Morning Brief

ICC Authorizes Afghanistan War Crimes Inquiry

The court ruling paves the way for prosecutors to investigate the Taliban, Afghan military, and U.S. forces.

A soldier with the Afghan National Army keeps watch from an outpost near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan on March 29, 2014.
A soldier with the Afghan National Army keeps watch from an outpost near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan on March 29, 2014. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The International Criminal Court tells prosecutors to begin a war crimes inquiry in Afghanistan, Israeli opposition parties try to force Netanyahu out, China predicts Wuhan will see zero new coronavirus infections by April, and experts and officials say South Sudan’s peace deal isn’t likely to work.

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ICC Gives Green Light to Afghanistan War Crimes Investigation

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has authorized prosecutors to investigate whether the Taliban, the Afghan military, and U.S. troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014. The move paves the way for a complete investigation into crimes, including alleged mass killings of civilians and torture—despite angry opposition from the United States, which has never been a member of the ICC. Afghanistan, which is a member, has said it would prefer local prosecution.

The move comes just days after the United States and the Taliban inked a deal that sets up a U.S. troop drawdown and peace talks between the militant group and the Afghan government, though disputes remain. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the decision. “It is all the more reckless for this ruling to come just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan—the best chance for peace in a generation,” he said.

Is a trial viable? The ruling on Thursday by an appeals chamber reversed a lower court’s decision that stopped an investigation. While the decision is the first by the ICC that could make U.S. forces defendants in a war crimes prosecution, the United States still does not recognize its jurisdiction. The pre-trial panel that rejected Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request last year said the chances of success were low, given the U.S. and Afghan positions.

What about the peace deal? Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are scheduled to begin next week, but there are already obstacles to peace. President Ashraf Ghani has rejected the group’s demand to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners—though his main political rival, Abdullah Abdullah supports it. The resumption of violence in Afghanistan is also threatening the peace deal, as Stefanie Glinski reports for FP.

What We’re Following Today

Benjamin Netanyahu’s future. Despite initially celebrating a “great victory” after his Likud party won 36 of 120 seats in the March 2 parliamentary election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now facing serious obstacles to forming a governing coalition. His right-wing bloc won just 58 seats in total—short of the 61 needed for a majority—and hawkish members of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party, which won 33 seats, announced in a reversal that they would accept support from the predominantly Arab Joint List, which won 15.

Crucially, Netanyahu’s onetime ally Avigdor Lieberman also appears amenable to such an arrangement. His right-wing secular party, along with center-left parties, could give Gantz the numbers he needs to form a government—even if it is a short-lived one focused on prohibiting Netanyahu from leading the country while under indictment. If Likud goes into opposition, a competition to succeed Netanyahu as party leader is likely; party insiders seem confident that any Gantz-led coalition would be short-lived and a Likud party led by someone else could win the next election in a landslide.

China says Wuhan will see zero new infections. Chinese health experts said Thursday that the number of new coronavirus infections in Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, could drop to zero by the end of the month. Still, the city has reported new cases are currently on the rise—and Chinese officials are under increasing pressure to show that things are getting back to normal amid the outbreak, as FP’s James Palmer writes. As the number of new cases in China falls overall, many cities fear reinfection and have now instituted quarantines for people arriving from countries with severe outbreaks.

Will South Sudan’s peace deal collapse? On Feb. 22, a coalition government between the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar was formed, supposedly to end the bloody civil war that began in 2013. Since the conflict broke out, there have been dozens of failed cease-fires and peace deals between the two men. Despite publicly supporting it, officials and experts say that the latest deal backs the same power-sharing model that hasn’t worked before—and it isn’t likely to work now, Justin Lynch and FP’s Robbie Gramer report.

Russia, Turkey agree to Idlib cease-fire. After six hours of talks in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib province on Thursday. It’s not the first such agreement, but this time tensions had reached a breaking point between Russia and Turkey, which back different sides in the conflict. The Syrian government offensive has also fueled a humanitarian crisis, displacing nearly 1 million Syrians. The cease-fire took effect at midnight local time.

Keep an Eye On

Canada and the monarchy. As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, prepare to leave their royal roles behind for Canada, republican-minded Canadians are again questioning why their country remains a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth as head of state. But there seems to be little urgency to change the system—it would require rewriting Canada’s constitution, Stéphanie Fillion writes in FP.

Guyana’s political crisis. The South American nation of Guyana held an election on Monday that will determine who will get to manage a recent oil boom that has deepened ethnic tensions. Before official results were released, both sides claimed victory. Now, the country’s opposition leader has accused the elections commission of fraud after incumbent President David Granger was declared the winner.

In 2018, Micah Maidenberg and Manuela Andreoni warned in Foreign Policy that “Guyana’s oil windfall could easily convert the country’s dreams into a living nightmare, one that leaves it with greater inequality, more corruption, and internal strife.”

Trump-Bolsonaro meeting. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday. The meeting, which has been kept confidential by the Brazilian government, will be closed to the press. Economics could be on the agenda: Numbers released this week showed Brazil’s economy growing at the slowest pace in three years.

Odds and Ends

The mayor of Easter Island is calling for vehicles to be restricted around its famous stone statues after a pickup truck crashed into one on Sunday. The Polynesian island, a Chilean territory, has around 1,000 of the ancient figures—known as moai. In recent years, the local community has fought to preserve the sacred structures. The driver of the truck has been charged with damaging a national monument.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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