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The UN Must Stop Outsourcing Peacekeepers

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The United Nations' working group on mercenaries and human rights has today published a report revealing that the UN is increasingly outsourcing its security and peacekeeping work to private military and security companies. The report documents the proliferation of outsourcing contracts for armed guards, convoy security, security advice and risk assessment, transport services.

While this is ostensibly done to save money, using private military and security companies threatens the lives of UN staff and the populations they are trying to help.

The increase in outsourcing comes at a time when the departments within the UN that could do this work are facing significant budget cuts and when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is refusing to negotiate with the organisation's staff unions on this matter.

The report, along with an earlier publication by Lou Pingeot of the Global Policy Forum, points to the lack of serious guidelines to regulate private military and security companies and describes how the UN currently has no way of checking whether they have committed human rights abuses in the past or indeed are concurrently providing services to other clients that could drag the UN into controversy and turn staff into targets for terrorists and rebels.

In 2010 the US Senate accused G4S and its subsidiary ArmorGroup of sourcing security personnel from Afghan warlords. In 2011, it protected UN facilities in the Dominican Republic.

Saracen, formed in part from the remnants of Executive Outcomes, was recently accused of smuggling weapons to northern Somalia. It has been providing security for the UN in Uganda.

Dyncorp was implicated in people trafficking in the Balkans in the nineties. A closely related firm, Dyncorp International, now trains Haitian police officers under an $81 million contract as part of the US Government's contribution to peacekeeping efforts in the country.

In 2005 an apparent trophy video surfaced of guards linked to Aegis shooting at Iraqi civilians. Aegis, founded by a former contractor at Sandline International, was also contracted by a third party to protect UN staff in Iraq.

Former French army officer, Richard Rouget, who according to the New York Times, commanded foreign fighters in Cote d'Ivoire, has worked for Bancroft Global Development in Somalia, training African Union forces in the AMISOM mission. The mission is mandated by the UN Security Council and works closely with the UN.

Some of these cases are examples where the UN directly contracts and pays for private military and security companies. However, the organisation also relies on in-kind contributions from governments. And here the risks to reputation and life are much higher.

When UN staff serve in conflict zones they do so to protect and bring help to innocent civilians stuck in the crossfire. They rely on their neutrality to ensure their safe passage.

However, we do need to ask ourselves whether the private military and security companies that work alongside our colleagues under the UN flag, share the values of the UN charter and pledge loyalty to its long-term goals. Because even if we don't ask these questions, trigger-happy terrorists and rebel groups will. And these people don't have time to decide whether the person driving past in the UN vehicle is a doctor on his way to provide much-needed vaccinations to their children or a former militiaman who perhaps only months earlier was killing their families.

This was recognized by the UN when in its 2004 Guidelines for Humanitarian Organisations on Interacting With Military and Other Security Actors in Iraq it said that private military and security companies "are also increasingly becoming a target. In addition, there are problems of operational control, accountability and liability."

But with over 200 UN staff and contractors being killed in attacks in the last ten years, it isn't just a question of screening these companies for their past activities. There's also a big question mark over whether they can do as good a job as our own loyal, highly trained and vetted UN security officers, some of whom have died in the line of fire to protect their colleagues.

We should therefore ask whether it would have been wiser to use the $76 million lavished on private military and security companies in 2010 to instead recruit and train our own security staff, who can be deployable worldwide at a moment's notice? Or for certain cases, to make more use of professional armed forces supplied by governments, who, unlike mercenaries, do not pledge loyalty to the highest bidder?

As the report clearly states, the risk private military and security companies cause to UN staff has created an untenable situation in the field and the association of the good name of the UN with murderers and human traffickers is unacceptable.

There's also a business case to answer. At a time when the private sector is bringing call centres back in-house, it's perhaps time for the UN to bring peace and security under direct control.

Last month, the staff unions of the UN wrote to the Secretary-General asking him to reinstate negotiating rights for unions so that we could tackle the urgent safety issues and reduce the organisation's appalling death toll to zero. We highlighted the need to rid the organisation's operations of mercenaries. This appeal was backed on Monday by Frances O'Grady, the General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress, who also pleaded our case with Ban Ki-moon.

We hope this report from some of the world's greatest experts on mercenaries, will convince the Secretary-General to change his mind.