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Concerns about UK Special Forces extra-judicial killings in Afghanistan, highlighted by AOAV, raised at the United Nations

Earlier this month, Action on Armed Violence, in parallel with the BBC’s Panorama, launched a major report into allegations of UK Special Forces extra-judicial killings in Afghanistan. Our analysis, called Killing In The Shadows, detailed as many as 54 deaths of unarmed civilians or combatants following their detention by UK Special Forces groups such as the Special Air Service (SAS), following night raids.

Our reporting, amplified globally by the BBC, appears to have had impact at the highest levels, including the UN Security Council.

For 25 years, the issue of Children and Armed Conflict has been a core item on the UN Security Council agenda. Countries that regularly abuse children’s rights  are added to what  is known as the UN Secretary General’s list of shame for violations committed in the previous year. This is included as an annex to the annual UN Secretary General’s report on Children in Armed Conflict, which is released every July and is followed by an all day Security Council meeting .

That meeting is called an Open Debate, but its simply comprises:

i. three briefings from the UN Special representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (Virginia Gamba); the Executive Director of UNICEF (Catherine Russell); and a civil society briefer (this year it was Patrick Kumi from South Sudan).

ii. brief five minute statements by P5 and non-permanent SC members and then any UN member state that wishes to make a statement. 

Security Council members and member states use their statements to reflect to a greater or lesser extent on children in conflict, but largely use it to challenge, accuse and embarrass each other over current geo-political disagreements. 

Predictably the US, UK, France and many other states challenged Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, listing human rights abuses conducted by Russian forces.

The Russian delegate countered by accusing Ukrainian forces of committing grave child rights violations in the Donbass since 2014 and rejecting claims that Russian authorities are abducting children. Watch the speech here.

At 10:35, though, the Russian delegate specifically referenced the BBC Panorama into UK Special Forces extra-judicial killing in Afghanistan, and notes that the initial accusations in 2018 were quashed by the MoD. 

This is unlikely to be the last time that the UK will be challenged on these specific allegations.

The Ukraine conflict will appear in next year’s report , opening up the possibility that Russia could be the first P5 member to be included on the list of shame. It should be noted, however, that despite years of grave violations committed by the US and UK in Iraq and Afghanistan, their political might has ensured they stay off the list.

What is clear is that each time the UK now challenges Russia at the UN, their failure to investigate night-time raids from UK Special Forces will be thrown back at them, especially as the MoD is the main department that is fronting the UK effort in Ukraine.

The Security Council is often the only place in which countries at war can engage each other, and at a time when great power relations as bad as the height of the Cold War in the 1970s  the ability to defend ones integrity is critical.

The UK avoids dealing with its military misdeeds at its peril.