War of words as Brownlee rounds on UN question about Afghan raid and 'inaccurate' media

The raid by the NZ SAS was highlighted in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's book Hit & Run, in which he claimed six ...
Stacy Squires

The raid by the NZ SAS was highlighted in Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's book Hit & Run, in which he claimed six civilians were killed and 15 injured.

A United Nations request for information about allegations into a controversial New Zealand military operation in Afghanistan has sparked a war of words.

The UN has asked the Government a series of questions as part of reporting requirements under the convention against torture.

Foreign minister Gerry Brownlee, in a statement, said reports of a UN-ordered investigation into an Afghan raid codenamed Operation Burnham by the NZ SAS were inaccurate.

Gerry Brownlee says the UN has not ordered an investigation.

Gerry Brownlee says the UN has not ordered an investigation.

Stuff understands Brownlee doesn't agree with the wording in a United Nations list of questions and one issue highlighted by the UN Committee Against Torture relating to the Afghan operation.

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Amnesty International highlighted the UN follow-up questions.

Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating at a media conference to address claims made in the book Hit ...
Maarten Holl

Chief of the Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating at a media conference to address claims made in the book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson.

Under articles 12 and 13, convention member states are asked to ensure competent authorities conduct prompt and impartial investigations where there are any allegations of torture.

The raid by the NZ SAS was highlighted in Nicky Hager​ and Jon Stephenson's book Hit & Run, in which they claimed six civilians were killed and 15 injured.

Chief of Defence Tim Keating acknowledged civilians may have been hit by fire from a US Apache helicopter due to equipment malfunction, the Defence Force held a press conference, and the authors conceded the location named in the book was incorrect.

Brownlee said an Amnesty International press release and subsequent reports were "inaccurate" and the Government had "not been ordered to investigate the allegations".

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The Government received a list of questions relating to each of the 33 articles in the three-part convention as part of routine reporting, Brownlee said.

"We're one of 161 parties to the Convention Against Torture to receive such a list and we have two years to respond to this seventh periodic report.

"Unfortunately, the issue raised by the committee is based on factual inaccuracies. The allegations made by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson were disproven and the Chief of Defence Force held a press conference detailing the New Zealand Defence Force raid in Afghanistan.

"I would also like to point out that the findings of the International Security Assistance Force investigation undertaken in 2010 after Operation Burnham were available to the United Nations at the time.

"We will be responding to the committee's request for information but I want to be clear that this is not a criticism of New Zealand, or its Defence Force."

The UN follow-up questions ask for New Zealand to "indicate the measures" taken to ensure all allegations relating to the raid will be fully investigated and addressed.

This appears to relate more to the process underpinning an investigation into allegations of war crimes, rather than an investigation per se.

The UN said: "Please indicate what measures [New Zealand] has put in place to ensure that all allegations relating to Operation Burnham - a raid of two villages in the Baghlan province in Afghanistan by the New Zealand Defence Forces on 22 August 2010 - will be fully investigated and addressed."

The NZDF has previously disputed two villages were involved.

Amnesty International New Zealand executive director Grant Bayldon said the human rights' group disagreed with the Prime Minister saying there was no basis for an inquiry.

"Amnesty International flatly disagreed, as did thousands of New Zealanders.

"Now the UN is calling on the Government to show how these allegations are being properly addressed. It's clearly the right thing to do - the families of the Afghan victims and the New Zealand public deserve nothing less."

The human rights' group also said it was not possible for the Defence Force to impartially investigate itself and the UN question meant the matter was not over.

"It's not too late for the Prime Minister to order a thorough, independent inquiry.

"We owe it to New Zealand's international reputation and the men and women who represent us in conflicts overseas to remove any shadow of a doubt about our military conduct," Bayldon said.

Previously, Prime Minister Bill English said allegations of war crimes looked "quite far-fetched" and there was no basis for an inquiry. 

He said classified video confirmed that NZDF personnel took all necessary precautions to ensure minimal opportunity for civilian casualties and destruction of property.

New Zealand and most other countries - 161 in total - are signatories to the convention against torture and must demonstrate how its protective mechanisms are incorporated in New Zealand - which joined the international human rights' treaty in 1984 and ratified it in 1989.

 - Stuff

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