US must ensure that private contractors do not infringe rights – UN experts

3 August 2009 – A group of United Nations independent experts on mercenaries today voiced concern over the limited scrutiny of private security contractors by the United States Government, calling on greater transparency to prevent impunity for human rights violations.

“The responsibility of the State to protect human rights does not stop with contracting or subcontracting,” the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, who wrapped up a two-week visit to the US, said in a statement.

The Group underscored that the State has the primary responsibility of ensuring that contractors respect human rights and are prosecuted in the event of violations.

In spite of mechanisms created by US authorities to better monitor private military and security companies (PMSCs), “there is very little information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts,” they noted.

The intention by the US to increase the number of contractors to match the troop surge in Afghanistan is also a source of concern since it “may further dilute the distinction between military and civilian personnel, an obligation under international law,” said Shaista Shameem, the Group’s Chairperson-Rapporteur.

There is also a trend towards “an extensive privatization of the war,” she said, but added that the US Government has assured the UN experts that it does not relinquish its State authority of the legitimate use of force.

The Group is also concerned over the US Administration’s recent objection to a prohibition in next year’s defence funding bill of the use of contractors in interrogating people detained during or after hostilities.

“In light of the alleged involvement of PMSGs in the ill-treatment of detainees in US custody, the Working Group calls on the US Government to reconsider its initial position,” today’s press release said.

The experts also appealed for greater public access to information on the scope, type and value of contracts which “are not subject to scrutiny from the US Congress and Government, due to classified information,” stressing that the Department of Justice must take action to ensure that contractors’ violations of rights are punished.

To date, 17 cases involving contractors are under investigation and at least seven convictions have resulted.

Further, the Group underscored the need for a global oversight and monitoring body, with the US playing a major role in setting up a potential international pact to regulate the use of private contractors for security functions.

Created in 2006 by the Commission on Human Rights, the Group comprises five experts, serving in their personal capacities. Aside from Ms. Shameem, they are Alexander Nikitin, Amada Benavides de Pérez, José Luis Gómez del Prado and Najat Al-Hajjaji.


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