Afghan, Australian and international human rights and legal organisations call for public release of Justice Brereton’s Afghanistan Inquiry report

Open Letter

Today, over 20 Afghan, Australian and international human rights and legal organisations wrote to the Assistant Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, Major General Justice Paul Brereton, urging him to commit to releasing the report of the Inquiry into allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

You can download the open letter here.

Dear Justice Brereton,

We, the undersigned organisations, reflect a cross section of Australian and international human rights organisations, and the Afghanistan Transitional Justice Coordination Group, which is composed of 19 Afghan human rights organisations and individuals, dedicated to transitional justice in Afghanistan and advocating for and representing victims’ groups, including before the International Criminal Court.

We are writing in relation to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry (Inquiry), being led by you as Assistant Inspector-General of the ADF.

We are encouraged that the IGADF commenced an Inquiry over four years ago into allegations of misconduct and breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) by members of the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, over the period 2005 to 2016. After allegations about the conduct of special forces from as early as 2009 [1] appeared in media reports, and frustration over a lack of genuine investigations by the Defence establishment to investigate these allegations, this Inquiry is an important part of the accountability process and into fulfilling Australia’s obligations to ensure respect for IHL by investigating violations by its forces. [2]

We are aware that the Inquiry is an administrative process and that there will likely be referrals made to the Australian Federal Police of incidents for criminal investigations, following the Inquiry’s conclusion. We will continue to monitor the process of criminal investigations and any eventual prosecutions.

We are aware that the Inquiry is investigating:
- the conduct of SAS forces in over 55 incidents of alleged unlawful killings, including of children, and the cruel treatment of civilians, and captured combatants; and
- incidents that are relevant to the organisational, operational and cultural environment which enabled these violations of IHL. [3]

These allegations, some of which have been made public through extensive media reports, if proven, represent serious and grave violations of IHL, which amount to the commission of war crimes. The impact on the families and communities affected has been great, and the demands for truth, justice and accountability from the families of the victims cannot be ignored. [4]

The Afghan people have remained trapped in an unbroken cycle of a 40-year long conflict which is profoundly rooted in a culture of impunity, with many actors operating in total disregard of local and international laws and norms in the firm belief that nobody will ever
hold them accountable. [5]

Media reports have suggested that the Inquiry is nearing conclusion and will report imminently. Given that the IGADF was directed to conduct an inquiry by the Chief of the Defence Force, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force Regulations 2016 state that the IGADF must provide the report of the Inquiry to the Chief of the Defence Force. [6] The Chief of the Defence Force is empowered to release all or part of the report. [7] The Assistant IGADF is also empowered to publicly release all or part of the report after consulting the Chief of the Defence Force. [8]

To avoid any potential prejudice to current or future criminal or civil proceedings, we are aware that parts of the final report of the Inquiry may need to remain confidential, until such time as proceedings are concluded. However, that should not stop the publication of the Inquiry’s report to the public as such. We encourage you as Assistant Inspector-General to release publicly the final report, with any necessary redactions required as mentioned above, as soon as practicable, and to recommend that the complete version, be tabled and published at the conclusion of any relevant criminal or civil proceedings.

Given the strong public interest in the Inquiry, the public release of the report will demonstrate that Australia is adhering to its international obligations and is taking appropriate action to prevent future violations of IHL. The publication of the report of the Inquiry will provide an important form of truth and accountability to the defence force and the Australian people about the conduct of its forces in Afghanistan. It will also represent a first step towards the accountability sought by Afghan victims and their families.

We would be happy to discuss these matters further with you and your team.

Yours sincerely,

Australian Centre for International Justice
Transitional Justice Coordination Group – Afghanistan
Amnesty International
Human Rights Law Centre
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Center for Constitutional Rights
European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Center for Justice & Accountability
International Center for Transitional Justice
National Justice Project
Grata Fund
Public Interest Advocacy Centre
Conflict Analysis Network
Open Asia/Armanshahr Foundation
Justice International
World Vision Australia
3Save the Children Australia
Asia-Pacific Justice and Rights (AJAR)
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Medical Association for the Prevention of War (Australia)
Australians for War Powers Reform (Inc)
Independent and Peaceful Australia Network
Wage Peace
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia

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