The outsourcing of national security to private firms creates risks for human rights and accountability, the United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries confirmed today as it welcomed the sentencing of four former Blackwater Worldwide personnel for the 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The four security personnel were convicted for the shooting deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad’s crowded Nissour Square in 2007. Another 17 Iraqi civilians were also injured when the private contractors opened fire.
According to a press release issued by the UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), one Blackwater security guard was convicted to life in prison while three others were sentenced to 30 years.
“We endorse the sentences meted out to the private military actors in this landmark trial,” said Elzbieta Karska, the working group’s chairperson, in the press release. “Private military and security companies must always be held accountable for violations committed under international human rights and humanitarian law.”
However, Ms. Karska added, such examples of accountability are the “exception rather than the rule.”
“The difficulty in bringing a prosecution in this case shows the need for an international treaty to address the increasingly significant role that private military companies play in transnational conflicts.”
Ms. Karska and the Working Group acknowledged that the adoption of a new international legal instrument within the UN would provide a clear framework to effectively monitor abuses and violations of human rights committed by private security contractors and develop an independent avenue to compensate victims of such violations.
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 then Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Poland), Ms. Patricia Arias, Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa), Mr. Gabor Rona (United States/Hungary), and Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen).
The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
“There can be no justice without effective accountability and redress mechanisms for victims,” Ms. Karska continued, noting that human rights violations committed by private security companies cannot remain unpunished.
“States have a responsibility to ensure that victims and their families have equal and effective access to justice, as well as adequate, effective and prompt reparation for the harm suffered.”