Press conference with UNAMA and UN Working Group

9 Apr 2009

Press conference with UNAMA and UN Working Group

KABUL - Press conference by Amada Benavides De Perez and Alexander Nikitin, United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries and Dan McNorton, Press Officer, UNAMA.

Dari - Pashto

  UNAMA: Salem alilkum. Sobh ba Khair. Good morning to you all. It is a pleasure to have you with us this morning.

Today we have two representatives, Mr Alexander Nikitin and Ms Amada Benavides de Perez from the independent United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries.

They are visiting Afghanistan to look at the type of international private security companies present here, their activities, as well as their impact on Afghans citizens.

If you have any questions relating to UNAMA or other UN agencies in Afghanistan, I and the rest of the UNAMA press team will be happy to take your questions and do interviews after this press conference.

I will now hand over to Mr Alexander Nikitin who will give you a short introduction and then both Mr Nikitin and Ms Benavides will be happy to take your questions.

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: Welcome and thanks for coming to this press conference.
I will present some brief remarks and then we will take your questions. You also have been provided a copy of our press release on the side table.
Amada Benavides and I, Alexander Nikitin, are two of the five members of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries.
In addition to the traditional issue of mercenaries, the Working Group also has a mandate to monitor and study the activities of private military and security companies and their impact on the enjoyment of human rights.
The Working Group recognises that the presence and emergence of private security companies in Afghanistan corresponds to concrete safety and security needs of the Afghan government and the international community, including the UN.
The Working Group works towards ensuring that private security companies do not operate in a legal vacuum and that proper oversight, transparency and accountability mechanisms are in place to ensure an environment of full protection of human rights.
We had less than a week in Afghanistan, but that was a fruitful one. We had the opportunity to meet with a wide range of interlocutors, from Government officials, ministries, members of Parliament, two representatives of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, civil society, United Nations and private security companies themselves, as well as members of the diplomatic community.
We also visited Jalalabad, where we met with the Governor and also the provincial authorities.
Let me now make a few remarks regarding some of our initial findings. A detailed report will be presented to the Human Rights Council as well as being reflected in our report to the United Nations General Assembly this Fall.
First, Afghanistan is among the few countries where this specific regulation is elaborated to regulate national and international private security companies. The Regulation which was adopted in February 2008 here in Afghanistan has led to the licensing of 39 Afghan and foreign companies and the registration of their personnel and weapons, as well as presentation by them of relatively regular reports.
Now, three days ago, the Ministry of Justice introduced to Parliament a draft law on private security companies. The Working Group has not yet received a copy of the law at this stage and we expect that amendments and additional comments will be made in the course of discussions by various agencies and ministries, but the Working Group is of the general view that legislation, which would ensure oversight and monitoring by the state of private security companies, as well as their accountability, is a positive development.
The law should also ensure full protection of human rights and provide victims with a right to an effective remedy. We hope for the speedy adoption of the new legislation following a broad consultation process and adequate awareness campaign to ensure proper implementation and respect of the new law.
Secondly, we would like to reiterate the fundamental principle of the control of the state over the use of force. The state should retain control and oversight over the legal use of force and it cannot be handed over to non-state actors without exercising proper control.
In that regard, the Working Group welcomes the Government of Afghanistan’s willingness to gradually increase the state army, police and security forces’ capacity and training in order to ensure the safety and security of its population and of the international community present in its territory, while ensuring respect for the rule of law and human rights.
Finally, we would like to inform you that the Working Group is engaged on the elaboration of a new international convention for the regulation of activities of private military and security companies.
This elaboration of the convention will be a long inter-governmental process and the Working Group will draw on the experience of Afghanistan to draft an instrument that reflects the reality on the ground and will balance the interests of the industries and their clients with the need to ensure proper transparency, oversight and accountability.
Let me conclude by thanking the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the invitation extended to the Working Group to visit the country and to all our other interlocutors for the cooperative and constructive dialogue.


AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: Afghan officials have several times accused private security companies of being involved in insecurity in the country. Have you concluded this during your visit and given the insecurity present in Afghanistan, is there a need for such a large number of private security companies?

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: During our visit to Afghanistan we have consulted a number of different actors which have included civil society, government, parliament, commission for human rights, amongst others. And it is our view after having conducted all these meetings that Afghanistan is passing through a critical period and it has a need for private military and security companies to ensure protection of the civilian population. We nevertheless believe that the need should be temporary and that as far as possible control of the use of force should be exercised by the state to ensure proper protection of the civilian population.

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: We see correlations, the more you develop your state controlled forces, the less you will need the private companies in the future. But this evolution will take years.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: In the meantime of course there is a need to exercise control over any excessive force by such military and security companies – control over both the security personnel of the companies and the arms that they are allowed to use.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION [translated from Pashto]: You did not make a reference to whether they [security companies] are engaged in creating insecurity in the country or not?

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: Obviously the Government must take measures to ensure that private military and security companies do not operate outside the law – the extent to which they do cooperate is not something we can judge at this stage. But it is quite clear that the state must exercise control to ensure that force, if used, is used properly.

TAMADON TV [translated from Dari]: Given the fact that the Government does not have sufficient measures to control these private security companies. Don’t you think they will lead to further insecurity in Afghanistan?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: First of all control is a multi-layered process. Some procedures of control have to be exercised by ministries, but there is also control which could be exercised by civil society, by NGOs and even by the media.

It was important for us to see that the office of the Attorney-General follows this issue and they have concrete list of many cases of problems with these companies and that the local authorities investigate them. They are at different stage of investigation, but that means that there is no idealistic approach. The Government of Afghanistan works to address the problems that emerge with some companies.

Delegations like ours arrived are not here to investigate concrete cases. We don’t know the local languages and we don’t have the ability to travel to the places where problems arise. But we are drawing some conclusions from the information we received from various offices which we have met. The descriptions of various cases or most of them are in Dari and we need to translate them to work and to study them.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: You said that there is no ideal or one approach in Afghanistan for this issue. Do you think that the Government of Afghanistan has not been able to provide an ideal approach? Most of these private security companies belong to powerful people here in Afghanistan and the Government has several times admitted that behind kidnappings – some security companies are involved. Did you come to this kind of conclusion during your visit?

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: We have met with many different actors as we have already said and we have received information about a number of cases, unfortunately with very little documentation or evidence.
It indeed would be helpful if you, as members of the press, have specific information that you could communicate it to us, it would be very useful for the Working Group to have more information on individual cases and we shall leave contact details with partners here at the UNAMA offices if you wish to transmit any information to us.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: Can I also just ask about the mechanisms of Government to control them and the issue of powerful men?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: Right now is the right time to establish a system where each of 39 companies which are licensed needs to report through the Ministry of Interior about its current activities and very quickly report any changes in their personnel, type and quantity of the weapons they use. Government authorities don’t have access to the actual contracts between the companies and foreign contracting agencies. But it looks like that they are starting to have mechanism to supervise the content of actual operations of major companies. At the same time let’s not exaggerate. Of course, such reports are quite general and the actual problems of violations are taken through by investigations by the Attorney-General and local prosecutors.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: We of course fully understand that the regulations that came into force in February 2008 are provisional. Now with the law presented to the Parliament and the possibility that offers for wide discussions it is the right time for all possible gaps in the regulations to be filled. Of course, including consultation with civil society to ensure that any errors, which have been committed in the past, can now be corrected.

NEGAH TV [translated from Dari]: You talked about this law presented to the Parliament and you said you have not seen a copy of that law. How you can judge if this law is a useful law and in accordance with international standards or not. And what are your recommendations to the Afghan state?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: First of all we saw the law, though the copy was in Dari and the deputy Minister of Justice explained to us several concrete articles and the general table of contents. So we had the possibility to discuss concrete articles which are there. And many of these articles are parallel to the regulation which was adopted one year ago in the document of the executive branch of the power.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: We do not want to give the impression that we are expressing blind support for a law without having read it. What we are saying is that we emphasise the need for regulation. There is a need for such regulation and if the law has now been presented to the Parliament we believe that it should be subject to a process of broad consultation precisely to fill in any gaps that may have existed in the previous body of regulation so that it gives full coverage to the subject.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: You spent five days here and you called it a fruitful visit and you spoke extensively about the legislative framework. But one of the central issues is the impact of these mercenaries and private security companies on the enjoyment of human rights. You virtually refused to comment or you are skirting around the issue. Private companies have been here since 2001, could you explain to us do you have an impression of the impact of these companies on the general civilian population and on their enjoyment of human rights?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: This issue has several components. First of all, there is some difference and some differentiation between foreign companies operating in Afghanistan and a range of companies that are fully Afghan companies. While talking to civil society, NGOs and even to some Ministries and provincial authorities we found some general resistance to the idea that these companies are needed to provide security to companies. So in the air, there is a feeling that the Afghan Government should and could do the functions that these companies perform themselves now.

We were presented with many concrete references to the violation of rights of Afghan locals who were hired by these companies. For example, very often as a result of sub-contracting, the salary that Afghan employees receive is much much lower than the salary which was initially allocated by the foreign contractor.

By the way, the scale of this phenomenon is quite large. We were told the figure of over 60 companies who were operating in the market before. Now it has decreased to 39 licensed ones, but still 23,000 people are in those companies which are already registered and most of them are not foreigners, most of them are Afghan nationals and they are subject to this problem of improper relations with those who hire them. This is also one of our discoveries – that some violations deal with those who work inside these companies and who are Afghan nationals.

The second group of problems is in the relations between companies and the local population. Here again if some violations are performed by Afghan nationals working in the companies and the victims are also Afghan nationals – it is a matter of investigation for the Afghan national authorities. This is an internal affair of Afghanistan and we as an international group do not inquire into this issue.

Then there is a third type of problem when foreign nationals working in these companies are involved in some problems with the local population. Here it is important that the companies do not get carte blanche licensing, a kind of situation when once registered they keep the same personnel with the same rules for many years. It is very important to have a quick reaction from the authorities to cases of violations when they occur.

We spoke to the companies themselves, to the association of private companies and it is important that the companies recognised that the Afghan authorities have the right to expel individuals from the country, individuals working for the companies, if these foreigners were involved in any violations on Afghan territory. This should become a normal practice if the system of monitoring is to work more and more intensively over time.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: To answer your questions, partially at least, in our talks with the Government of Afghanistan we said that security is a human right and it is not the exclusive right of one group and not another. Also, any rights must be governed by the law. There has to be the rule of law to ensure that rights are properly enjoyed.

REUTERS: I just wanted to confirm the number of personnel working for private security companies. And how many of them are working illegally?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: Yes, let me provide some numbers. According to our findings, but here we are relying upon information delivered to us by various authorities. There are more than 60 companies operating in the market. Last year when the Regulation was introduced, only 39 of these companies provided in time appropriate documentation about their employees’ types and kinds of weapons and all other documentation. This documentation was quite extensive – sometimes it amounted to thousands of pages which each company provided. More than twenty companies were rejected from registration because they didn't provide appropriate information or they didn't provide it in time. So now there is a cap, a ceiling of 39 companies which are licensed. And there is a ceiling or limit on the number of persons in a company, which is 500 people.

FOLLOW UP FROM REUTERS: Do you know what happens to those companies who couldn't provide proper documentation or are not registered?

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: That is a good question and one that we were trying to find out ourselves. We realised that from the legal point of view companies which do not possess a licence become illegal. And then their status is the same as the groupings which go under the DIAG programme or the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups programme. Maybe the whole process should be done again on the basis of the law when it is adopted, which may lead to a new process of re-issuance of licenses.

ALL INDIA RADIO: Providing security to its citizens is the primary responsibility of any elected Government. Don't you think that legitimising these private security companies will undermine the authority of the elected Government? And what are the guarantees that these private security companies will not work to undermine the authorities, so their businesses can carry on?

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: This is something that we discussed with the Government and the view was expressed that temporary measures were necessary because of the particularly chaotic conditions regarding insecurity in this country. But we have expressed the view that as far as possible the state should exercise its proper control over the use of force.

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: One more clarification – look at developed wealthy countries. They do not use such companies for the state functions, because the state army and police are strong enough, but these companies are still allowed to be hired by banks, companies, by individuals for lower-level tasks. Not state tasks, but private tasks. The main problem is when these companies are used by the state for state security, because state forces, the state police are too weak. So one of the main recommendations is not to physically remove these companies, but that there is a change in their function and sectors where they operate. Plus, after several years with stronger army and police, stronger local authorities, these companies could be pushed to operate in the private sector, but where there would still be a need for strong governmental control.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: To conclude, I would just like to state two things which I think can be seen as recommendations and you were asking about recommendations earlier. The first point and it is stated in the press release us that we recommend the rapid movement towards the adoption of a law but of course accompanied by a broad consultation process.

Secondly, and it is more of a concern – that a number of different forces of law and order, the number of parallel forces that seem to be getting established and this could create problems of disorganisation and chaos.

ALEXANDER NIKITIN: One more supplementary conclusion from me – the problem is not only with those entities which could be called companies. There are many types of armed groups in Afghanistan who have not been upgraded yet to the level of company. For example, the very definition, which is used by the Ministry of Interior is that they are interested in groups which are above five persons. Every group smaller than five does not go under the current regulations, which means that aside from the issue of regulating companies, different types of regulations might be needed for the finalisation of the process similar to DIAG of dismissing other types of illegal groupings which do not qualify as companies.

AMADA BENAVIDES [translated from Spanish]: Finally, I would just like to say that an international instrument has the advantage of covering any gaps that may be left in any national regulation and it is working towards the objective that we are all working towards, that is protection of citizens’ rights.