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UN expert body calls for stronger oversight of US private security contractors in Afghanistan

GENEVA (19 October 2010) – The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries welcomed as “a step in the right direction” a recent report by the US Senate Committee on Armed Services into the role and oversight of US private security contractors in Afghanistan. “However, more should be done to address the problems raised in that inquiry,” said the Chairperson of the expert body, Alexander Nikitin. “In particular, there should be stronger oversight of US private security contractors in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”

“The findings of the US Senate report are consistent with those of the Working Group following its visit to Afghanistan* in April 2009,” said Mr. Nikitin, noting that the study shows the many problems raised by the absence of adequate oversight over the private military and security companies contracted by the US Government in Afghanistan.

“Because of the lack of effective vetting procedures, in particular, some of these companies employed individuals who may have been involved in human rights abuses in the past and continued to be involved in human rights violations while employed by these companies,” he said.

The Working Group noted during its visit to Afghanistan that former armed elements, whether considered to be warlords or anti-Government elements, were not effectively prevented from registering as employees of officially licensed private security companies.

Given the lack of systematic and effective vetting and training procedures, and the absence of adequate sanctions in case of violations, the UN expert body had recommended that Governments contracting private security companies in Afghanistan establish adequate oversight and accountability mechanisms.

Later that year, during the Group’s visit to the United States in July, it also recommended that the US Government establish a more vigorous vetting procedure before awarding contracts. “The problems faced in Afghanistan illustrate once again the importance of and the pressing need for a strong system of regulation and oversight of private military and security companies.” said Mr. Nikitin.

“The matters discussed in the US Senate report are too important to be left to self-regulation of companies,” the Group’s Chairperson stressed. “While voluntary codes of conduct for private contractors are welcome, they are not sufficient to ensure that States regulate and monitor the activities of the companies they contract to carry out State functions, and establish accountability mechanisms to address human rights violations.”

A draft text for a new convention on the regulation of private military and security companies was presented by the expert body to the Human Rights Council last month.
The Council decided to establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group to consider the possibility of elaborating an international framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies, taking into account the principles and provisions for a new legally binding instrument proposed by the Working Group on mercenaries.

“The self-regulatory codes of conduct of the security industry have failed in the past ten years to establish effective accountability,” said Mr. Nikitin. “In this regard, we hope that all States, including the United States where many private military and security companies are established, will seriously consider participating in the process initiated by the Human Rights Council aimed at setting up an international regulatory framework for private military and security companies.”

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination was established in 2005 by the Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities:, Mr. Alexander Nikitin (Chairperson-Rapporteur - Russian Federation), Ms. Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain), Ms. Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) and Ms. Faiza Patel (Pakistan).

(*): The report of the Working Group’s mission to Afghanistan is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/docs/A-HRC-15-25-Add2_AEV.pdf

The report of the Working Group’s mission to the US is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/docs/A-HRC-15-25-Add3_AEV.pdf

The text of the draft Convention proposed by the Working Group is reproduced in the annex of its annual report to the Human Rights Council which is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/docs/A.HRC.15.25.pdf

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/index.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Catherine Phuong (+41 22 917 92 71 / cphuong@ohchr.org)