The Chief of Defence Force has finalised a Defence Force Order setting out how reports of civilian harm are to be dealt with, both in theatre and at New Zealand Defence Force headquarters.

The development and promulgation of the order was one of the recommendations of the Government Inquiry into Operation Burnham and related matters, which concluded last year.

The order, Defence Force Order 35 – New Zealand Defence Force Response to Civilian Harm, is available here(external link)

NZDF Director of Defence Legal Services Brigadier Lisa Ferris said that given the order’s direct impact on civilians, the Defence Force wanted to make it as accessible and transparent as possible.

“Under International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict civilians are a protected class of person – that means they cannot be made the subject of an attack,” she said.

“However, modern warfare is increasingly taking place in urban areas and often with non-state actors who operate from the civilian environment. That multiplies the complexities of engaging in armed combat for regular forces, exposing civilians to greater levels of risk.

“The protection of civilians is a strategic priority for the NZDF. The purpose of DFO 35 is to implement NZDF-wide procedures for responding to reports of civilian harm arising from military activity in situations of armed conflict.”

Defence Force Order 35 institutionalises a consistent and transparent approach for responding to reports of civilian harm involving members of the NZDF.

It is informed by past experiences of the NZDF, the values of New Zealand, and the developing norms of international best practice for response to reports of civilian harm.

Defence Force Order 35 is intended to be a living document, and will continue to be updated as required so that it remains as relevant and effective as possible.

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