BAGHDAD (16 June 2011) – “The Government of Iraq should continue to regulate and monitor the activities of private military and security companies which are expected to continue their operations in the country”, says José Luis Gómez del Prado, Chair of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries,* at the end of a visit to Baghdad, Iraq.
In the last decade, Iraq has been a major theatre of operations for private military and security companies. A series of high-profile incidents involving such companies, such as the Nissour Square shooting in 2007, have focused attention on the negative impact of their activities on Iraqis’ human rights. Such incidents, as well as abuses reported in other parts of the world, have prompted efforts to ensure that security companies and their personnel are held responsible for violations of human rights.
During its visit to Iraq, the Working Group learned that the number of incidents involving private military and security companies has decreased in recent years. This could be attributed to several factors: the decrease in their military-related activities in Iraq (especially in mobile protection); stricter regulation by the Iraqi authorities; and efforts by the United States to tighten oversight of its private security contractors operating in Iraq. The Working Group commends the efforts of the Iraqi and United States authorities in this regard.
Despite this decrease in incidents, Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors under Order 17 issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). This immunity prevented prosecutions in Iraqi courts. Nor have prosecutions in the home countries of such companies been successful. Four years after Nissour Square, the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in United States courts.
In a welcome development, the 2009 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the United States contains a provision removing the immunity of some private foreign security contractors in Iraq. It is not clear, however, whether this removal of immunity covers all contractors employed by the United States Government and whether it is fully applied in Iraqi courts. Mr. Gómez del Prado emphasized that “the removal of immunity fails to provide justice to those who were victims of serious human rights violations which occurred prior to 2009”.
CPA Order 17 also remains the legal basis for the Iraqi Government’s regulation of private military and security companies. In the view of the Working Group, this is not a firm basis for regulation. Iraq has introduced legislation regulating security companies, which has been pending since 2008. The Working Group urges the Iraqi Government to adopt this legislation as a matter of priority. The Group is, however, concerned about reports that the Iraqi Government has asked companies to terminate the employment of African and Asian personnel and recalls the international obligation of the State to apply all regulations in a non-discriminatory manner.
“Providing security to its people is a fundamental responsibility of the State. Outsourcing security creates risks for human rights and the Iraqi Government must remain vigilant and devote the necessary resources to ensure that security companies – whether international or Iraqi – are stringently regulated and that they respect the human rights of the Iraqi people” said Faiza Patel, a member of the Working Group.
The Working Group, which visited Iraq at the invitation of the Government, held meetings with representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Justice, Defence, and Human Rights; as well as members of the High Judicial Council, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, representatives of the diplomatic community, and representatives of the security industry.
(*) The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado (Chair-Rapporteur, Spain), Ms. Faiza Patel (Pakistan), Mr. Alexander Nikitin (Russian Federation), Ms. Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia) and Ms. Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya).