By David Bosco
The horrendous Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar–which appears to have taken the lives of more than one hundred children–raises the question of whether any form of international accountability is available for Taliban crimes. Pakistan is not a member of the International Criminal Court and is highly unlikely to give the court jurisdiction of any kind. It’s also unlikely the UN Security Council would refer the situation to the court. But that doesn’t mean that the Taliban are immune from international justice.
Broad ICC jurisdiction in neighboring Afghanistan at least makes prosecuting similar crimes by Taliban forces there a possibility (the Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban are distinct but cooperate in several respects). The latest update from the ICC prosecutor’s office identified several categories of Taliban crimes in Afghanistan that it would likely pursue. The first included attacks on a broad range of civilians associated with the Afghan government and international forces in the country. The prosecutor also identified a policy of attacking schools educating women as another likely basis for investigation and prosecution:
A second potential case against the Taliban relates to attacks on girls’ education (i.e., female students, teachers and their schools). The Taliban allegedly target female students and girls’ schools pursuant to their policy that girls should stop attending school past puberty. The Office has received information on multiple alleged incidents of attacks against girls’ education, which have resulted in the destruction of school buildings, thereby depriving more than 3,000 girls from attending schools and in the poisoning of more than 1,200 female students and teachers.
While the attribution of specific incidents to the Taliban, and in particular the Taliban central leadership remains challenging, there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Taliban committed the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education, cultural objects, places of worship and similar institutions.
Many commentators (myself included) have focused on possible U.S. exposure if the ICC launches a full investigation in Afghanistan. But it is very clear that the Taliban would be the court’s first target, and the attack in Peshawar might just increase pressure on the prosecutor to accelerate an international investigation.