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Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning and the team acting on behalf of Afghani villagers caught up in Operation Burnham (Image: Alex Braae)
Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning and the team acting on behalf of Afghani villagers caught up in Operation Burnham (Image: Alex Braae)

The BulletinMarch 14, 2019

The Bulletin: Has Hit and Run inquiry lost its way?

Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning and the team acting on behalf of Afghani villagers caught up in Operation Burnham (Image: Alex Braae)
Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning and the team acting on behalf of Afghani villagers caught up in Operation Burnham (Image: Alex Braae)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Judicial review action launched against Hit and Run inquiry, healthy new chunk for conservation estate, and changes to sex crime trial process recommended.

The lawyers representing Afghan villagers caught up in Operation Burnham have launched a new legal action – this time against the inquiry itself. Operation Burnham was the 2010 SAS mission, which became the basis for the book Hit and Run, by Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager. In that book, it was alleged that six civilians were killed, and 15 others injured, as a result of the operation taking place. But the lawyers representing the villagers say the inquiry into that operation has become very different to what they had hoped it could be.

Their chief concern is that the inquiry is not taking place under the framework of a ‘right to life’ investigation. That means, in the words of human rights lawyer Deborah Manning, “when someone’s life has been taken by the state, that triggers an obligation on the government to have an investigation into how that life was taken, and to involve family members and next of kin in that investigation.” A decision was made by the inquiry to not follow that process, and so the judicial review has been launched.

Why does that matter? It might sound procedural, but it could have a huge impact on how the rest of the inquiry goes. Deborah Manning says she’s deeply concerned that rather than the focus of the inquiry being on the rights of the villagers, it has become about protecting and clearing the reputation of the NZ Defence Force. Another concern for Ms Manning is the secrecy in which inquiry proceedings are taking place – her team was pushing for it to be open and transparent, but the NZDF won that battle, on the grounds that there would be a significant amount of classified material, and it wasn’t practical for the inquiry to take place under those conditions.

They also want the Attorney General David Parker to intervene on the right to life point. However, Mr Parker doesn’t want a bar of it. That response came back last week, saying as a minister he had no intention of interfering with the independence of the inquiry at all. That became a significant trigger for this action being launched. As for the inquiry itself, those leading it say the criticism is unwarranted, and they have no intention of allowing it to become a whitewash, reports Stuff.

A particularly cutting analysis of where the inquiry as a whole was at came from Stuff’s Andrea Vance earlier in the week – just before this judicial review was launched. And it’s useful because it gets to the heart of the matter – the Defence Force have a very different view of how the events of Operation Burnham unfolded, compared to the testimony and evidence in Hit and Run. Like the Stuff investigation The Valley, that book caused a significant shock when it was released, because it forced New Zealanders to confront allegations relating to how the war in Afghanistan was conducted. Whatever comes out of this inquiry will likely become the official version of the events that took place. So how the conclusions are reached will almost certainly have some bearing on what the conclusions end up being.

Finally, who is Deborah Manning anyway, and why is she going to all of this trouble? There’s a fantastic profile in the NZ Herald about her work on this case, and other significant work she’s undertaken – including acting on behalf of Ahmed Zaoui way back in the day.

The conservation estate grew by a healthy chunk yesterday, with 65,000 hectares added to the Kahurangi National Park. Stuff reports it’s around the area of the Mokihinui River, for which plans had previously made that it should be dammed up for electricity. Had that gone ahead, it would have completely stuffed the area for numerous threatened species, including my personal favourite type of duck, the Whio. The Mokihinui area had previously been classified as ‘stewardship’ land – a classification that covers about 10% of New Zealand’s total land area – which is described as being like a state of purgatory.

The law commission has recommended stronger court protections for victims of sexual offending, reports the NZ Herald. It came as part of a review of the Evidence Act, and included the suggestion that the previous sexual history, or “disposition” of the victim, should be much more tightly controlled to meet the threshold for admissible evidence for the defence. What that means in practice is potentially a much less hostile environment for victims when they’re called to give evidence in court. The prospect of brutal cross-examination is considered to be one factor in why charge and conviction rates for sexual violence is so low.

This is a smashing piece from Stuff about how the Official Information Act is (or isn’t) currently working, and how ministers and public servants deny information access. When the OIA was first passed, it was a significant moment in our democratic history, because it assumed all information belonged to the people, rather than the government. But it has been steadily eroded for decades now. The last government were dreadful when it came to the OIA, and the current one most certainly aren’t living up to the promise to be the most open and transparent in history.

Newshub poll has found a large majority of New Zealanders want abortion decriminalised. The government is currently working on options recommended by the law commission, with those polled being split far more evenly between each option. There are also suggestions in the story that NZ First is putting the brakes on reform, though justice minister Andrew Little said they were working on it constructively.

A Dutch company wants the green light to test a methane cutting feed additive for farm animals in New Zealand, reports Stuff. The headline figure is that it could cut methane emissions (which make up a big chunk of NZ’s total emissions) in animals by up to 30%. It’s one of a few things being trialled to bring down methane emissions, none of which will be a silver bullet by themselves.

The climate strikers aren’t the only school students out protesting this week. Hawke’s Bay Today reports two year 11 boys at St John’s Hastings have been locking themselves in a cage, to protest against poor conditions for prisoners. They learnt about the issue from reading an ombudsman’s report (seriously, kids these days are wild) and say the Corrections budget needs to be raised to improve those conditions. Just like many of the climate strikers, they didn’t ask for permission first. In fact, it has been a remarkable period recently for youthful activism, as Emily Writes outlines on The Spinoff.

So maybe Speedway is staying at Western Springs after all? The NZ Herald’s Bernard Orsman has reported that a temporary extension has been granted – however details of the agreement like how long it will run for aren’t known. This Saturday was expected to be the end of the road for the sport at Western Springs, which had been home for almost a century. More details are expected today.

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Right now on The Spinoff: On the Rag has landed! New Zealand’s top feminist podcast is now a video show too, and the first episode came out yesterday afternoon. Spoiler alert – it’s smart, raucous and funny.

And if you want to read things: Anke Richter dives deeply into how Christchurch library ended up showing a promotional video about a cult leader – this story is incredibly strange. Toby Manhire has a guide which might help you have the tiniest bit of understanding about what’s going on with Brexit – then again, it’s Brexit, so maybe nobody will ever understand it. Liam Hehir ponders why Shane Jones can repeatedly cross the line and yet never get in any real trouble, based off an extremely close character study in the UK version of The Office. And Danyl McLauchlan has written something typically disturbing and utterly depressing about the emerging economic model of surveillance capitalism.

There’s a bizarre, and vicariously hilarious story unfolding in the USA at the moment, about fraudulent admissions into elite universities. Basically, the FBI has stung a whole lot of wealthy (and some quite famous) parents taking part in an alleged organised conspiracy to bribe their kids into top schools. But the weirdest thing about it all is highlighted by this feature in The Atlantic – the wealthy have always had ridiculous advantages in this area, so why go to the trouble of cheating? Here’s an excerpt:

In the Tuesday press conference, the U.S. attorney perhaps unintentionally emphasized this irony when he said: “We’re not talking about donating a building … We’re talking about fraud.”

His comment highlighted the mundanity of admissions favors for upper-crust children—when executed legally. Sometimes these favors are given through a practice known as “legacy admissions,” in which elite colleges give preference to an applicant who, say, is the child of an alumnus. A common denominator tends to be wealth, particularly if the applicant is otherwise underqualified. A parent may offer a college a handsome donation (and, sometimes, a namesake building) to boost her child’s admissions prospects.

Sir Owen Glenn, the major private benefactor of Hockey NZ, has been giving money that would have gone out as player payments to the former Black Sticks coach, reports the NZ Herald. He froze the player payments after a review into team culture resulted in many players speaking out against Mark Hager, who is now coaching in Great Britain. Sir Owen says he will now resume supporting the Black Sticks Women players, but it does raise a rather uncomfortable question – how secure can the players and the sport really feel about their financial futures?

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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