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C. Country visits
10. The Working Group undertook two country visits in the course of 2009, one to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the other to the United States of America.
11. Afghanistan represents today, together with Iraq, the biggest theatre of operation for PMSCs and the United States, which has the largest military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, is the principal employer of PMSCs in the country. The presence and activities of PMSCs in Afghanistan is very much interconnected with the large quantity of unauthorized armed groups of various kinds on the territory of the country. The Ministry of Interior estimated that no less than 2500 unauthorized armed groups were operating in those provinces under governmental control, which represents less than half of the countries’ territory. There was a perception among interlocutors that many de facto non-state armed groups used the regularization process of PMSCs to disguise their groupings as private security companies reinforcing the perception that PMSCs were a threat to stability. In early 2008, the government of Afghanistan adopted a comprehensive regulation to address some of these challenges and regulate the activities of PMSCs operating on its territory. However, the Group observed a persistent lack of accountability of PMSCs as well as militia groups operating under the umbrella of PMSCs.
12. The Working Group did not receive first hand information that PMSCs personnel have engaged in direct combat activities since the adoption of the regulation. Nevertheless, the Working Group noted that by protecting Forward Operating Bases in conflict zones, a civilian contractor may lose protection under international humanitarian law by protecting legitimate military targets.
13. The vast majority of NGOs stressed that the high presence of armed private guards did not generate a feeling of increased security for the Afghan population and that, to the contrary, the high number of armed individuals, vehicles and weapons created a feeling of fear and insecurity. The Independent human rights commission also underlined the lack of clarity regarding the jurisdiction applicable to PMSCs and the lack of accountability when crimes have been committed. On the basis of its findings, the Working Group made several recommendations to the government. The full report and a series of recommendations can be found in an addendum to this report (A/HRC/15/xx/Add.x)
14. The Working Group visited the United States of America from 20 July to 3 August 2009. The Group found that the U.S. Government relies heavily on the private military and security industry in conducting its worldwide military operations. American PMSCs dominate this new industry estimated to earn 20 to 100 billion annually. Private forces constitute about half of the total US force deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
15. The Group noted that the information accessible to the public on the scope and type of contracts between the U.S. government and PMSCs is scarce and opaque. The lack of transparency is particularly significant when companies subcontract to others. The situation is particularly opaque when U.S. intelligence agencies contract PMSCs. Given the agencies’ power to invoke confidentiality in the interest of national security, the public does not have access to information on the company hired, the activities it is contracted to do and its area of deployment.
16. The Group also discussed cases which raised concerns about the extent to which private security companies, hired for defensive guard duty, have joined in offensive military and intelligence operations and the existing close relationship between the intelligence agencies and PMSCs.
17. The Group examined information received with regard to the American company known as Xe/Blackwater which had its license revoked in Iraq following the shooting by its personnel of innocent civilians in Nisoor square in Baghdad which killed at least 14 people and severely injured many others on 16 September 2007. According to a congressional report on the conduct of Blackwater in Iraq, Blackwater guards were found to have been involved in nearly 200 escalation of force incidents that involved the firing of shots – with Blackwater firing the first shots in 80% of the shooting incidents - in Iraq since 2005. Despite the decision of the Iraqi authorities and the congressional reports, Xe/Blackwater was still operating in Iraq at least until September 2009.
18. The Working Group also reported on the alleged involvement of two U.S.-based corporations CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation) in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, Iraq. CACI and L-3 Services were the U.S. government contractors responsible for interrogation and translation services respectively at Abu Ghraib prison and other facilities in Iraq.
19. The Group stated it was pleased that the U.S. government had taken serious corrective actions and welcomed the recent adoption by the U.S. authorities of legislation and regulations aimed at strengthening further the oversight and accountability of PMSCs. It noted that the clarification of applicable jurisdiction had yet to lead to successful prosecutions and punishment of those responsible for human rights abuses and other crimes. The full report and recommendations aimed at improving the U.S. oversight mechanism and at ensuring accountability can be found in an addendum to this report (A/HRC/15/xx/Add.x).
20. The Working Group is planning a visit to Equatorial Guinea from 16 to 21 August 2010. The Working Group would focus its visit on the measures taken by the government in the context of the attempted coups d’état conducted by mercenaries in 2004 and after, including the judicial proceedings related to these cases. It will also study all relevant legislation in force regarding mercenary activities as well as the activities of PMSCs operating in the country.
21. The Working Group has also been invited to visit South Africa during the course of the year to discuss the current efforts of the government to ensure oversight and monitoring of the activities of South African PMSCs and their personnel operating abroad.