Did NZ commit war crimes?

In Afghanistan in August 2010, New Zealand Defence Forces raided two villages, allegedly leaving 21 civilians wounded and dead. Among them was a three-year-old girl who died in her mother’s arms.

There are serious and damning allegations in a recent book on the New Zealand-led raid in Afghanistan. If true, the New Zealand Defence Force would have seriously breached international law and may be guilty of war crimes.

Since the story broke on 21 March, former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp has said the death of civilians in the raid were an "accident".

From Amnesty International's experience, the New Zealand Government cannot rely on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) report into civilian casualties. We are calling for a thorough and independent investigation to determine whether war crimes have been committed and whether New Zealand is responsible.


Following the launch of Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s book ‘Hit & Run’, which alleges that New Zealand Defence Forces carried out an attack on an Afghan village that left 21 civilians dead or wounded, there have been calls for a full and impartial investigation into the allegations.

Since 2001, coalition forces have killed thousands of Afghan civilians. However, not every civilian death is considered a legal breach under the laws of war. But if civilians appear to have been killed deliberately or indiscriminately, or as part of a disproportionate attack, the laws of war do require a prompt, thorough and impartial inquiry.

In 2009, ISAF began deploying ad hoc bodies called Joint Incident Assessment Teams to assess reports of civilian casualties, mainly for incidents where there were high numbers of casualties or that received political attention. Rather than carry out full investigations, these teams assess cases and then report back to the military force responsible. The military force should then report back to ISAF, but in reality this is rarely done. Often the ISAF is unaware whether there has been a national investigation or not.

As well as fact-finding, the ISAF are also first-responders to the media when there are reports of civilian casualties. In many instances ISAF spokespeople have been quick to deny reports.

Under the laws of war, if at first glance there appears to be evidence or credible allegations of unlawful killings, there is an obligation to ensure that a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation is carried out. Even if done thoroughly, it is doubtful than an ISAF report would meet this standard in terms of impartiality.