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16 Jul, 2012

Investigative Report Says Security Firms Contributing to Global Insecurity

With the travel & tourism industry facing soaring costs of security, an investigative report issued last month by the New York-based Global Policy Forum warns that international security contractors are operating in an environment of total impunity and secrecy that may be worsening the situation.

Entitled, “Dangerous Partnership: Private Military & Security Companies and the UN,” the report says: “Loosening the grip of the military and security companies poses a core challenge for those who seek reform and renovation of the world body. Only by ridding itself of violence-prone policies and security-centered frameworks can the UN move towards a different and more effective commitment to the well-being of all humanity.”

Although the subject of the report focuses on the relationship between the security contractors and the UN system, its findings have direct relevance to the travel, tourism and transportation sector which is also facing similar challenges in dealing with spiraling security costs.

Airports, airlines, hotels, convention centres, shopping complexes and cargo companies are being increasingly saddled with security bills. Groupings such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation, International Air Transport Association and others regularly focus on security matters without raising nary a question about what they are getting for their money and the implications for the global travelling public.

The report says that the UN’s 58 agencies and units spent US$44.24 million on security services in 2009 and US$75.70 million in 2010. Another data table shows that UN agencies spent US$10.6 million on field mission security in 2007, an amount which rose to US$26.47 million in 2011. All these amounts are based on publicly-available information and believed to be conservative estimates.

The report was authored by the GPF’s Program Coordinator Lou Pingeot who acknowledges the assistance of the Center for International and Security Studies of York University (Toronto) and funding support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Samuel Rubin Foundation, amongst others.

The report blasts the cronyism and corruption inherent in the system, noting that many of the security contractors are in cahoots with government officials, intelligence agencies and the military-industrial complex.

Its central thesis is that they are becoming too big, powerful, dangerous and unaccountable. By violating many of the fundamental principles of democracy, transparency and accountability inherent in any process of good governance, the security companies themselves are becoming sources of insecurity, the report argues.

According to the report, “The companies actively manage their image through secrecy, lobbying, public relations campaigns and non-disclosure. They go to great lengths to persuade the public that they are like any other private service provider, like caterers. These claims are seriously misleading, preventing understanding of where the firms come from and why they are especially controversial.”

It adds, “The UN treats the symptoms but not the causes of its growing “insecurity.” This means strengthening protection measures, including more guards, fortified compounds with blast walls, armored vehicles and convoys protected by security guards.

“Under such circumstances, UN staff will have a far more difficult time working with local people and building trust in informal settings. For many observers, this protection approach damages the UN’s core mission.”

It says, “Observers believe that many PMSCs are extensions of their host governments’ foreign and military policy and instruments of their nation’s economic interests. A recent French government report notes enviously the powerful influence of the “Anglo-Saxon” (US and UK) security companies and comments that they are advancing the economic interests of their host governments in places like Libya to the detriment of French interests.”

It notes that many observers have raised serious questions about these companies and their work. “Reports from governments, NGOs and the media have shown that PMSCs have committed serious human rights abuses, killed or injured innocent civilians, engaged in financial malfeasance and committed many other breaches of the law. In spite of such well-known concerns, the UN has hired – sometimes repeatedly – some of the major offenders.

“Given this negative track-record, serious questions arise as to whether PMSCs are appropriate UN partners for the complex task of creating a secure, just and lawful world.”

The report notes that “the UN’s leadership avoids open discussion and keeps its policy-making process almost completely in the dark. Officials rarely comment on why the organization is increasingly using the services of these dangerous firms. UN secretiveness around this issue reflects the sensitive and potentially embarrassing nature of the companies and their work.”

It adds, “The UN faces alienation from its global constituency if it continues to follow the present security path. The organization must re-center its thinking on public support rather than burly warriors, blast walls and obsessive secrecy.

“Success in this change will depend on the action of independently-inclined member states, courageous individual staff members, NGOs unafraid to speak out, and a worldwide public that rejects the present, force-centered security world view.”

The author says his hope is to “stimulate debate and discussion, so as to break through the silence and to re-think the role of a more democratic and effective UN in the years ahead.” A similar debate is also long overdue in the travel, tourism and transportation sector.

Click on the link to download the report: GPF_Dangerous_Partnership_Full_report.pdf