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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Private Security Contractor Oversight and Accountability Concerns, Iraqi Refugee Needs will Persist Past President's Remarks
WASHINGTON - August 31 - Just hours before President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech marking the conclusion of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, Human Rights First is urging the administration to refocus its energies on two unfinished tasks tied to the region. Specifically, the organization is calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to improve oversight and accountability for private security contractors, a force that is expected to more than double by the end of 2011, and to make good on U.S. promises to assist and protect Iraqi refugees.
In a statement released today, the organization noted:
"Though the Administration states that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is coming to a close, the battle to improve private security contractor oversight and accountability and efforts to provide solutions for displaced Iraqis will continue. Tonight's speech offers President Obama the opportunity to tell Americans and the rest of the world that these important missions remain a priority for his administration.
"As the U.S. State Department plans to increase the number of its Iraq-based private security contractors from 2,700 to 7,000, the United States has an obligation to ensure that these employees are subject to proper oversight and adequate accountability mechanisms. To date, there remains a serious gap in the law that does not give U.S. courts criminal jurisdiction over all private security contractors employed by the State Department. It is essential that the Obama Administration and Congress work together to pass the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, legislation designed to bridge that gap.
"Separately, the administration should strengthen U.S. resolve to improve conditions for displaced Iraqis within Iraq and maintain robust resettlement for vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the region, including those who worked with the United States. Currently there are more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees registered with the UN refugee agency in the region, many of whom have lived in exile for over five years which has exhausted their savings and increased their vulnerability. As violence and insecurity persist in Iraq, prospects for significant returns are unlikely, especially as Iraqis continue to seek safety in neighboring countries. The United States has a moral obligation – and strategic interest – to lead the international community in responding to the protection concerns of Iraqi displaced persons.
"Tonight, the President has an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership on these important issues. Human Rights First and many others will be listening for reassurance that the administration's statement of an end to U.S. combat activities in Iraq does not mean an end to the many missions that remain unfinished in the region."