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US appeal of Blackwater case dismissal a step towards accountability

Shaista Shameem [Chairperson/Rapporteur, Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Special Procedures Branch - OHCHR]: "The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination welcomes the decision announced by the US Vice President Joe Biden to appeal a ruling dismissing charges against the five Blackwater guards in connection with the shooting in Nissour Square in Iraq in 2007 during which at least 14 people were killed and a further 20 injured, many seriously.

The Working Group expressed its concerns in a public statement released on January 7, 2010, following the decision of Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia on December 31, 2009 to dismiss the indictment against Blackwater. The Group stated that while it respected the independence of the United States judiciary and the requirements for due process, it felt such a decision may lead to a situation where no one would be accountable for grave human rights violations.

During its visit to the United States in July 2009, but the Department of State and the Department of Defense stressed to the Working Group the importance of ensuring oversight and accountability of private security companies working on its behalf. The authorities explained the legislative steps taken by the Congress following the 2007 Blackwater shooting in Iraq to expand and clarify jurisdiction over offenses committed by private security and military contractors operating in areas of armed conflict and in peacetime.

While these news statutes virtually permit the US justice system to punish all crimes prohibited by human rights or humanitarian law, recent litigation has demonstrated that it remains a challenge to do so.

The Working Group hopes that through the appeal of the Blackwater dismissal, the US justice system will be able to consider all evidence gathered in this case in accordance with the law."

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