UN experts propose new rules on private security firms

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UN experts on Tuesday proposed a new treaty regulating private security firms, saying that rules were urgently needed as these firms have become "indispensable partners" of state military action.

"The trend towards privatisation of security is stepping up, while private military and security companies are not sufficiently regulated at the international level, they are also often insufficiently regulated at national level," said Amanda Benavides de Perez, chairwoman of the working group on mercenaries.

"Despite the withdrawal of international forces from countries such as Iraq... the issue and role and status of private military and security companies will remain on the agenda, and even become increasingly significant," she said as she presented a proposal for a convention to the UN Human Rights Council.

"Such functions previously performed by forces may be transferred to the private military and security companies," she warned, calling on the council to open formal talks to conclude an international convention.

Benavides de Perez underlined the urgency of the issue, since "some of these private companies have become so powerful... that they have become indispensable partners of military activities of some governments."

The draft presented by the group covers the scope of such firms, licensing, oversight and monitoring of the companies, as well as provisions for prosecutions, including extraditions.

Some functions were described as "inherently state functions and which can never be outsourced."

The proposal would also bans such firms from participating in coups or foreign occupations.

"The aim of the new convention is not the outright banning of private military and security companies, but the establishment of minimum standards," noted Benavides de Perez.

Besides getting countries to sign up, the working group suggested that the convention should be also signed by international organisations, given that they also employ such firms.

The convention was quickly shot down by the European Union, which questioned the competence of the human rights body to draft such rules.

It added that the call for negotiations was therefore "premature."

However, the group of African countries and the Organisation of Islamic Conference backed such a convention during a debate at the 47 member UN rights council.

Private security firms employ an estimated 25,000 personnel in Afghanistan, while in Iraq the US State Department is increasing the number of private contractors to around 7,000 following the end of combat operations.

© 2010 AFP

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