Australia working “a way forward” to compensate for war crime victims in Afghanistan

The Australian defense minister, Richard Marles, has said in a February letter that the Australian government is working on “a way forward” to compensate families of victims of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan amid the recent lawsuit against a former Australian soldier accused of killing civilians in the country.

The letter was sent to a legal Australian Center for International Justice where the minister stated that he is prioritizing to engage in the execution of all recommendations arising from the Afghanistan inquiry, The Guardian reported Sunday.

The inquiry was conducted by Maj Gen Paul Brereton four years ago who found “credible” information to “implicate 25 former Australian special forces personnel in the alleged unlawful killing of 39 individuals and the cruel treatment of two others.”

“Brereton’s report said Australia need not wait for a court to establish criminal liability before making compensation payments,” The Guardian noted.

The report further contended that if there was viable information of an unlawful killing it was “simply the morally right thing to do” to pay compensation swiftly, an act which would help restore “Australia’s standing”.

Guardian Australia has stated the Australian government is examining options on the compensation issue but has not made a decision yet.

The decision on the compensation was originally set for last year by Australia’s defense department, but the issue remained unresolved by the time the Labor party won government in May. 

In a separate report, the Guardian stated that the closure of the Australian embassy in Kabul following the takeover of the Taliban in August 2021, has only “added to pre-existing legal complexities” because no one has yet been charged or convicted over the alleged war crimes.

Now human rights and legal groups have stepped up their calls to the Australian government for a compensation plan following Thursday’s federal court ruling dismissing the defamation case brought by former Australian solider Ben Roberts-Smith.

The compensation issue is “a glaring weak spot in the government’s overall response to the inquiry,” Fiona Nelson, the director of the Australian Centre for International Justice, was quoted saying to the Guardian.

“Over two-and-half years have elapsed since those recommendations were made and yet we have no sign of any progress on the issue.”

Moreover, Hadi Marefat, head of Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, which is operating in exile, urged Australia to be “receptive to the needs and priorities of victims,”

“Survivors and victims’ families have a right to full disclosure of the truth and acknowledgment of the harm caused by Australia’s military operations.” He told the Guardian.