UN report urges heightened regulation of US military contractors

UN report urges heightened regulation of US military contractors

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[JURIST] A report presented Tuesday by the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries [official website] urges the US to increase regulation of military contractors [text, PDF] employed worldwide, citing alleged human rights abuses and the contractors’ lack of transparency and accountability. The UN Working Group met with US officials last summer to discuss the actions of US private military and security companies (PMSCs) and to make recommendations on its findings. The report proposes that the US amend the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [text] to extend the country’s criminal jurisdiction to PMSCs abroad, eliminate judicial immunity for PMSCs, pursue investigations into possible human rights abuses and enact the Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act [materials] currently before Congress, which would gradually discontinue the use of PMSCs. According to the report, the predominately American PMSC industry generates up to $100 billion per year, constitutes about half of the US military forces sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and needs continued reform:

In the last few years, and largely in reaction to incidents involving PMSCs, the Government of the United States and Congress adopted various measures increasing the Government oversight over PMSCs and expanding and clarifying jurisdiction over offences committed by private militaries and security personnel operating abroad. The Working Group welcomes the adoption of these measures, which have improved the situation, but notes that much remains to be done to ensure effective oversight, accountability and legal remedy when human rights violations occur.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], which testified during the UN Working Group’s investigation, supported the recommendations and urged the Obama administration to pursue justice for victims [press release] of human rights violations committed by PMSCs.

The US has begun to place tighter restrictions on PMSCs employed in international conflicts. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Maryland [official website] denied a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit filed by a group of former Iraqi detainees against US military contractors. The lawsuit, Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla [case materials], filed in June 2008 [JURIST report], alleges that PMSC L-3 Services, Inc. [corporate website] violated US and international law by directing and participating in abuses at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] and other Iraqi prisons. The defendants in the case had moved for dismissal in November 2008, claiming immunity under the laws of war and sovereign immunity, but Judge Peter Messitte rejected their claims and allowed the case to continue to discovery. In April, a federal grand jury indicted [press release] five former Blackwater [JURIST news archive] executives on charges [JURIST report] of weapons violations and lying to criminal investigators. In February, the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice [official website] is investigating [JURIST report] Blackwater, now known as Xe, to determine whether the company bribed the Iraqi government to allow it to continue operating in Iraq following 2007 shootings that killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians [JURIST report].