The recent announcement of an independent inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by UK armed forces in Afghanistan has brought attention to the importance of restoring the reputation of the British military and its Special Forces Operations, engagements that stand accused of extra-judicial killings in Afghanistan as outlined Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) report Killing in the Shadows.
However, at least in the eyes of AOAV, the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) subsequent response to the inquiry has raised concerns about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and a fair and full disclosure of information.
Lack of Transparency
In May 2023, the MOD submitted an application to the inquiry to restrict public access and limit the disclosure of evidence in the inquiry proceedings. These attempts to hide the proceedings from public scrutiny have raised eyebrows and cast doubts on the MOD’s willingness to be transparent about its actions. The request for Provisional Restriction Orders and Anonymity, along with the invitation to make a Restriction Order withholding evidence and documents, suggests an intent to limit the flow of information to the public.
Their argued use of closed hearings and the suggestion to hold the oral evidence of military witnesses exclusively behind closed doors further reinforces the lack of transparency in the process. By restricting access to evidence and conducting closed hearings, the MOD risks undermining public trust in the inquiry’s findings and legitimacy.
Accountability and Fair Disclosure
The MOD’s response also raises concerns about its commitment to accountability. The attempt to restrict information and limit public review of UK Special Forces’ alleged involvement in the investigated operations is alarming. Restricting access to evidence that could confirm or deny such involvement, known as the “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” (NCND) principle, hampers the pursuit of accountability and the search for the truth.
The MOD’s argument for no Special Advocates, men and women who could represent the public interest and ensure a fair process, is another worrisome aspect. The appointment of Special Advocates is intended to help balance the competing interests of national security and the need for transparency and accountability, ensuring a fair and robust examination of the evidence. By seeking to end these appointments, the MOD sends a message that it is not fully committed to achieving a fair outcome.
Concerns over Ambition for Full Disclosure
The MOD’s applications for restriction orders are presented as provisional and subject to adaptation or expansion as the inquiry progresses. This also leaves room for further limitations on the disclosure of evidence, potentially obstructing a comprehensive and unbiased examination of the allegations. The MOD’s emphasis on national security damage arguments raises questions about the extent to which it is willing to prioritise transparency and accountability over protecting its own interests.
Moreover, the timing of the MOD’s response, coming after calls for accountability and justice, creates a perception of reluctance rather than genuine cooperation. This approach may undermine public confidence and reinforce the belief that the MOD is more concerned with protecting its reputation than with uncovering the truth and learning from past mistakes.
The MOD’s response to the independent inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings by UK armed forces in Afghanistan is a cause for concern. The attempts to restrict public access, limit disclosure, and conduct closed hearings raise doubts about the MOD’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and a fair and full disclosure of information.
As Dr Iain Overton of AOAV said: “The Ministry of Defence’s attempts to restrict public access and limit the disclosure of evidence in the inquiry proceedings are concerning. This approach seems to undermine the pursuit of accountability regarding the alleged unlawful killings by UK armed forces in Afghanistan. Without transparency and a fair and full disclosure of information, the MOD risks further eroding public trust and compromising the integrity of the inquiry. It is essential that the truth comes out, and the MOD should prioritise transparency, accountability, and a genuine commitment to uncovering the facts in order to restore faith in the UK’s armed forces and uphold human rights principles.”
To restore public trust and demonstrate a genuine commitment to justice, the MOD should reconsider its approach and prioritise openness, cooperation, and full disclosure in the inquiry proceedings. Only through a transparent and accountable process can the UK uphold its commitment to human rights, transparency, and the rule of law both domestically and internationally.
Did you find this story interesting? Please support AOAV's work and donate.