Operation Burnham was undertaken in Afghanistan by NZSAS troops and other nations’ forces operating as part of the International Security Assistance Force in 2010.
In 2017, a book was published which contained a number of serious allegations against our personnel which related to that operation as well as other matters.
The following year, the New Zealand Government announced that an inquiry would be held into Operation Burnham and related matters.
The Inquiry was led by Sir Terence Arnold KNZM QC and the Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer KCMG AC QC PC and sought to establish the facts in connection with the allegations, examine NZDF’s treatment of reports of civilian casualties following Operation Burnham, and assess the conduct of our forces.
The Inquiry reported back to the Attorney-General on 17 July 2020 and the report was made public on 31 July 2020.
The Inquiry made four important recommendations:
- That the Minister of Defence appoint an expert review group to review NZDF’s organisational structure and record-keeping and retrieval processes
- That an Independent Inspector-General of Defence be established to facilitate independent oversight of the NZDF and enhance its democratic accountability
- That a Defence Force Order be promulgated setting out how allegations of civilian casualties should be dealt with, both in-theatre and at NZDF Headquarters; and
- That the Government develop and promulgate effective detention policies and procedures in relation to persons detained by NZ forces during overseas operations, persons detained during partnered operations, and the treatment of allegations that detainees have been tortured or mistreated in detention.
The Government accepted all four recommendations in principle. We have implemented recommendation 3 and developed DFO 35 New Zealand Defence Force Response to Civilian Harm.
The Expert Review Group has nearly completed its work and its report is expected to be available shortly.
We are working with Ministers and other agencies to implement the remaining recommendations, including the establishment of an independent Inspector-General of Defence and the development of a national detention policy.