2009/08/17:First-hand report on UN working group on mercenaries: Afghanistan is the new private contractor gold mine.


Dan Kenney, contact for a WNPJ member group - reports: I attended a closed door workshop with the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries around the world last month. It was part of their two week visit to the United States. The workshop was held at the UN Church building in UN Plaza. The International Peace Institute hosted the session. It was a large group. Folks from the International Peace Institute, five members of the UN Working group, Human Rights First, International Committee of the Red Cross, several academics from UW at Madison, Columbia, Harvard, etc, lawyer types, a representative from the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) and Center for Constitutional Rights. There was also a lawyer there who represented pmscs in lawsuits filed against them by their victims. She had some interesting perspectives about the industry's role in foreign affairs.

Much time was spent discussing what the inherent rights of a state are. The discussion was focused in this way to try and determine when a state could and could not use mercenaries. One of the revealing statements by one of the UN Working group members, an ambassador from Russia said that right from the start it was never the working group nor the Human Rights Commission's intention to get rid of the PMSCs (mercenaries) but to come to an agreement with member states of the UN on how to regulate them and to put in place sanctions for states who violate the convention on PMSCs.
The working group started their work in 2005 and hope to have a final draft of the convention for the UN general assembly to consider by 2015. They feel they are nearing the half way mark on their work on this. This year they were studying the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan and the U.S. The individuals present were given the first public draft of the convention to review and make comments on before September 30th. 
One of the good things to come out of the workshop for the work of noprivatearmies.org and anyone concerned with the increased use of PMSCs by the U.S. Government, is the contact I made with Laura Raymond of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). As you may know a lawyer from their organization is leading the lawsuit in US courts against Blackwater on behalf of the families and victims of the Nisour Square shooting, as well as other Iraqi citizens who have been injured or had a loved one killed by Blackwater contractors. She said that the CCR plans to build a national campaign around the issue of pmscs this coming year and would like to work with noprivatearmies.org. 
Also a curious thing was that the representative for IPOA was very friendly. He offered his assistance in anyway our group could use him etc. He also told me he was very glad when Blackwater withdrew from IPOA because it alleviated a lot of PR headaches for him.
I also got a copy of the DOD's latest guidelines related oversight of pmscs. The interim final rule will not actually go into affect until November or December and was probably was released because of the UN group's visit.
I could go on ... I took about ten pages of notes. Most of the discussions were very technical about specific language in the convention etc.
It was clear that the use of pmscs in Afghanistan is going to continue and that Afghanistan is the new private contractor gold mine.

UN Group Expresses Concerns
 Some of the key points the UN group released in their press statement dated 8/3/09, at the conclusion of their two week US visit were:


1.    Concern over the "lack of transparency" to the public of contracts and subcontracts between the U.S. and PMSCs.

2.    "The Working Group is greatly concerned that PMSCs contracted by US intelligence agencies are not subject to public scrutiny due to classified information. The Working Group believes the public should have the right to access information on the scope, type and value of those contracts."

3.    'The Working Group calls on US prosecutors to play a more proactive role in investigating and prosecuting allegations of human rights violations."

4.    "The Working Group is concerned by the stated US policy intention to increase the number of private security contractors to match the surge in troops in Afghanistan." (Actually it was reported that we already have more private contractors than soldiers in Afghanistan.) Chairperson Shaista Shameem said, "We are particularly preoccupied that the use of PMSCs to protect US forward operating bases in most places in Afghanistan may further dilute the distinction between military and civilian personnel, an obligation under international humanitarian law. We are also alarmed by the trend towards an extensive privatization of war."

5.     The Working Group is also concerned by the recent objection expressed by the Administration to a prohibition in the 2010 defense funding bill of the use of contractor personnel from interrogating persons detained.

6.    Finally the WG called on the US authorities to engage constructively in the international process to draw up a convention to form an international framework for regulating the use of PMSCs.



The WG also made recommendations:

1.    Congress should adopt legislation that provides criminal jurisdiction over contractors and civilian employees.

2.    The Department of Justice should ensure prompt and effective investigation of any allegations of human rights violations committed by PMSCs and prosecute.

3.    When contracting the US government should ensure victims' right to an effective access to justice.

4.    The Department of Justice should promptly make public statistical information on the status of cases involving PMSCs.

5.     The US Government and Congress should press for further transparency and resist the use of State secrets privileges in court.

6.    The US Government should make public the number, names, number of personnel, weapons, vehicles, and the type of activities contracted to PMSCs.

7.    The US Government should regularly release statistics on the number of private military and security contractors injured or killed while supporting US operations.

8.    The US Government should establish a specific system of federal licensing of PMSCs and especially of their contracts for operations abroad.

9.    The US Government should put in place a vetting procedure before awarding contracts.

10.         And finally the US Government should launch investigations on the use of PMSCs on rendition flights.

Noprivatearmies.org can draw from these recommendations for a focus on how we can move forward on the national level. We can urge Congress to adopt some of these recommended practices and address the UN Working Groups’ concerns.


Submitted by: Dan Kenney/ August 16, 2009

DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice
Contact: Dan Kenney
Address: 303 Birchwood Lane , DeKalb, IL 60115
Phone: 815-793-0950
E-Mail: dkenney@dekalbinterfaithnetwork.org