Canadian military silent on Afghan civilian deaths: UN investigator

The Canadian military is being criticized by a UN investigator for a lack of accountability on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

The Canadian military is being criticized by a UN investigator for a lack of accountability for civilian deaths in Afghanistan, where more than 200 civilians have been killed by international military forces this year, a recent report suggests.

The United Nation's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, told CBC News that senior Canadian officers, among those from other NATO countries operating in Afghanistan, have refused to provide him with information about civilian casualties when asked.

"They said, 'We don't have the information; we can't give it to you. We promise you that we look at individual cases and we do it really very conscientiously.' Good, so give me the results. 'Well we don't have them,'" Alston said.

In May, Alston estimated more than 200 civilians had been killed by foreign forces during the first four months of the year, often in joint operations with Afghan security forces. He said secrecy and a dearth of public information regarding the casualties was jeopardizing support for the mission.

Alston said in May that many of the attacks did not appear to involve any intention to kill civilians and were considered lawful, occurring at night during surprise raids or when soldiers fired on wrongly suspected vehicles or passers-by.

However, it was "absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them," Alston said in a statement released last month.

The CBC's Brian Stewart reported Thursday that the raids, dubbed "hunt and kill" operations by American soldiers, are conducted by Canadian JTF-2 commandoes, as well as British and American soldiers. The raids are so secret that some Afghans believe the attacks are really execution missions, Stewart said.

"To the extent that those sort of raids go on fairly systematically, they set up a situation in which people are likely to be shot to death," Alston said.

Lack of accountability

While he said he has found no evidence Canadian officers involved in the raids have acted illegally, Alston criticized the Canadian military nonetheless for a lack of accountability.

"First of all, there are international law obligations to accountability and transparency. Second, we're pushing the Afghans very much to be accountable on these things. And thirdly, what I said before is we have a self-interest in a sense, as far as the West is concerned, in making sure that we hold ourselves to much higher standards," he said.

Amnesty International is expected to release its own reports on such military raids soon.

Canada has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, on a mission that began in early 2002 in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban government.

For its part, the Canadian military has deferred questions on the raids to NATO, Stewart said, which has described Alston's report as exaggerated and inaccurate.

With files from the Associated Press