GENEVA - The use of private security guards like those involved in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians is part of a growing new form of mercenary activity - the recruitment of people around the globe to peform military jobs in other nations, a U.N. report says.
Independent human rights experts who wrote the report, which was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, say the reported killing of civilians in Iraq last month by guards recruited by the security firm Blackwater USA underscores the risks of using such contractors.
The U.N. Security Council and General Assembly have opposed the use of mercenaries, but the hiring of foreign soldiers by one country for use in another is barred only for the 30 nations that ratified a 1989 treaty against the practice. The U.S. and Iraq are among the many states that didn't sign.
A five-member U.N. panel has been studying the use of contractor guards for two years, said Jose Luis Gomez del Prado, the Spanish expert who heads panel. Its report is to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly next month.
"The trend toward outsourcing and privatizing various military functions by a number of member states in the past 10 years has resulted in the mushrooming of private military and security companies," the report says.
A "tremendous increase" in the number of such companies, including those working for the U.S. State and Defense departments, has occurred because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said.
Officials at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. offices in Geneva declined to comment on the report.
Experts on the panel visited Honduras, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Fiji over the past 14 months to look into recruiting and training practices by private security contractors.
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The report said companies had hired former soldiers and policemen, but it charged that some of those had become "private militarily armed soldiers."
In Chile, the experts were told that recruits were given military training by private companies in the United States, Jordan or Iraq and "eventually performed military functions."
The panel said that many Peruvians also had been recruited to work in Iraq and Afghanistan as security guards and that at least 1,000 remained in Iraq.
Gomez del Prado said security companies had hired recruits from other countries, including Spain, Portugal and elsewhere in Europe as well as Russia and South Africa.
"I don't know if they work for Blackwater, but all these private security companies they are recruiting from all over the world - from the Philippines, from Fiji," he said.
Once the guards are in areas of armed conflict, immunity granted under national laws to private security personnel can easily lead to uncontrolled behavior, the report said, with "these private soldiers appearing only to be accountable to the company which employs them."
A joint U.S.-Iraqi panel has been created to review the practices of security companies in Iraq, and Congress has opened inquiries into the role of the contractors. Multiple U.S. investigations are looking into the fatal shooting involving Blackwater workers.
Blackwater, the largest U.S. security firm working in Iraq for the State Department, said its guards fired in response to an armed attack. Iraqi officials say 17 civilians were killed.
© 2007 The Associated Press