While the U.N. has taken steps to clarify its policies, panel members said many issues remain unresolved. Among those is how to hold contractors accountable for abuses committed in the field and the establishment of an oversight mechanism to ensure compliance with international standards.
Complicating the situation, security companies are sometimes hired not by the United Nations but by member states participating in its missions. Most recently, military contractor DynCorp announced in April that it won a State Department contract for up to $48.6 million to help support a U.S. contingent to the peacekeeping mission in Haiti. DynCorp, based in Fall Church, Virginia, said it will recruit and finance officers to join the Haiti mission’s police unit.
DynCorp’s involvement in U.N. operations has been controversial in part because the company secretly coordinated flights for the rendition terrorism suspects to CIA-operated overseas prisons. The firm also drew criticism in 2005 when three of its guards assigned to the protective detail of Afghan President Hamid Karzai got drunk and caused a scene in the VIP lounge of the Kabul airport. #DynCorp fired the three guards.
Private security companies often become involved in U.N. operations “because of the #outsourcing policies of implementing partners or member states,” said Ase Gilje Ostensen, a Norwegian academic who last year published a report titled “The Political influence of Private Military and Security Companies on U.N. Peacekeeping.”
“In fact, private military and security companies sometimes deliver their services within U.N. operations to little awareness or oversight of the U.N. at all,” Ostensen said Wednesday during a debate at the United Nations.
U.N. officials said the world body needs private security firms because its growing peacekeeping operations and other missions increasingly operate in regions where conflicts are no longer between government armies that respect U.N. personnel, but between insurgents who do not.
In a speech last year, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias called the increasing attacks [on U.N. staff] “a disturbing trend” that “has led to an increased use of armed private security companies.” He said the U.N. had recently adopted a policy that establishes that such firms must only be engaged as a last resort. It requires that they subscribe to an “International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers,” which was cr eated in 2010 through multilateral discussions.
Critics note that the international code is not a legally binding document. Faiza Patel, a member of the Working Group, also noted that most individual countries have not committed to a similar requirement when hiring private security firms to help in their participation in U.N. missions.