TV film sparks 'curb mercenaries' call

11 June 2008 - 5:00pm
Press release

A television film which features a British company's mercenaries in Iraq shooting at a taxi, wounding two civilians, today brought new pressure on the UK government to regulate private armies.

Pressure comes from the anti-poverty charity War on Want as BBC1 prepares to screen tonight (Tuesday) a special edition of its flagship current affairs show Panorama on firms profiting from the war and occupation in Iraq. The programme, Daylight Robbery, includes the incident last October when mercenaries working for the British private security group Erinys International opened fire on a cab near Kirkuk. In the same month mercenaries from the Australian company Unity Resources Group killed two Iraqi women. In September mercenaries from the American private military company Blackwater killed 17 Iraqi civilians. And in November an Iraqi taxi driver was shot dead by mercenaries with DynCorp International, hired to protect US diplomats.

War on Want is calling for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' use in combat, and cites hundreds of incidents which have involved guards from US and UK companies in human rights abuses. In 2002 the UK government acknowledged the problems over private armies in a green paper which listed options for regulation. In its response to the paper later that year, the Commons foreign affairs committee recommended that "private companies be expressly prohibited from direct participation in armed combat operations, and that firearms should only be carried... by company employees for purposes of training or self-defence". The committee also proposed that the government consider "a complete ban on recruitment for such activities of United Kingdom citizens by overseas-based or offshore PMCs", while remaining activities be subject to licence.

But since then the British government has failed to move towards regulation despite the United Nations, the British parliament and the industry itself calling on it to take decisive action. Ruth Tanner, senior campaigns officer at War on Want, said: "Growing human rights abuses by mercenary firms making a killing in Iraq are fuelling demands for regulation. Yet while the US and Iraqi administrations move towards controls, UK ministers fail to take action. Panorama's film underlines the need for the British government to follow suit. It is time for tough measures to curb these private armies."


 

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Panorama's special programme, Daylight Robbery, will be broadcast on BBC1 from 9.00-10.00 pm tonight (Tuesday).
  • Iraq has turned mercenaries' work into a multi-billion pound industry, with UK private security firms among the biggest winners. The British government has spent £179 million between 2003/2004 and 2007/2008 on contracts with private security companies in Iraq and ?46 million during the same period in Afghanistan.
  • Erinys International was granted a $100 million contract to guard oil installations and pipelines in Iraq. The UK government has given ArmorGroup a £20 million annual contract for security services in Afghanistan. In 2006, ArmorGroup saw revenues totalling over $273 million. The firm earned $133 million in Iraq that year. Aegis has a contract with the Pentagon worth $475 million over two years.
  • The United Nations working group on mercenaries has called for regulation by all governments in countries where private security companies are based. In the USA the House of Representatives has passed the Military and Security Contracting Act, establishing American control over private military and security companies. Other bills in the House and Senate call for more wide-ranging oversight and accountability.
  • CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office (+44) ((0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728

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