UNITED NATIONS -
A United Nations Working Group that monitors the activities of
mercenaries worldwide is now trying to rein in the widespread human
rights abuses by private military and security companies (PMSCs), which
are being increasingly deployed in war zones and peacekeeping
A draft International Convention on the Regulation, Surveillance and
Monitoring of PMSCs, which is to be presented to the Human Rights
Council in Geneva next September, has already been discussed by more
than 150 academics and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
The proposed draft, which spells out legislative
oversight and judicial measures to punish private security firms for
any unlawful acts, has also been submitted to member states for their
If the treaty is eventually approved by the U.N.
General Assembly, perhaps next year, all 192 member states will be
called upon to abide by it.
Amada Benavides, a member of the
Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, told IPS a new convention was
necessitated also because the current definition of "mercenaries" could
not be applied to PMSCs and their employees.
A "mercenary" is
categorised as an individual gun for hire, while PMSCs are collective
enterprises established as legal entities.
After three years of
negotiations and discussions, the Working Group has finalised a draft
related exclusively to PMSCs, she added.
Asked about the extent
of U.N. involvement with PMSCs, Benavides said she does not have the
exact numbers, but confirmed that there are number of U.N. agencies
which use these private security firms.
"There is an industry
lobby promoting their services," she said.
In the 1990s, there
were more than 100 new private military companies offering their
services to governments, multinational companies, humanitarian
agencies, NGOs and to the United Nations and its multi-billion-dollar
According to the latest statistics from
the U.S. Department of Defence released in April, there are now more
private contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan alone: 107,292
civilian contractors compared with 78,000 soldiers.
The duties of
these PMSCs include protecting personnel and military bases, providing
staff at checkpoints, training police forces, advising on security and
military strategy, providing and maintaining weapons and ammunition,
interrogating suspects and prisoners, providing intelligence services
and even participating in combat operations, said Benavides.
U.N. Common Supply Database (UNCSD) reportedly consists of several
PMSCs, including Sandline International, IDG Security, and Greystone of
the Blackwater Group.
Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N.
Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS: "I find it
deeply disturbing that the U.N. should be hiring private security
firms in what is a creeping privatisation of the security functions of
states and international organisations."
He said that Blackwater,
and Sandline International before that, both private security firms,
"have exposed the neo- mercenary character and accountability
shortcomings in these arrangements, especially in the context of the
Geneva Conventions" governing the rules of war, particularly in the
treatment of prisoners of war (POWS) and civilians.
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of the security firms hired should be transparent to the member states
of the U.N. at all times," he added.
Meanwhile, there has been a
claim by 250 plaintiffs under the alien tort act accusing some of
these PMSCs of rape and threats of rape; sexual assaults; electric
shocks and beatings; prolonged hanging from limbs; forced nudity of
POWs; hooding; isolated detention and religious intolerance.
abuses have been prevalent mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan where
military forces from the United States and members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are in command.
conference on Haiti in March, which was organised by a trade
association representing many PMSCs, 18 NGOs wrote a letter to U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging that funds pledged by the
United States and other members of the international community "should
be directed towards rebuilding Haiti, not to international private
The NGOs included the Centre for
Constitutional Rights, the American Friends Service Committee,
TransAfrica Forum, Foreign Policy in Focus, Grassroots International
and the American Jewish World Service.
The estimated value of
the PMSC industry rose from 33 billion dollars in 1990 to about 100
billion dollars in 2006.
That figure is expected to increase to
over 200 billion dollars in 2010, according to Benavides.
PMSCs currently operating in war zones include ArmorGroup
International, Blackwater Security Consulting, Dyncorp International,
EOD Technology Inc., KBR, Kulak Construction Co., Prime Projects
International, PWC Logistics, Global Risks Solutions, Mitchell Jessen
and Associates, the Shaw Group and Sallyport Global Services.
of these companies have been accused of advising the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) on torture and body- guarding techniques, and
also trained police forces in torture techniques in at least one Latin
The killings of some 17 civilians in Nisoor
Square in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in September 2007 have been
attributed to one of the security contractors hired by the United
Additionally, some of these contractors have also been
accused of several irregularities, including poor working conditions,
excessive working hours, ill-treatment, and deprival of medical
services to employees, particularly those from developing nations such
as Nepal, the Philippines and Bangladesh.
Speaking at a recent
seminar on 'Accountability for Private Security Contractors: the Role
of the U.N.', Jeremy Scahill, an investigative journalist, said so far
no one has been prosecuted for crimes committed by PMSCs.
they are hiring private contractors to keep an eye on security
contractors," said Scahill, author of "Blackwater: the Rise of the
World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army", pointing out the irony of the
Phillip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary
Executions, is quoted as saying that the existence of a zone of de
facto impunity for killings by private contractors operating in Iraq
and elsewhere has been tolerated for far too long.
officials, with whom I met, acknowledged this lack of accountability,
and it now seems to be recognised that this vacuum is neither legally
or ethically defensible - nor politically sustainable," he added.