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Combating Impunity

Contractors in Iraq employed by Blackwater—a PMC now known as Xe—conduct military activities traditionally carried out by the U.S. military. © 2009 AP Photo/Gervasio Sanchez

The Fight to Hold Private Military Contractors Accountable for Human Rights Violations

"It’s high time to close the legal gap for private security contractors."
- José L. Gómez del Prado, Chair, United Nations Working Group on the Use of MercenariesPress Release, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "It’s high time to close the legal gap for private military and security contractors." – UN Expert Body on Mercenaries (Apr. 30, 2010) http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10000&LangID=E.

The use of private military contractors (PMCs) in situations of armed conflict has increased dramatically since September 2001. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have come to rely on private companies to carry out military and non-military activities traditionally performed by government agencies. PMCs provide armed security services— guarding facilities, escorting personnel, and protecting traveling convoys. They also perform unarmed services such as gathering intelligence and training local security forces.


Civil society, government reports, and journalistic accounts have implicated PMCs in killings, torture, sexual assault and other abuses against civilians. The widespread reliance on PMCs in situations of armed conflict has resulted in a dangerous pattern of unchecked human rights violations. Yet, most allegations of abuse by PMCs have not been investigated or prosecuted, and clear channels for accountability do not exist.

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Against great odds, human rights defenders continue the struggle to hold PMCs accountable for human rights abuses committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have encountered numerous challenges in bringing lawsuits against these contractors in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the U.S. The ineffective implementation of domestic mechanisms has spurred some defenders to work toward international minimum standards of conduct for private military contractors and a legally binding international convention.

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Private military contractors in in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Meet the human rights defenders fighting to hold PMCs accountable. Learn more about the efforts of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and others in ending the culture of impunity. Join them to demand justice for the victims of human rights abuses by private military contractors.

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