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Press Conference by Working Group on Use of Mercenaries, Following Iraq Trip

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

8 July 2011

After eight years of occupation by Coalition forces, said experts today from the United Nations Working Group that monitors mercenaries and mercenary-related activities, the security sector in Iraq faced a vacuum that opened the door to private military and security companies.

While United States’ troops were scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, there would be a tremendous increase in the security contractors, which were “there to stay”, said José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain), Chair of the Working Group, at a Headquarters press conference, underscoring “the urgency to regulate their activities now”.

Following the conclusion of its thirteenth session, held in New York from 5 to 8 July, 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 — established in 2005 by the then-Commission on Human Rights — will forward to the Human Rights Council a report on its trip to Iraq, from 12 to 16 June.

Mr. Gómez, who was joined today by fellow experts Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia) and Alexander Nikitin (Russian Federation), said that with the departure of international forces, the number of military contractors would rise to an estimated 5,500. Many of them would be hired to protect the diplomatic corps, as well as the multinationals operating in the commercial sector.

In that context, the Working Group was recommending that the Iraqi Government finalize and adopt legislation to regulate the contractors’ conduct. Indeed, Iraqi authorities were still operating under the guidelines for military contractors set up by the Coalition Provisional Authority. While the immunity given to contractors by that framework had been withdrawn, Iraq’s Parliament had not yet instituted its own laws, which, Mr. Gómez suggested, should foster transparency and accountability.

He further noted that prosecutions in contractors’ home countries had not yet met with success, pointing, in that regard, to the case against contractors alleged to have killed 17 civilians in Nissour Square four years ago, which was still pending in United States courts.

He also highlighted the Working Group’s consideration of the results of the first meeting in Geneva of the Open-Ended Working Group to consider establishing a regulatory framework at the international level, noting its submission last year to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly of a proposal for a binding international instrument on private military and security contractors.

Comparing the different approaches to private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Nikitin stressed that the Afghan authorities had introduced a bold model to cut the quantity and functions of private military and security companies. Iraq’s approach had been much slower, he said, noting that the lingering presence of the contractors after the decrease of the official military presence would create a new legal situation that underlined the need for an international instrument.

Ms. Benavides said there were three main documents currently available internationally to control the activities of these companies. The first was the Working Group’s draft of a new convention. The second was the Montreux Document [on pertinent international legal obligations and good practices for States related to operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict], which had been developed by Switzerland with input from other States and the International Red Cross. The third was a voluntary code of conduct signed by private security operators. She said that some States, particularly Western ones, considered the latter two to be sufficient. However, the Working Group believed otherwise and, therefore, had proposed a binding international instrument.

Indeed, Mr. Gómez said, in response to questions, that, owing to a gap in international law, a binding instrument was clearly needed. While discussions were being held at the intergovernmental level in Geneva on a regulatory instrument, Western countries were not supporting that approach. They were instead working for a self-regulatory instrument in which the companies would control themselves through a voluntary code of conduct. In contrast, the Working Group was proposing a binding instrument on States that would include such elements as measures on licensing, the establishment of a national monitoring authority, options for criminal and civil proceedings and methods for providing justice and compensation for victims.

Mr. Nikitin clarified that the thrust of the Working Group’s efforts was not to push private military and security companies out of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, but to draw a red line between allowable and prohibited activities. He emphasized that international conventions were not directly applicable to companies, but to States. In that vein, Mr. Gómez added that the instrument would propose a number of functions that States should not outsource under any circumstances, such as intelligence gathering.

Ms. Benavides pointed out that mercenaries were understood as individuals, while private military and security companies were legal entities operating under the framework of a contract, which was one reason why the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, and Training of Mercenaries did not apply. The Working Group’s intention in drafting the proposed convention was to hold the companies responsible for human rights violations when they used force on behalf of States.

Asked to compare the Group’s proposal to existing regulatory regimes, Mr. Nikitin pointed to the well-developed practices of regulating the export and import of arms, with 172 countries providing annual information on their arms sales and purchases. That register might monitor the sale of a tank, while the instrument on military and security contractors would address the employment of a tank driver. Among other things, the convention would establish a database of companies operating on the international market and require signatories to exchange information on their contracts with private companies. He stressed that since private military and security companies traded in lethal skills, they should be regulated as strictly as the arms industry.

Asked how the proposed convention might address situations such as those in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, where leaders under fire paid for protection from mercenaries, Mr. Gómez underlined the unprecedented nature of Governments using mercenaries against their own people. Consequently, the Working Group was following those situations closely, he said.

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For information media • not an official record

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