Friday, October 12, 2007


U.N. says PSC shootings could amount to war crimes

(AP) -- U.N. officials in Iraq stepped up pressure on the United States on Thursday to prosecute any unjustified killings of Iraqi civilians by private security contractors, saying such killings could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity if "done in cold blood." While Americans are unlikely to face such charges, the words served as a harsh rebuke as outrage spreads over what many Iraqis perceive as overly aggressive behavior of the heavily armed foreigners protecting U.S. government-funded work.
"For us, it's a human rights issue," said Ivana Vuco, a human rights officer with the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq, or UNAMI. "We will monitor the allegations of killings by security contractors and look into whether or not crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed." The warnings followed two high-profile cases of shooting incidents involving private contractors on the streets of Baghdad.
Arikat spoke as UNAMI released its quarterly human rights report, which warns that increasing reliance on heavily armed teams in Iraq risks eroding the distinction between civilians and combatants. It notes several reports of "killings carried out by privately hired contractors with security-related functions in support of U.S. government authorities."
It is unclear how far the United Nations could go in pressing the issue of war crimes or even calls for prosecution under U.S. law. The U.N.'s influence in Iraq plummeted after it was forced to withdraw most of its staff from the country following two bombings in 2003, including one that struck its Baghdad headquarters and killed a top U.N. envoy and 21 other workers. The mission returned in 2004 with a limited staff, but its role here remains highly sensitive.
But the world body is still viewed by most Iraqis as a more neutral party, and Thursday's warnings likely were meant to invoke that position of moral authority. Vuco said international humanitarian rights law applies equally to contractors who work for the mostly Western firms providing security to diplomats and aid groups as it does to other parties in a conflict.

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