War on Want 10/31/06

Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) sell security and military services at home and overseas. Over the last 10 years these companies have moved from the periphery of international politics into the corporate boardroom, becoming a ‘normal’ part of the military sector.

EMBARGO: 00.01 hrs, Monday 30 October 2006

The British government today comes under attack for its growing use of mercenaries in conflict zones while failing to introduce legislation to tackle their human rights abuses. A new report launched today by the charity War on Want reveals that no prosecutions have followed hundreds of accounts of personnel from private military and security firms committing abuses in Iraq. In one example, a website run by a former employee of the UK-based Aegis Defence Services showed security guards randomly shooting automatic rifles at civilian cars.

The report is published on the opening day of the first annual conference of the British Association of Private Security Companies in London. The conference takes place as figures reveal there are now as many as 48,000 mercenaries in Iraq, compared to 7,200 British soldiers — a ratio of over six to one — and income for the private military and security industry reached $100bn in 2004. The event also coincides with the deadline set by US general George Casey, the multinational force commander in Iraq, for security to be restored to Baghdad.

John Hilary, Campaigns and Policy Director of War on Want, said: “The occupation of Iraq has allowed British mercenaries to reap huge profits. But the government has failed to enact laws to punish their human rights abuses, including firing on Iraqi civilians. How can Tony Blair hope to restore peace and security in Iraq while allowing mercenary armies to operate completely outside the law? We call on the government to introduce tough legislation as a matter of urgency to ban the use of mercenaries in these conflict situations.”

Aegis turnover soared from £554,000 in 2003 to £62m last year — three quarters through work in Iraq, including its role coordinating all private military and security firms operating in the country. Aegis is led by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, who broke a UN arms embargo on Sierra Leone with his former company Sandline International, and was jailed in Papua New Guinea for earlier activities. The firm DSC, now part of British company ArmorGroup, was implicated in providing intelligence that helped Colombian death squads identify groups opposed to a BP oil pipeline project. ArmorGroup, which trebled its turnover from $71m in 2001 to $233.2m last year, typifies the private military sector in hiring former government officials and officers to wield political influence. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former UK defence and foreign secretary, is a non-executive director of ArmorGroup. In 2005 the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development awarded the firm armed security contracts in the Afghan capital Kabul, as well as in the Iraqi cities Baghdad and Basra, together with control of the Iraqi police monitoring programme.

Aegis’s non-executive directors include ex-UK defence minister Nicholas Soames, as well as Lord Inge, former chief of defence staff, and Roger Wheeler, earlier professional head of the British army as chief of the general staff.

The War on Want report also points to other human rights abuses by private military companies’ personnel, such as torture, rape, humiliation and using dogs to terrify prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as earlier involvement in rape and prostitution rings in Bosnia.

CONTACT: Paul Collins, War on Want media office — (+44) (0)20 7549 0584 or (+44) (0)7983 550728. email pcollins@waronwant.org

See also: Making a Killing: Corporations, Conflict & Poverty