Iraq must regulate private security firms: UN

Filed on June 18, 2011

BAGHDAD - Iraq should tightly regulate private security firms to prevent abuses by their employees when they stay on in the country after a scheduled U.S. military withdrawal, a UN working group said on Thursday.

Thousands of often heavily armed private security contractors — of many nationalities from South Africans to Ugandans, Nepalese and Peruvians — help guard US facilities, foreign embassies and foreign-operated oil installations across Iraq, as well as providing convoy security.

Their image was tarnished in the eyes of many by a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that led to five Blackwater security guards being accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians.

Eight years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the remaining US troops in Iraq are due to pull out at the end of this year under a bilateral security accord.

But the US State Department plans to use more than 5,000 private security contractors to protect the civilian-led US.mission that will support Iraq’s reconstruction after 2011.

“The Government of Iraq should continue to regulate and monitor the activities of private military and security companies which are expected to continue their operations in the country,” Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, Chair of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries, told reporters.

A key contentious issue remained that of legal immunity, which private security contractors had initially enjoyed under an order granted by the US Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq following the 2003 invasion.

A more recent US-Iraqi agreement contained a provision removing the immunity of some private foreign security contractors, but Gomez said this did not address the issue of justice for victims of rights abuses committed by contractors.

Addressing a news conference at the end of a four-day visit to Iraq, he said 35,000 employees of private security companies were currently registered with Iraq’s ministry of the interior, of which 12,000 were foreigners and the rest Iraqis.

Gomez said incidents of abuses against Iraqis involving private security firms had decreased in recent years.

The number of private security personnel contracted by the US Department of Defense could fall, the number under contract with the State Department or contracted privately, could rise, requiring strict oversight.

“Outsourcing security creates risks for human rights and the Iraqi Government must remain vigilant and devote the necessary resources to ensure that security companies — whether international or Iraqi — are stringently regulated and that they respect the human rights of the Iraqi people,” Faiza Patel, another member of the UN Working Group, said.

The UN group urged Iraq’s government to apply legislation regulating private security, which had been pending since 2008.

The five Blackwater guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007 have not been convicted, although a U.S. appeals court ruled in April that a US federal judge erred in dismissing all charges against them.

The UN Working Group said it was also concerned about reports that Iraq’s government had asked security companies to terminate the employment of African and Asian personnel.

It said Iraq should not discrimate against any nationalities in applying regulations.

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