Australia arrests ex-soldier over war crime in Afghanistan

Australia arrests ex-soldier over war crime in Afghanistan

Serving or former soldier charged with war crimes for first time under Australian law

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ISTANBUL (AA) – Australia on Monday arrested a former soldier over war crimes for the murder of an Afghan man in a wheat field.

The Australia Federal Police (AFP) said in a statement that a joint investigation between the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) and the AFP “resulted in a New South Wales man being charged with one count of War Crime—Murder.”

“It will be alleged he murdered an Afghan man while deployed to Afghanistan with the Australian Defense Force (ADF),” the statement said, referring to Oliver Schulz.

Schulz, 41, was arrested by police at Jindabyne in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains early this morning.

Australia has conducted a years-long investigation into alleged war crimes committed by its forces in Afghanistan.

More than 39,000 Australian soldiers have served in Afghanistan since 2001.

“Hugely significant step,” said Sophie McNeill, a senior Australia Researcher for Human Rights Watch.

- Could face life in prison

Schulz has been remanded in custody and is expected to appear in Downing Centre Local Court at a later date, the police added.

“The maximum penalty for the War Crime—Murder offence is life imprisonment,” it said.

It is the first time that any serving or former Australian Defense Force member has been charged with war crime under Australian law.

Rawan Arraf, a lawyer and executive director at Australian Centre for International Justice, said the charges levelled against Schulz were “also the first time under Division 268 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code.”

“The division brought in to give effect to Australia's ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. #ICC A very significant day all round (sic),” she wrote on Twitter.

Australia is a member of the Commonwealth, a group of nations which were British colonies.

“The OSI and AFP are working together to investigate allegations of criminal offences under Australian law related to breaches of the Laws of Armed Conflict by Australian Defense Force personnel in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016,” the Australia police said.

- Footage of killing

According to ABC News, Schulz’s charge “relates to the shooting death of Afghan man Dad Mohammad during an ADF raid in May 2012 in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan.”

“That killing was revealed in March 2020 by the ABC's Four Corners program, which broadcast footage showing Mr Schulz shooting Mr Mohammad while the Afghan man lay on the ground,” it said in a report.

According to UN estimates, at least 100,000 Afghan civilians have died since former US President George W. Bush authorized the offensive in Afghanistan in October 2001.

There have been accusations against international forces of committing war crimes against innocent civilians in the war-weary country.

In 2020, 39 Australian soldiers were accused of unlawful killings of Afghan civilians or prisoners.

A report commissioned by the inspector-general of the Australian Defense Force found “credible information” that Australian soldiers murdered civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan.

According to the report, 25 current or former personnel were involved in serious crimes, either carrying out the offenses themselves or being “accessories.”

Gen. Angus Campbell, chief of the Australian Defense Force, had offered an apology to Afghans over the killings.

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