U.N. wants private security firms in Iraq held accountable

From the Los Angeles Times:

BAGHDAD — The United Nations today called on the United States to hold private security contractors in Iraq accountable in instances when killings appeared unjustified.

And I call on the U.N. to hold itself accountable. More from the draft Chapter 9 in the forthcoming Handbook on Military Administration:

The Security Council (SC) engages states to provide peacekeeping forces (PKF) in the stead of the SC members who collectively contribute less than 5 percent of forces themselves. The failure to create a permanent UN military force called for in Article 43 of the UN Charter results in ad hoc combinations of military and police resources almost exclusively drawn from outside of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The SC makes a decision, often without direct input from the General Assembly, and then hires military manpower at a substantial mark-up over cost. There is a usual top five that contribute nearly fifty percent of all peacekeeping forces. The Security Council relies on these “subcontractor” states – Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Jordan, and Nepal – because of political constraints on the SC members that prohibit committing troops to regions when domestic interest is weak. In the post-Cold War environment, this pressure increased as Western military downsizing further eroded their ability to participate in peacemaking or peacekeeping operations, resulting in an increased reliance on forces for hire.

While PMCs are potentially held accountability by contract wording and options against the hiring principal, like the U.S. government, for its part, the UN does not see itself as a member of the regimes of international humanitarian law (IHL) and Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), but does attempt to apply the “principles and spirit” of the law, primarily so the other actors it faces will operate at least at the same level. In terms of legal liability, the actions of Blue Helmets are not the actions of a state, but of a collection of states, which removes them from constraints of signed international treaties. The international community in general, or the Security Council specifically, may be clear in the desire to intervene, granting authority from international law and collective will, but mission specifics are often murky and unclear and subject to further politicking and lobbying. This is compounded by indeterminate accountability of the PKF under international humanitarian law. The United Nations’ declared commitment to IHL and LOAC comes with the understanding that because a UN PKO is operating on behalf of the international community, they “cannot be considered a ‘party’ to the conflict, nor a ‘Power’ within the meaning of the Geneva Conventions”. To accept this responsibility would imply they were no longer impartial. To this, the U.N. secretary-general reaffirmed in 1999 that in cases “of violations of international humanitarian law, members of the military personnel of a United Nations force are subject to prosecution in their national courts”. The UN reminded the world it is not a signatory to nor bound by the Geneva Conventions or the Additional Protocols, specifically stating the standards set forth in IHL are “observed at the national level,” obliging states and not nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to guarantee the principles and spirit of the laws of war while explicitly and implicitly excluding peacekeepers as not combatants. A subsequent bulletin by the UN in 1999 attempted to address this, but major gaps remain. As recently as early 2007, the UN was still attempting, without success, to grapple with peacekeepers that violate international laws.

So, tell me, how are Blue Helmets more accountable than mercenaries? At least a private security firm can be fired. There are only five countries that provide 50% of the UN PKF, one of which "promises" not to send its human rights abusers on PKOs (Nepal). At least it’s possible for the state, when hiring private military companies, to stipulate legal and ethical covenants and obligations. If they don’t do it, that’s between you and your state. The U.N. has no such recourse and not only doesn’t apply pressure for compliance, but has explicitly stated it’s outside (not above) international law in this regard. Granted, the current Secretary General has stated a desire to move on this issue, but let’s be sure to the world in context, shall we? I didn’t get into the details of corruption, human trafficking, or blatant violations of human rights and LOAC promulgated by Blue Helmets under the Rules on the Use of Force and Rules of Engagement (ROE) they operate under (negotiated separately with each contributing member).

Consider the Canadian expedition to Somalia as part of a UN peacekeeping mission in 1992-1993. A report by Canada’s Department of National Defense was by its own admission “curtailed” with “important questions remain[ing] unanswered”. Even cut at the knees, it found significant failures in accountability and discipline, in addition to areas outside narrow scope of this discussion. Rules of Engagement failures and the beating death of a teenager in custody do not warrant attention by the ICC or other accountability regime other than the Canadian law.

  • See a massacre? I won’t do anything because my ROE says not to so I’ll just continue on my merry way and report it when I return to base.
  • Let’s open the gates to the "safe-haven" so thousands can be massacred? Sure, all I’ve got are pistols because my government didn’t want to get fully involved so what am I do in front of tanks? I’m surely not going to fight to the death like I would if this were a city in my country. On top of that, I’ll go home as a hero because of the terrible tanks I faced, only later will it be learned what I allowed to happen.

I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the idea.