Government has awarded ‘licence to kill' for private armies

By agency reporter
October 20, 2009

War on Want today has condemned the British government for giving UK private military and security companies (PMSCs) a 'licence to kill' by refusing to regulate the industry.

Campaigners from the charity will demonstrate this morning outside the annual conference of the British Association of Private Security Companies which takes place in central London.

One activist, dressed as the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will hand over money to 'armed' mercenaries.

War on Want are protesting against government plans to let private military and security companies police themselves, despite widespread human rights abuses by mercenary troops. The demonstration comes as the government is due to announce the outcome of consultation on its proposal for a voluntary code of conduct overseen by the BAPSC, the industry body.

A keynote speech at the conference will be made by John Reid, the former UK Defence and Home Secretary, now a £50,000 group consultant to G4S, including ArmorGroup, hired by the British government in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ArmorGroup hit the headlines in August when one of its contractors shot and killed two colleagues in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The protest takes place only days after the second anniversary of an incident in Iraq when guards from the British private military and security firm, Erinys International, fired on a taxi, badly wounding three Iraqi civilians near Kirkuk.

Following hundreds of cases of human rights abuse by mercenaries, War on Want is spearheading the campaign for tough legislation, including a ban on their use in combat and combat support.

The charity is calling for all PMSCs to be subjected to individual parliamentary approved licences. It is also demanding that any government ministry which outsources a service to a PMSC be held responsible for the firm’s conduct and for all allegations of human rights abuses by contractors working for PMSCs to be independently investigated.

As the war in Afghanistan escalates and the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, prepares to send more British troops to the country, War on Want warns that the government is spending millions of pounds on PMSCs and risking civilian lives in Afghanistan by failing to regulate the industry.

Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at the charity, said: “The government has ignored all regulatory options in favour of a voluntary code of conduct for private armies. This is giving a licence to kill to private military and security companies. The proposed voluntary code of conduct flies in the face of the growing consensus on the need to regulate this deadly industry. More lives in war zones will be put at risk unless the government acts to regulate private armies now.”

The UK government has spent £148 million on PMSC contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last three years. The government currently has contracts with PMSCs in Afghanistan from the beginning of 2008 to the end of this year which are worth more than £42 million - more than twice the figure for Iraq in the same period.

Britain has the second largest PMSC industry in the world. UK private military and security firms now operating in Afghanistan include Olive, PAGE associates, Saladin Security, AEGIS, ArmorGroup, Blue Hackle, Control Risks Group, Edinburgh International, Global Security and IDG Security.

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