with the realization that its armed forces are not as honorable as they are often portrayed to be. Everything indicates that between 2009 and 2013 elite Australian soldiers killed a total of 39 civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan. This is the conclusion of a multi-year investigation of the armed forces.

The silence and looking away lasted too long

Rumors of possible Australian war crimes have been around for a long time. But the soldiers of the conspiratorial elite troops stubbornly remained silent, the higher ranks showed little interest in an explanation, the politicians looked away for far too long.

Even if many details have been blacked out in the report published on Thursday for reasons of secrecy, this is a milestone. It is also positive that the government is appointing a special investigator to initiate criminal investigations and, if necessary, to bring charges against the accused soldiers. However, a judgment can only be expected in many years.

It is unlikely that all crimes can be solved completely. Nevertheless, western states have a moral obligation to strive to do just that. If soldiers from democratic countries in Afghanistan could target and kill civilians with impunity, they would be little better than Afghan terrorists who randomly blow up innocent people.

The West has come up to free Afghanistan from the barbarism of the Taliban - it must also prove that it is morally superior.

This applies not only to Australia, but also to all other Western countries that have fought and fought in Afghanistan. The United States has a special responsibility. You led the war in Afghanistan, provided by far the largest contingent of troops and participated in most of the fighting. The fact that President Donald Trump wants to withdraw most of the troops before the end of his term in office does not change that.

Australia is ahead of the ICC

In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) cleared the way for an investigation into suspected war crimes in Afghanistan. The ICC is also targeting members of the American armed forces and the CIA secret service. The United States, which is not itself a member of the ICC, reacted indignantly. In June, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on several representatives of the ICC and their family members.

But the ICC only acts on a subsidiary basis, i.e. only if the national courts of the respective country remain inactive. In the case of Afghanistan, he came to the conclusion that the Afghan judiciary was doing too little to solve possible war crimes. So he stepped in.

The fact that Australia is not waiting for the ICC and that it is voluntarily trying to clear up a dark chapter in the history of its armed forces is very welcome. Hopefully the announced legal investigation will be carried out consistently and independently. In this way Australia can show that it takes responsibility for the actions and possible crimes of its soldiers. The US and the other partners in the war in Afghanistan should do the same.