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Legal options for villagers if no inquiry

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 25/03/2017

There are options in a New Zealand court for the families of 21 Afghan civilians killed and injured in raids allegedly carried out by elite Kiwi soldiers in 2010 if an inquiry is not held, says Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning

"I have to be careful at this stage because we don't want to run ahead of ourselves and we have to keep to stage one," she told Three's The Nation programme on Saturday.

"So we're talking about what happens if an inquiry doesn't occur. And in our view, yes, there are possibly legal options that can be taken and would be taken on behalf of the villagers," she says.

The options would be in a New Zealand court.

Ms Manning, Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod have been instructed by the families to ask the government to investigate allegations in a book released on Tuesday that the New Zealand SAS led raids that killed six and injured 15.

Hit and Run, by war correspondent Jon Stephenson and investigative reporter Nicky Hager claims the raids were revenge for the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, the New Zealand soldier killed by a roadside bomb less than three weeks earlier.

The lawyers wrote to Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister Bill English on Friday "informing them that in our view the material that has been released to date established credible allegations that during the course of their attack on these villages in 2010 the New Zealand Defence Forces breached fundamental principles of both New Zealand law and international law, including war crimes and violations of the right to life".

They're the latest group to call for an independent inquiry, following calls from the authors, Labour, the Green Party and NZ First.

The government has so far resisted the calls but has not yet ruled out an inquiry.

Mr English will meet with Defence Force Chief Tim Keating and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee on Sunday, after their return from Iraq.

The Defence Force has maintained the same position since 2011 - that an investigation found claims of civilian casualties were unfounded.

Mr O'Donnell's father, Mark told Radio New Zealand on Friday the book's allegations annoyed and distressed the family.

The family believed the book was a money-making venture and blackened the reputations of courageous defence personnel, Mr O'Donnell said.

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