NZ lawyers to represent Afghan raid families

by RNZ / 24 March, 2017
 Investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson said the house in the middle of this picture was seriously damaged in the raid but has since been rebuilt. Photo: Jon Stephenson

Pressure mounts on government following the release of a book claiming Kiwi troops killed civilians in Afghanistan.

New Zealand lawyers are taking on the case of Afghan villagers after it was claimed their relatives were killed in a raid led by New Zealand SAS troops.
Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning, who previously represented Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, said she, along with Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod, were representing the residents of the two villages that were raided.

Journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson released the book Hit & Run on Tuesday. It alleges elite SAS troops planned and helped execute a raid on two small villages in Afghanistan, killing six civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, Fatima. Fifteen were also injured, the authors said.

Ms Manning has not been to Afghanistan but she had spoken with the villagers "very recently", she said.

"The villagers first of all would like to convey their thanks to the [New Zealand] public in terms of talking about what has happened.

"They are very touched in particular that little Fatima is being acknowledged, because she was a very beloved child of the village."

The lawyers wrote to the relevant ministers this morning seeking a Commission of Inquiry, or a Royal Commission, that has full powers to summons witnesses.

"The issues raised very squarely are issues (of) international human rights law, namely the right to life and also international humanitarian law which includes war crimes."

Hager and Stephenson said they had sourced information for Hit & Run from more than three dozen people, including members of the New Zealand military and Afghan security forces.

They are calling for Prime Minister Bill English to launch a full inquiry.

Mr English, speaking before the lawyers made their announcement, reiterated today that the statement of allegations was not enough to call an inquiry.

"You need to make sure there's some substance to the allegations and that there is some point to having an inquiry."

Mr English has said the SAS abided by the rules of engagement during the raid. He will meet Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Tim Keating on Sunday to discuss the claims made in the book.

Wayne Mapp was Defence Minister at the time of the operation and said he now accepted that civilians died during the attacks but said soldiers were acting in the belief they were under attack.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett has said she was not disturbed by information she had seen about the book, that the SAS was highly regarded and she had faith in the Defence Force.

Deborah Manning represented Ahmed Zaoui in his high-profile case to have a security risk certificate overturned after he was imprisoned following his arrival in New Zealand in 2002 seeking refugee status.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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