Private Security Contractors Cause Problems in Region

15 Oct

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against private security firm, Blackwater, in the US District court in Washington on behalf of the families of the 17 Iraqis who died in the September 16 killings.

Though investigations conducted by the State Department has been taken over by the FBI and likely to be handed over to the Justice Department, Congress has also started inquiries on the role of private security contractors (PSCs). According to the State Department, Blackwater guards have been involved in 56 shooting incidents.

The U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), which recently released its quarterly human rights report has also highlighted the cases of killings carried out by “privately hired contractors with security-related functions in support of U.S. government authorities.” It has also urged the U.S. government to establish mechanisms which will hold these security contractors accountable for unjustified killings and any other criminal offenses.

While an order by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004 prior to the formation of the Iraqi government provides security contractors immunity from Iraqi laws, Iraqi officials claim that Blackwater’s operating license in the country expired on June 2, 2006.

In Afghanistan, the Kabul government has shut down two private security firms with more to follow in the near future. According to the Al Jazeera report, “Afghanistan shuts security firms” dated October 11th, these security firms lack accountability, intimidates local people and disrespects local security forces. They also accused some of these contractors of robberies, kidnappings and suspected involvement in killings. According to CNN, the US military employs about 29,000 private contractors with about 1,000 of those engaging in security work. As many as 10,000 private security guards are believed to be working in Kabul alone. Even the Interior Ministry which oversees the Afghan police and domestic security “has little idea who some of the guards are”.

The Associated Press has also received highlights of a draft policy for regulating private security firms in the country. In this report, the government highlights the four main problems associated with private security contractors. They are:

1. Undermining the rule of law;

2. Lack of legal system and policies regulating the activities of PSCs;

3. Legal shortcomings in the provisions on private sector under the Investment law;

4. Lack of institutional capacity for enforcement mechanisms in parallel with the sudden “mushrooming” of PSCs in the country;

5. Disguising of a wide range of militia and criminal groups as PSCs, enabled in an environment free of clear guidelines, code of ethics or agreements and administrative corruption.”

The recent furore over private security contractors from the Blackwater killings or Afghanistan’s government’s closing down of these firms can be traced back to the start of the invasions.

As early as March 2004, in an article from The Independent, “Occupiers Spend Millions on Private Army of Security Men” by Robert Fisk and Severin Carrell, the journalists reported that many of the armed British security forces in Iraq included former SAS soldiers; Chilean mercenaries trained during General Pinochet’s dictatorship; and South Africans who do not have the licence required by private soldiers in their home country.

The article portrayed some of the contractors as lawless “cowboys in the wild west“,

“Although they wear no uniform, some security men carry personal identification on their flak jackets, along with their rifles and pistols. Others refuse to identify themselves even in hotels, drinking beer by the pool, their weapons at their feet. In several hotels, guests and staff have complained that security men have held drunken parties and one manager was forced to instruct mercenaries in his hotel that they must carry their guns in a bag when they leave the premises. His demand was ignored.”

Aid organisations have also expressed doubts with these private security contractors a few years back.

“Non-state armed actors operating for profit create unique problems for humanitarians,” Kenny Gluck, director of operations for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland, told AlertNet in 2004. He added, ” “But with private security elements, who is responsible? Who can be held to account? The shareholders?”

Private security firms operating in Iraq include AEGIS, American-Iraq Solutions Group, Armour Group, Asbeck Armouring, Babylon Gates, BH Defence, Blackwater, BLP, Blue Hackle, BritAm Defence, Castlegate-CSS-Iraq, Centurion and many more which can be found on the Private Security Company Association of Iraq website. The association is a non-profit organization aimed at addressing issues of concern to the industry with operations in Iraq.

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