AIHRC Calls for Prosecution and Attention to Victims of Australian Forces

AIHRC Press Statement

AIHRC Calls for Prosecution and Attention to Victims of Australian Forces

The Afghanistan Inquiry Report by the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF), Major General Justice Paul Brereton, clearly demonstrates that Australian forces engaged in murder and brutalisation of Afghans, including children, through deliberate inhumane acts of violence behind which was a consensus that Afghan life, whether of men, women or children, had no inherent worth or dignity.

The report shows that, during their time in Afghanistan, Australian forces murdered 39 Afghans, and subjected 2 Afghans to cruel treatment. 25 perpetrators have been identified. These breaches of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)  and the  Law of Armed Conflict, clearly constitute war crimes.

The report states that ‘what the Inquiry has found is taken collectively, the answer to the question ‘is there substance to rumours of war crimes by elements of the Special Operations Task Group’ must sadly be ‘yes, there is’.

Further, according to the report, ‘the vast majority are cases where the persons were killed when hors-de-combat because they had been captured and were persons under control, and as such were protected under international law, breach of which was a crime.’

Australia adheres to HL, and to the Law of Armed Conflict, and is morally and legally obligated to investigate breaches committed by its armed forces. 

To this end, it is noted that Brereton’s inquiry has not established the evidence sufficient and necessary to ensure criminal prosecution of the perpetrators. This report describes the conduct of this elite group of Australian forces as ‘possibly the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history, and the commanders at troop, squadron, and task group level bear moral command responsibility for what happened under their command, regardless of personal fault’.

It is now of the utmost importance that criminal prosecution is sought.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) therefore welcomes Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s initiative to establish an Office of the Special Investigator, whose work must focus on criminal prosecution of the perpetrators, and uncovering the full extent of the atrocities that took place.

To the extent possible, the AIHRC will continue to share evidence regarding Australian forces breach of IHL to the relevant bodies.

The Australian government, now and in the future, must commit to listening to Afghan victims’ demands for truth and justice. To this end, the Office of the Special Investigator ought to resource a victims unit to work directly with victims.

Victims’ right to adequate compensation, through a body separate from the Office of the Special Investigator, to avoid a conflict of interest, must be met without delay.

Further, the AIHRC welcomes the Australian government’s apology. In addition to serious engagement with victims, the government ought to resource memorials for communities so that they may remember loved ones so brutally killed.

In addition to these incidents investigated, the Office of the Special Investigator ought to speak to victims and communities in a bid to uncover further human rights violations.

Media reporting has stated that the U.S and UK armed forces may have committed similar acts of violence.

The AIHRC calls on the U.S and UK, and other countries with an armed presence in Afghanistan to respond to these media reports, and to investigate their forces’ participation, and leadership, of acts of violence against Afghan non-combatants, including detainees and civilians.

In particular, the AIHRC calls on the UK to open an independent public inquiry to review and investigate the allegation of unlawful killings by UK special forces.

Indeed, media reporting, AIHRC’s own reports, and reporting by other human rights groups have documented violations of IHL and the Law of Armed Conflict by other countries.

Only through a series of independent inquiries will we uncover the true extent of this disregard for Afghan life, which normalised murder, and resulted in war crimes. Only through further investigation, documentation, and engagement with victims, will victims’ right to truth and justice be met.