US must rein in private security firms: UN experts

19th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

A UN expert group on mercenaries on Tuesday urged the United States to exercise stronger official control over private security contractors in Afghanistan.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries welcomed a US Senate committee report this month which found that Washington had failed to manage those hired to provide security under contracts worth billions of dollars, with disastrous results.

However, the chairman of the UN body, Alexander Nikitin, said it was just "a step in the right direction" and more should be done to address the problems raised by the Senate's inquiry.

"In particular, there should be stronger oversight of United States' private security contractors in Afghanistan and elsewhere," Nikitin said in a statement.

The Afghan government on Sunday rolled back its plan to disband all private security firms by January, allowing those protecting embassies and military bases to keep operating in Afghanistan.

Nikitin underlined that self-regulation by the security industry had failed to establish effective accountability for the past ten years even in other settings, opening the way for abuse.

"The matters discussed in the United States Senate report are too important to be left to self-regulation of companies," he insisted.

"While voluntary codes of conduct for private contractors are welcome, they are not sufficient to ensure that states regulate and monitor the activities of the companies they contract... and establish accountability mechanisms to address human rights violations."

Nikitin notably pointed to an issue raised by the US Senate committee, the lack of effective vetting that allowed security firms to employ people who may have been involved in human rights abuses in the past and continued abuse while under contract.

In a review of more than 125 Pentagon security contracts from 2007 to 2009 released on October 7, the US Senate Committee on Armed Services found "systemic failures" including in vetting or training, while one firm even resorted to Afghan warlords for recruitment.

The Afghan government formally banned eight foreign firms this month.

© 2010 AFP

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