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UN Takes Heat For Contracting Out Security

  • Courtney Brooks

Members of a private security firm pose on the rooftop of a house in Baghdad, Iraq.

Members of a private security firm pose on the rooftop of a house in Baghdad, Iraq.

UNITED NATIONS -- Could the United Nations' use of private military and security companies actually put UN personnel at greater risk?

That's the question being asked this week after the world body was accused of increasingly turning to contractors -- some with black marks on their records -- to protect its employees.

Global Policy Forum, a non-profit global policy watchdog that monitors the UN, opened the debate this week when it issued a report documenting the UN's drastically increased spending on such companies over the past few years.

"The numbers are very spotty," explains Lou Pingeot, the author of the report.

"But if you take those available numbers, what they show is that from 2009 to 2010, system-wide, the UN increased its spending on private security services by 73 percent -- from I think $44 million to $76 million in the year. And it’s very likely the figure is much higher than that."

Noting the UN's registration of private-security firms accused in the past of serious crimes on its official vendor list, the report argues that the use of such contractors is often unethical and potentially dangerous.

'Big Guys With Tattoos And Sunglasses'

According to Pingeot, the latter is particularly true of high-risk places like Iraq, where security details provided to protect convoys can attract unwanted attention.

"Basically there are concerns that convoy protection exposes the UN to more attacks if it's surrounded by big guys with tattoos and sunglasses and, kind of, provocative behavior," she says. "It's mostly in the case of convoys that the major incidents in Iraq have happened."

According to the report, the UN has hired companies "well known for their misconduct, violence, and financial irregularities."

These include DynCorp International, a private security company implicated in sex trafficking in the Balkans in the 1990s. In 2010, the UN Office for Project Services and the UN Development Program together had more than $3 million in contracts with the company.

Another is ArmorGroup -- a subsidiary to the UK-based G4S, which was hired by both the UN and the United States in 2009 in Afghanistan. A 2010 Senate report showed that ArmorGroup turned to two Afghan warlords to staff its projects, who in turn provided the company with armed security guards to protect the operations.

The Global Policy Forum report does not list what contracts, if any, the UN currently has with DynCorp and ArmorGroup. But the two are included on the UN's list of registered vendors.

New Draft Policy

The UN Procurement Office declined to comment or respond to RFE/RL's queries on whether DynCorp and ArmorGroup are currently working for the UN and where they may have been deployed.

However, this week the UN did announce that it is developing a draft policy that would include a decision-making framework of accountability for the use of private military and security contractors.

The draft would also provide guidelines and criteria for selecting contractors and emphasize that -- if the UN determines it is "appropriate" to hire armed security contractors -- the world body would "ensure due diligence."

Nonetheless, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq maintained that the draft policy would be reviewed in the coming months.

"We're well aware that different private security contractors have different records," he says. "[And] that there are distinct ways in how they go about their work, and how we try to do our own due diligence and make sure that, when we're looking for private security contractors, we bear those distinctions in mind.

"[In other words] we don't think...that all private security contractors -- and all armed private security contractors in particular -- are alike in how they behave internationally."

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