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7 Nov, 2007

Beware the Private Security Firms, UN Report Warns

If safety and security issues are becoming important for the travel and tourism industry, the global activities of mercenaries and intelligence agencies should be of equal concern, a team of independent United Nations experts said today.

In this dispatch:





New York, Nov 6, 2007 – If safety and security issues are becoming important for the travel and tourism industry, the global activities of mercenaries and intelligence agencies should be of equal concern. A team of independent United Nations experts said today that a number of private security companies operating in conflict zones are engaging in new forms of mercenary activity, warning that States employing them could be liable for human rights violations committed by their personnel.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries noted a significant increase in the number of private security companies operating in conflict-ridden areas, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a press release issued in Geneva. The Group stated that, though heavily armed, the personnel employed by the companies are neither civilians nor combatants. “They represent a new form of mercenarism, similar to ‘irregular combatants,’ which itself is an unclear concept.”

States employing these services may be responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights committed by the personnel of such companies, the Group warned. This is especially true if the companies are empowered to exercise elements of governmental authority or are acting under governmental direction or control.

Considering how difficult it is for war-torn States to regulate private security companies, the Group said it believed that a significant part of that responsibility falls on States from where these companies export services. In that regard, it urged exporting States to avoid granting immunity to these companies and their personnel.

The Group voiced concern that the recruitment of former military personnel and ex-policemen as “security guards” in zones of armed conflict such as Iraq seems to be continuing. It is also concerned that only 30 States have ratified the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, as well as by the lack of regulation at the regional and national levels regarding private military and security companies which operate without oversight and accountability.

Established in 2005, the Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities, headed by its Chairperson-Rapporteur, José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain). The other members of the Group are Najat al-Hajjaji (Libya), Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Alexander Nikitin (Russia) and Shaista Shameem (Fiji).

Read the group’s full report: http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N07/489/82/PDF/N0748982.pdf?OpenElement>



LONDON: The British government has introduced a new program of security checks for foreign graduate students to prevent sensitive scientific information from being used in other countries to develop weapons of mass destruction, the Associated Press reported this week.

The new program, first reported Wednesday by the journal Nature, requires students from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland to complete an online questionnaire asking about their backgrounds and families. The documents will be vetted by British security agencies before the students can apply for visas to enter the country, the AP report said.

The goal is to prevent sensitive information in fields such as nuclear physics and microbiology from being used for malicious purposes, such as the development of weapons of mass destruction, a Foreign Office official was quoted as saying while speaking on condition of anonymity in line with ministry’s rules.

“There are certain countries (which) could conceivably use that kind of scientific information for the wrong reasons,” including terrorism, the Foreign Office official said. He declined to identify the countries which are of particular concern. According to the AP report, the list of 41 disciplines at issue under the new program includes biology, physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematics. The government estimates that about 14,000 students will be affected each year. Foreign undergraduate students will not be affected by the new program, which came into effect Nov. 1.

Gemma Tumelty, president of Britain’s National Union of Students, described it as unfair. “This new screening system treats international students with undue suspicion,” she was quoted as saying. “This is wrong.”

The new system resembles a U.S. program tightened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks which made foreign students studying subjects such as nuclear technology and chemical and biotechnology engineering undergo further screening. At one point, that system delayed many applications, reducing the number of academics visiting the United States.

Some officials associated with Britain’s graduate university programs expressed concern on Wednesday that the new vetting system would unfairly delay the arrival of foreign students. “I think it will be a further pain for people trying to apply to a university. It’s difficult enough as it already is,” Jean-Bapiste Laloe, a French research associate in the Department of Physics at Cambridge University, was quoted as saying in the AP report.

“It’s not useful to filter applicants with the fear that they will use their science or engineering degrees to carry out terrorist attacks,” he said. “Day-to-day interactions in a lab such as mine are closely monitored in an open and friendly way. Anything suspicious would be noticed immediately.


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