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HRW urges Australia to investigate alleged SAS war crimes in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called upon Australia’s Defence Department to re-examine previously dismissed cases of alleged summary executions and other war crimes in Afghanistan in light of new evidence.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) broadcasted an episode on March 16th reporting on the possible war crimes of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and showed footage where an Australian soldier, from the Special Air Service (SAS), is shown to kill an unarmed Afghan civilian during a raid on a village in 2012. 

Following this, on March 19, the Defence Department announced that it had identified and suspended from duty “Soldier C.,” an SAS member implicated in one of the incidents shown on the footage, and that the matter had been passed on to the Australian Federal Police.

In a letter addressed to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds earlier this week, Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at HRW said;

Justice and accountability for alleged war crimes by Australian special forces members in Afghanistan is long overdue.

The Defence Department’s decision to suspend one of the soldiers implicated is an important first step, but all those identified in alleged atrocities should be suspended pending further investigations.

Investigations into alleged war crimes should focus on the people responsible, not those who exposed the atrocities.

Australia’s reputation as a rights-respecting nation both during peacetime and at war will hinge on how the government addresses the most egregious cases of alleged abuse.

HRW also urged that Reynolds that an independent inquiry looking at the allegations of officials or armed forced personnel burying evidence of war crimes and other human rights abuses needs to be ensured.

Furthermore, HRW demanded that the legal action and charges against personnel who reported the incidents of war crimes, including whistle-blowers, lawyers, and journalists acting in the public interest, needed to be dropped.

In the last four years, the Office of the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force, has overseen and investigated 55 cases of alleged war crimes by SAS members in Afghanistan.

HRW has called on Defence Minister Reynolds to make a commitment and publicly release the full inspector general’s report as soon as it is completed, in the interest of accountability. 

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