Presentation to the 4th session of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, New York, 4 September 2008 Annabel Short, Head of Program, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Mr Chairman, I would like to thank the UN Working Group for inviting me to make this presentation today.
First, a few words about the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. We document and disseminate information about companies’ impacts on human rights, including private military and security companies (PMSCs). We identify specific cases of alleged abuses and of positive steps by companies, and ensure they reach an influential audience who can take action on them. [Note: Links to relevant sections of our website are provided below].
We also operate an informal “complaints mechanism”, inviting companies to provide public responses to allegations of misconduct. We include the responses alongside the allegations on our website and in our Weekly Updates, now sent to over 7000 opinion formers worldwide. We have received numerous responses from PMSCs.
Our aims are to increase transparency and accountability on business & human rights. While information per se is not sufficient to address abuses of human rights, it is also true that sanction or redress for abuses is impossible without access to reliable information. In the case of PMSCs, a complex sector on which facts are often hard to find, this increased transparency is essential.
Recent cases that we have highlighted on our website indicate that abuses by PMSCs are still pervasive in all regions, illustrating the accountability gap that arises both from lack of regulation and failure to enforce existing regulation. I should add that while the focus of recent discussions about PMSCs and human rights has been on the important issue of abuses by PMSC employees operating in conflict zones, it is also important to signal abuses of PMSC employees (including their labour rights), and abuses committed by PMSCs operating in non-conflict zones, for example the intimidation of local human rights and environmental advocates by security firms protecting oil pipelines.
A human rights approach takes into account a company’s full range of responsibilities: towards its employees and external people affected by its activities. It also recognises that in both these areas, companies can both contribute to the realisation and protection of human rights, and can abuse them. The challenge is to identify effective ways to prevent abuses and ensure redress when they occur.
The following are just a few of the many examples relating to PMSCs we have drawn attention to in 2008 to date:
“Families of Nepalese workers killed in Iraq sue KBR”
Reuters, 27 Aug 2008
KBR Inc and its Jordanian contractor are being sued for human trafficking by a Nepalese survivor and the families of 12 other employees who were killed while being transported, allegedly against their will, to work in a U.S. military base in Iraq… KBR would not comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that its employees were expected to adhere to a company code of conduct and complete ethics training that includes information about human trafficking.
“Human trafficking victims file lawsuit against US military contractors in Iraq”
Press release by the law firm bringing the case, Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, 27 Aug 2008
“Justice Dept. Moves Toward Charges Against Contractors in Iraq Shooting”
Del Quentin Wilber and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, 17 Aug 2008
Federal prosecutors have sent target letters to six Blackwater Worldwide security guards involved in a September shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, indicating a high likelihood the Justice Department will seek to indict at least some of the men...
Private Prison Co. Again Accused of Human Rights Abuses [USA]
Julia Dahl, ABC News [USA] 05 Aug 2008
Immigrants at a Washington State detention center run by the GEO Group...are being held in conditions that violate both international and U.S. law, says a new report released by the Seattle University School of Law and the human rights group OneAmerica. The report concludes that immigrants at the Northwest Detention Facility, including refugees and asylum seekers, are being held in "an atmosphere of intimidation" which includes verbal abuse, sexual harassment, strip searches, and poor to non-existent mental and physical health care…This is not the first time GEO has been accused of violating the rights of inmates in its care...A spokesman for the GEO Group declined to speak about the report, stating, "As a matter of policy our company does not comment on third party allegations."...[The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre contacted GEO Group on 8 Sept. 2008. GEO Group replied saying that they have no further comment at this time.]
[PDF] “Harvesting hunger in Angola's diamond fields”
Rafael Marques, 30 Jul 2008
For the past year, I have been paying special attention to a new trend of violations, consistently committed by Sociedade Mineira do Cuango (joint venture ITM-Mining, Endiama, Lumanhe)...The new trend [of seizing and destroying fields where crops are cultivated] amounts to a practice of enforcing hunger among communities which have traditionally depended on subsistence farming...These seizures are enforced by the Angolan private security company Teleservice…Between 2004 and 2006, I reported tens of cases of systematic human rights abuses carried out, in Cuango, by Teleservice security guards. These included killings, torture, flogging and forced labour of garimpeiros and locals alike… [The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Endiama, ITM Mining, Lazare Kaplan to respond. We have not received any responses. If we receive a response, we will include it here. However, all these companies responded to us regarding similar allegations in 2006] “Mexican Torture Training Raises Questions About U.S. Military/Police Aid”
Laura Carlsen, Huffington Post, 9 Jul 2008
Two videos of a torture-training session with the police force of León, Guanajuato shocked the Mexican public last week and raised serious questions about human rights…[T]he video clips show foreign private security companies teaching torture interrogation techniques to Mexican security forces…[A]n investigative report from the online newspaper NarcoNews, uncovered evidence that indicates the trainers are from a Miami-based private security company called "Risks, Incorporated."... [The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Risks Incorporated to respond. We have not received its responses. If we receive a response, we will include it here] “Diamond workers take to streets” [India]
Rathin Das, Hindustan Times, 6 Jul 2008
A diamond worker was shot dead by the security guard of a cutting and polishing unit in Bhavnagar on Sunday. The incident took place...when around 700 workers gathered outside the unit...to demand higher wages. A skirmish ensued following which a watchman opened fire on the workers, killing one of them on the spot. Two others were injured. Bhavnagar District Collector Pradeep Shah...said the watchman at the Jewels Star unit opened fire after the workers allegedly thrashed him...
[PDF] “Urgent Action - Fear for safety / Death threats – Honduras”
Amnesty International, 17 Jun 2008
Santos Feliciano Aguilar Álvares was abducted, beaten and threatened with death…by up to 10 men, allegedly private security guards working for a local real estate company...Santos Feliciano Aguilar Álvares is a member of the Afro-descendant Garífuna community…[in] Honduras…[H]e had taken part in a community assembly attended by representatives of the local real estate company who he accused of pressurizing Garífuna people to sell their land…Their land is coveted by companies seeking to build tourist resorts that would displace the Garífuna people.
[Spanish]: “Senador Navarro denuncia abusos laborales en empresas de seguridad” [Chile]
El Mostrador, 19 mayo 2008
El senador socialista Alejandro Navarro, junto a guardias de seguridad y dirigentes de la FETRASECH (Federación de Trabajadores de Seguridad y Servicio de Chile) y del Sindicato Nacional N°1 de GAMA Service Ltda, además de madres trabajadoras del sector, denunciaron este lunes la "sistemática violación de los derechos de los trabajadores en la industria de la seguridad en Chile"…como el fuero maternal, el descanso dominical, remuneración mínima, jornada máxima, sindicalización, entre otras…
“Madrid Metro apologises for keeping assaults secret” [Spain]
Expatica, 25 Apr 2008
Punched, kicked, insulted. That is the treatment at least four people received from security guards working on the Madrid subway lines in a shocking case of abuse of authority, which has triggered a criminal investigation...The assaults became public…after El Pais obtained video footage of the attacks apparently filmed by the guards themselves. Metro de Madrid - the company that operates the city's subway system - and the private security firms the company hire have admitted knowledge of the assaults…Three of…[the videos] involve guards of Prosegur, while one shows a person in a Casesa uniform, another private security company.
[PDF] Statement of James D. Schmitt - Senior Vice President ArmorGroup North America, Inc. - Before the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
27 Feb 2008
...the private security industry, my industry, has been under a great deal of scrutiny due to the recent events and significant incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan involving private security contractors [PSCs] operating in support of U.S. government requirements...it is certainly prudent to examine the role of [PSCs], the standards to which they are expected to operate, and the oversight and enforcement mechanisms necessary to ensure their conduct and operations fall within the rule of law...I hope that I can convey to you some of the regulatory provisions that are coming to this industry and what we, in the private sector, can do to assist the U.S. government with the implementation of these changes.
One thing is clear from the “bird’s eye” view that the Resource Centre, by nature of its work, has of PMSC human rights impacts. Over and above strengthening national regulation and enforcement, some form of international framework is essential due to the complex and often obscure global chains of responsibility created by multiple layers of outsourcing and cross-border recruitment processes, and the fact that – perhaps in this sector more than many others – the interests of governments are so closely intertwined with those of their national companies. In this context, we welcome the feasibility study recently launched by the International Peace Institute on international standards implementation & enforcement framework for the global security industry, which is open for comments until 30 September 2008.
The human rights challenges posed by the increasing privatization of security are immense. Yet in some respects the space for addressing these challenges is opening up. High-profile incidents such as the 16 September 2007 killings involving Blackwater at Nisour Square in Baghdad have put a spotlight on the accountability gap. And never before have so many groups and institutions paid attention to this subject (either directly or within a broader context), among them:
The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries itself
The UN Special Representative on business & human rights, John Ruggie. Over the next three years John Ruggie will be working to consolidate his three-pillar framework, comprising: the state duty to protect; the corporate responsibility to respect; and access to remedies. This presents an opportunity for the UN Working Group to follow closely and feed into this work as it progresses
The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions
The Swiss Government’s initiative, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, to “confirm existing legal obligations of…states and other actors…and develop non-binding good practices”. The Montreux Document [PDF] was released by the ICRC and 17 governments in September 2008.
A wide range of international and local human rights and labour rights organizations –
including Human Rights First represented here today
An increasing number of academics and journalists
The governments of the US and UK, where the majority of PMSCs are headquartered. Progress towards strengthened regulation is slow but the doors are not fully closed, as suggested by factors such as: the increased civil society pressure on both governments to take action; the recent statement by the UK foreign affairs committee that the “delay in introducing regulation is unacceptable”; the bill put to the US Congress by Senator Obama in February 2007 to “require accountability and enhanced congressional oversight for personnel performing private security functions under Federal contracts, and for other purposes”.
Some PMSCs themselves and the industry associations that represent them, recognizing that strengthened regulation could be in their interest.
The Resource Centre intends to greatly broaden and deepen its coverage of all human rights matters related to PMSCs over the coming years, and to create a special information portal on the subject. We now have researchers based in Hong Kong, India, South Africa, UK, Ukraine and USA (with plans for researchers in additional regions). They are well-placed to build networks of contacts in NGOs, the media, government and business, and to identify under-the-radar reports and cases for dissemination.
We look forward to keeping in close contact with the UN Working Group and the many others working in this area, supporting their work by providing the information they need and bringing specific cases to light.
Note: Our website includes sections on individual PMSCs, as well as the following topics:
Sectors (each with cross-links to sections on individual companies)
Security issues & conflict zones: General
UN Working Group on use of mercenaries
Swiss govt. & ICRC initiative on private military & security cos.
British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC)
International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)
Blackwater USA lawsuit (re 16 Sep 2007 Baghdad incident)
DynCorp lawsuit (re herbicide spraying in Colombia & Ecuador)