The severe prison sentences handed down to former Blackwater Worldwide security guards should serve as an example for all governments using private firms to recruit mercenaries in war situations, a UN expert body said today.
It called for a new global agreement to regulate the use and accountability of mercenaries from private military and security companies (PMSCs) such as Blackwater and others since their deployment has become widespread among governments, in particular the US.
“The outsourcing of security to these firms by States creates risks for human rights, hence the need to regulate their activities,” it said.
The group composed of five independent human rights experts was commenting on the sentences pronounced by a federal judge in Washington to life in prison for a former Blackwater security guard and 30 year terms for three others. They were accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007 in Baghdad’s crowded Nissour Square. Another 17 Iraqi civilians were injured when the private security contractors opened fire.
“We endorse the sentences meted out to the private military actors in this landmark trial… PMSC personnel must always be held accountable for violations committed under international human rights and humanitarian law,” said group head Elzbieta Karska.
However, 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,” she added.
A new treaty within the UN would provide a clear framework to monitor abuses and violations of human rights committed by private military and security companies and provide an independent avenue to compensate victims of such violations.
Justice requires effective accountability combined with redress mechanisms for victims. “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,” Karska noted.