Afghan and Australian rights groups have warned that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan must not be allowed to disrupt or delay Australia’s plan to compensate victims of alleged war crimes.
An important recommendation in the Brereton report, released exactly one year ago, was that the Australian Government provide compensation to the families of the victims without waiting for the prosecution to be completed.
The report found “credible information” involving 25 current or former Australian defense forces in the alleged illegal killing of 39 people and the cruel treatment of two others in Afghanistan, and recommended that a number of cases be referred for investigation.
The defense has previously signaled that it will release a compensation plan before the end of this year.
The plan has not yet been drawn up.
An alliance of human rights groups said on Friday that the “essential” task of involving Afghans should not be postponed due to the dramatic deterioration of the country’s humanitarian situation and its fall to the Taliban.
A joint statement issued by 13 human rights groups, including the Afghanistan-based Transitional Justice Coordination Group and the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, said it was crucial that survivors of alleged abuses were consulted to determine the right forms of redress, which should include guarantees of non-recurrence.
“The Brereton report recommended that the families of the survivors be compensated without delay,” the statement said. “A year later, the government has not yet drawn up a plan.”
“The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically in the twelve months since the Brereton report was published. This is likely to complicate the task of involving people from Afghanistan in the process of reckoning with this dark chapter in Australia’s history.
“Still, it’s still a significant part of the way forward.”
The Executive Director of the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, Hadi Marifat, said the change in circumstances in Afghanistan “must not affect the determination of the Australian Government”.
“The families and survivors of the victims are impatiently waiting for the long-promised justice, accountability and compensation,” Marifat said.
Other signatories to the joint declaration include Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Center, the Australian Center for International Justice and Human Rights Watch.
The re-emergence of the Taliban this year makes access for war crime investigators particularly problematic.
But Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said the fall of Afghanistan made it “even more crucial” that justice and accountability be provided to survivors of alleged abuses and their families.
“The Special Investigator’s Office should ensure that appropriate protection measures are in place to minimize any risk to potential witnesses to crimes,” Pearson said.
The Australian Council for International Development’s CEO, Marc Purcell, said access for investigators should be a focus of any future conversation with the Taliban.
“Such dialogue on access does not require the government to recognize the Taliban,” he said. “But a failure to secure access and investigate alleged war crimes by the Australian SAS would be denied justice to the Afghan victims and their families.”
The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI), set up last year, continues to gather evidence of potential war crimes committed by special forces.
Chris Moraitis, the OSI’s director general, told a parliamentary committee last month that none of the 19 special forces potentially involved in the report had been acquitted and that its investigations were continuing.
“We have not acquitted anyone, we are starting our investigations to investigate the evidence,” he told the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
It is understood that some former soldiers have had discussions with officials about potential immunity from prosecution if they agree to testify against comrades.
Moraitis said it could still take between one and five years before the investigation – which involved more than 50 investigators – was ready to present evidence to the DPP to determine whether charges would be brought and former soldiers brought to justice.
He said the Taliban’s rapid and complete takeover of Afghanistan was likely to hamper the investigation as it progressed, and obtaining evidence from within the country at the moment is almost impossible.
“The situation is not ideal from an investigative perspective, and its fairly obvious access to individuals in Afghanistan … is extremely difficult, if not currently impossible.”
The Australian Federal Police are also conducting investigations into potential war crimes committed by Australian troops that fall outside the OSI’s mandate, but have said that gathering evidence and approaching witnesses inside Afghanistan poses too great a risk.
“AFP is not involved in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” it said in a statement to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan.
“The security situation in Afghanistan could affect the ongoing investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by ADF staff, as it is likely to be more difficult to obtain evidence and access potential witnesses living there. Any future involvement in Afghanistan will require an assessment. of the security situation and other relevant considerations at a time when the security of investigators and Afghan nationals remains the main concern. “