Operation Burnham minute shows inquiry willing to travel to Afghanistan

2:51 pm on 7 June 2019

Afghan villagers at the centre of the Operation Burnham Inquiry may finally get a chance to have their voices heard in person.

NZDF pers training with Australian counterparts at RAAF Edinburgh Base

The inquiry follows allegations published in the book 'Hit and Run'. Photo: NZDF

The inquiry is investigating allegations in the book, Hit and Run, that six civilians were killed in Afghanistan during a New Zealand-led operation in 2010, and the military covered up what happened.

Author Nicky Hager listening to Kristy McDonald QC during her submissions at the Operation Burnham Inquiry at the High Court in Wellington.

Hit and Run co-author Nicky Hager Photo: Pool / NZ Herald / Mark Mitchell

In an earlier minute released in April, the inquiry said it was logistically challenging, time-consuming and expensive to go interview the villagers.

However, in a minute released this week, the inquiry has changed its stance after receiving submissions.

It has suggested two alternative options if safety allowed.

"The first is that inquiry could take evidence from the villagers in Afghanistan in person; the second is that their evidence could be taken by way of video link to the inquiry in New Zealand."

"Assuming that the necessary permissions could be obtained, a member of the inquiry could travel to Kabul to take the evidence of the Afghan villagers."

The minute said the interviews would be held in Kabul "during [withheld] 2019, if it can be arranged."

It said the second option of a video link was "less satisfactory".

The minute outlined the logistical challenges to both options and talked about safety risks.

However, it said that "the inquiry is prepared to do what it can to hear villagers' stories, but needs (villager) counsel's assistance to do so".

The minute said the inquiry, led by Sir Terence Arnold and Sir Geoffrey Palmer, still wanted direct contact details for the villagers.

Lawyer Deborah Manning speaking about the inquiry during a press conference this afternoon.

Deborah Manning Photo: RNZ/Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Lawyer Deborah Manning, who is representing the villagers, did not want to be interviewed by RNZ today, saying she still needed to speak with her clients.

The minute did say if safe travel could not be arranged, the inquiry would revert back to the earlier option of using transcripts based-on co-author Jon Stephenson's interviews.

The minute also considered the funding for Ms Manning from 1 June to 30 November 2019.

The minute has recommended that the Department of Internal Affairs consider a grant of up to 92 hours a month for that period.

"This would give counsel for the Afghan villagers an overall grant of up to $132,480 for counsel's fees and $33,120 by way of disbursements," it said.

Further public hearings for the Operation Burnham Inquiry are expected next month.

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