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Watch group criticizes lack of UN policy on use of private security firms

A non-profit United Nations [official website] watch group released a report last month criticizing the UN's lack of a comprehensive internal security policy in the face of its own increased reliance on private military and security companies (PMSCs). In producing Dangerous Partnership: Private Military & Security Companies and the UN [report, PDF] the Global Policy Forum [advocacy website; press release] analyzed available data to reveal that the UN has dramatically increased its reliance on PMSCs [BBC report] in recent years. The report claims that it "is impossible to get a full picture of which companies the UN has been using and how much it has been spending on their services." Regardless, the report states that the "UN's move to private security was not accompanied by necessary standard-setting." The report acknowledges that the Inter-Agency Security Management Network (IASMN) [official profile], a policy body composed of the heads of all security departments across the UN system, set up a Working Group to look into the matter in 2010. However, the report claims that "the details of the proposals remain private and the guidelines appear to be vague, offering only weak policy guidance. ... If adopted, these guidelines would probably do little to change the UN's use of PMSCs. The initiative might only deflect criticism and lessen pressure for more fundamental change." The report also notes that in May 2011 the UN Policy Committee discussed the matter of private security and submitted its conclusions to the Secretary-General [official website] the following month, but a year has since passed without public comment.

The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade and the withdrawal of occupying forces in recent years have drawn public attention to the combat zone roles of PMSCs, typified by infamous firms such as Blackwater [JURIST news archives], now known as Academi [corporate website]. In January Academi reached a confidential settlement agreement with survivors and families of victims in a 2007 shooting incident [JURIST report] in the Nisour Square area of Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. Two ex-Blackwater contractors were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison [JURIST reports] last year for their role in the shooting deaths of two Afghan nationals and the wounding of a third. In April a federal grand jury indicted five former Blackwater executives [JURIST report] on charges of weapons violations and lying to investigators. In 2010 the Iraqi government ordered 250 former Blackwater employees to leave Iraq in reaction to the dismissal of criminal charges [JURIST reports] against the guards involved in the 2007 shooting incident. The same month, the Department of Justice [official website] also opened an investigation [JURIST report] into whether Blackwater bribed the Iraqi government to be permitted to continue operating in Iraq following the 2007 shootings. Blackwater ceased operations in Baghdad [JURIST report] in May 2009 when its security contracts expired and were not renewed.

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