Call for NZ Defence Force to apologise to villages where civilians were killed

10:05 am on 1 August 2020

The New Zealand Defence Force is being urged to apologise to the villages in Afghanistan where it killed civilians in 2010.

Operation Burnham inquiry prostestors

Protesters gathered outside the Operation Burnham inquiry in Wellington last year. Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

An inquiry into Operation Burnham has found the military knew it may have injured or killed civilians, including a child, in two villages, but continued to tell the public and its minister otherwise.

The inquiry, which found civilians did die, was prompted by the investigative book Hit and Run.

Hit and Run Inquiry Campaign group spokesperson Sarah Atkinson said the inquiry had exposed the defence force as untrustworthy and unchecked.

"It is a huge injustice and the New Zealand Defence Force owes apologies and reparations to the Afghan families of the victims," Atkinson said.

Otago University professor of peace studies Richard Jackson said the defence force needed to be held more accountable.

Appointing an independent person to oversee the defence force could prevent some of the problems highlighted in the inquiry, Jackson said.

"Over time, we've seen more involvement with the fighting prong of our defence forces, rather than the peace keeping role that they were doing much more in the 1990s," he said.

"There have to be greater mechanisms of accountability."

The government will look at establishing an independent defence force watchdog, following the release of the scathing report on its raids of two Afghan villages 10 years ago.

The report found a civilian child was killed during the SAS mission in 2010, but the death was justified under international law.

The defence force did not plot to cover up the casualties, the inquiry found. However, it had denied claims that civilians had been killed and had not corrected that misinformation.

Chief of Defence Air Marshal Kevin Short has apologised for providing inaccurate information to the public and accepted the report's recommendations.

The recommendations included:

  • An expert review group should look at NZDF's organisational structure, record-keeping and retrieval processes to assure the Defence Minister they meet international best practice.
  • An office of the Independent Inspector-General of Defence (located outside the NZDF organisational structure) should be established to facilitate independent oversight of NZDF and enhance its democratic accountability.
  • A Defence Force Order should be promulgated setting out how allegations of civilian casualties should be dealt with in-theatre and in New Zealand.
  • The government should set effective detention policies and procedures in relation to people detained by, or with the involvement of, New Zealand forces overseas and how allegations of torture by such persons are treated.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government would implement the recommended changes in the Burnham Inquiry report as quickly as possible, if re-elected.

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