Mercenaries: UN experts say that the Nissour Square killings in Iraq should not remain unpunished

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GENEVA (7 January 2009) - The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries* calls on the United States and the Iraqi Governments to cooperate to ensure that the Nissour Square incident is fully remedied and, in relation to the crimes that may have been committed, those responsible fully held accountable as appropriate.

The Working Group notes with interest the decision of the Iraqi authorities to sue the American security company Blackwater in United States and Iraqi courts, in connection with a shooting in Nissour Square in Iraq 2007 during which 17 people were killed and a further 20 injured, many seriously.

The Iraqi government announced its position after the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed an indictment against five security guards of Blackwater, the private firm charged with voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations. On 31 December 2009, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that evidence against them was inadmissible under the U.S. Constitution. The United States Government can appeal against the decision.

"We respect the independence of the United States judiciary and the requirements for due process, but are very concerned that the recent decision to dismiss the case against Blackwater guards may lead to a situation where no one would be accountable for grave human rights violations" said Ms. Shaista Shameem, who currently heads the Working Group.

"After such a decision, the Iraqi Government and the families of victims correctly feel they have no recourse to justice for the alleged human rights abuses that took place in Nissour Square on 16 September 2007," she added, noting that the Coalition Provisional Authority Order No.17 had granted immunity from Iraqi laws to American contractors operating in that country.

"Credible oversight and accountability of private security companies working on the behalf of the United States and other governments remain essential to avoid these alleged violations to be unpunished in future," stressed Ms. Shameem. The Working Group is advocating for an international oversight mechanism which would provide an avenue of redress to victims.

(*) The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Shaista Shameem (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Fiji), Ms. Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Ms. Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain), and Mr. Alexander Nikitin (Russian Federation). It was established in 2005 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.