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NZ lawyers to represent Afghan families

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/03/2017

The families of 21 Afghan civilians killed and injured in raids allegedly carried out by elite Kiwi soldiers in 2010 are touched their loved ones are being acknowledged, their New Zealand lawyer says.

Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning believes the families may have a case against New Zealand for violations of international human rights law and war crimes.

Ms Manning, Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod have been instructed by the families to ask the government to investigation 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 claim the raids were revenge for the death of Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, killed by a roadside bomb less than three weeks earlier.

Ms Manning said the families, including that of a three-year-old girl, asked Mr Stephenson to find a lawyer in New Zealand who could make a case for them and she accepted.

"I spoke very recently to the villagers and spoke to them about what has been occurring in New Zealand, the huge public discussion and concern that we've all seen and the villagers first of all would like to convey their thanks to the public," she said on Friday.

"They are very touched, in particular that little Fatima is being acknowledged, because she was a very beloved child in that village."

Mr McLeod said the lawyers had written to Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and Prime Minister Bill English on Friday morning "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.

United Future leader Peter Dunne on Friday tweeted that the case for an inquiry "is strengthening".

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 book uses inflammatory language so we're not going to be distracted or rushed into an inquiry on the basis of that kind of accusation," he said.

He earlier said that so far officials had found nothing in Hit and Run that was new or warranted an inquiry.

Lt-Gen Keating has strongly defended the SAS against the allegations, and also said his staff had found nothing in the book that required investigating.

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

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