New rules for offshore detention complete Govt response to Operation Burnham inquiry

Foreign Affairs

The government has announced a new set of rules to ensure proper and humane treatment of people detained by Police, Defence forces, or other New Zealand agencies during offshore deployments.

The Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta says the new framework for offshore detention delivers on the fourth and final recommendation accepted by the government following the 2020 Operation Burnham inquiry.

“The new detention framework announced today marks a significant milestone,” says Nanaia Mahuta.

“The framework is effectively the final link in a chain of events that began in August 2010 in a remote valley in Afghanistan. Since then, strenuous efforts by many public and private individuals have sought to establish the facts and learn from mistakes and failures.

“At the heart of the Operation Burnham Inquiry was a determination to uphold key principles of civilian control of the military and ministerial accountability to Parliament, and to strengthen and uphold compliance with legal obligations, public trust and confidence in offshore deployments and Aotearoa New Zealand’s values, especially around human rights.

The Operation Burnham Inquiry highlighted inadequacies in policies and procedures where New Zealand personnel were involved with the detention of people during overseas deployments, and how allegations of torture or mistreatment were investigated.

“Part A of the new detention framework contains a set of protective safeguards and policy requirements for the treatment of detained people, which will be applied across a more comprehensive range of detention scenarios than previously. These policy requirements are underpinned by key international legal obligations and Aotearoa New Zealand’s values.

“These policy requirements and protective safeguards will be implemented during offshore deployments, including joint operations with the forces of another country.

“Part B of the detention framework sets out stronger procedures and risk mitigation measures for agencies to follow before, during and after deployment of their personnel overseas.

“This includes making sure that risk mitigation measures are applied, to help avoid any mistakes occurring again in the future. It also ensures that Ministers and home agencies are immediately notified of any issues of concern, and that proper records are kept.

“New Zealand agencies will now focus on implementing the new framework, and ensuring the new standards and safeguards are integrated into training and planning for offshore deployments.

“The new framework will go a significant way to ensuring that New Zealand personnel continue to conduct themselves in ways that reflect our values, including our strong and enduring support for international human rights.

“I wish to thank independent experts and non-government agencies who helped shape this policy by providing input and feedback as it was drafted. Their engagement has helped ensure that we learn from and address the failures highlighted by the Inquiry,” Nanaia Mahuta says. 


The four recommendations from the 2020 inquiry by Sir Terence Arnold KC and Sir Geoffrey Palmer KC have been actioned as follows:

  • Today’s announcement of a new framework for effective detention policies and procedures for New Zealand personnel involved with the detention of people during overseas deployments, and for how allegations of torture or mistreatment are dealt with. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade led this work.  
  • The introduction of legislation to establish an Inspector-General of Defence to ensure independent oversight of the New Zealand Defence Force in October 2022.
  • The establishment of an Expert Review Group to ensure the NZ Defence Force’s organisational structure, record-keeping and retrieval processes are in accordance with international best practice. The report of the Review Group was released by the Minister of Defence in November 2021.
  • The promulgation of a Defence Force Order setting out how allegations of civilian casualties should be dealt with in-theatre and at New Zealand Defence Force HQ. The Defence Force Order 35: New Zealand Defence Force Response to Civilian Harm was issued in January 2021.