New Zealand soldiers operating overseas have been given new orders around the handling of detainees as the fallout from the Operation Burnham disaster in Afghanistan continues.
The Government today announced a new set of rules to ensure “proper and humane treatment” of people detained by Defence forces, police, or other New Zealand agencies during offshore deployments.
It comes in the wake of the Government’s 2020 Operation Burnham inquiry which later led to Defence Force head Air Marshall Kevin Short apologising for providing inaccurate information to the public about a military raid in Afghanistan’s Tirgiran Valley, which led to five deaths, including a child.
Authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson in their 2017 book Hit & Run claimed the deadly 2010 raid’s details had been covered-up by officials.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the new framework for offshore detention delivers on the fourth and final recommendation accepted by the government following inquiry.
The new rules are “effectively the final link in a chain of events” that began in the remote Afghan valley, Mahuta said.
“Since then, strenuous efforts by many public and private individuals have sought to establish the facts and learn from mistakes and failures.”
The Operation Burnham inquiry also led to the overhaul of New Zealand’s elite SAS units, making them more closely integrated into the wider New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF).
Its brief was to uphold key principles of civilian control of the military and ministerial accountability to Parliament, and to strengthen and uphold compliance with legal obligations, public trust and confidence in offshore deployments and New Zealand’s values, especially around human rights.
The inquiry dismissed a key allegation that war crimes had taken place, finding rules of engagement and international law had been followed. It also found there was no deliberate cover-up but a series of bumbling errors that led to ministers being wrongly told no civilians had been killed.
But the inquiry did highlight “inadequacies” in policies and procedures where New Zealand personnel were involved with the detention of people during overseas deployments, and how allegations of torture or mistreatment were investigated.
“Part A of the new detention framework contains a set of protective safeguards and policy requirements for the treatment of detained people, which will be applied across a more comprehensive range of detention scenarios than previously,” Mahuta said today.
“These policy requirements are underpinned by key international legal obligations and Aotearoa New Zealand’s values.
“These policy requirements and protective safeguards will be implemented during offshore deployments, including joint operations with the forces of another country.”
Part B of the detention framework sets out stronger procedures and risk mitigation measures for agencies to follow before, during and after deployment of their personnel overseas.
It includes making sure that “risk mitigation measures are applied”, to help avoid any mistakes occurring again in the future. It also ensures that ministers and home agencies are immediately notified of any issues of concern, and that proper records are kept.
“New Zealand agencies will now focus on implementing the new framework, and ensuring the new standards and safeguards are integrated into training and planning for offshore deployments,” Mahuta said.
“The new framework will go a significant way to ensuring that New Zealand personnel continue to conduct themselves in ways that reflect our values, including our strong and enduring support for international human rights.”
Mahuta also thanked independent experts and non-government agencies who helped shape the policy and ensured that “we learn from and address the failures highlighted by the inquiry”.