Guest Speaker: Dr Susanne Schmeidl, Senior Research Fellow for SwissPeace; Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and UN agencies in Afghanistan

 COMMENT ON THE BAGHLAN ATTACK

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan shares the grief of the entire Afghan nation at last week’s bomb attack in Baghlan. That children and representatives of the people should be among the many dead and wounded shows the barbarity of those responsible. As you know, the UN Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Security Council have all spoken out in condemnation of this atrocity. This mission stands in unity with the entire Afghan people. We condemn those responsible. We note public statements by elements of the Taliban denying responsibility, yet seeking to exploit this attack for propaganda purposes. This is reprehensible. Anyone who claims to care for civilian lives should want to see this attack fully investigated and those responsible identified and brought to justice. That is the wish of this mission, and we believe it’s the wish of the entire community.

NEW SCHOOLS IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN

A key element of the development work done by the United Nations and others in Afghanistan is rebuilding the education system and getting children into schools. This year, nine new schools have been under construction in Kunar province, with the support of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Six have been completed and the rest will be ready by the end of this year.

During 2006 and 2007 some 54 schools have been built in east of the country – 47 of which have been completed – others have been delayed for security reasons, but we expect them to be completed very soon.

Last week, the governor of Kunar, Mr Shalizay Deedar, inaugurated a girls’ school in Kerala village in Asadabad district.

UNICEF plans to construct 26 schools in Nangarhar and 15 schools in Laghman next year. They will be also be initiating new school building programmes in Kunar and Nuristan in early 2008.

LAUNCH OF SURVEY OF PRIVATE SECURITY COMPANIES

Last week, the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries produced a report on private security companies in war zones, including Afghanistan. That report was subsequently presented to the UN General Assembly for its consideration.

The issue of private security companies has been in the news recently for a number of reasons. To help your understanding of the issues in Afghanistan we are joined today by Dr Susanne Schmeidl, Senior Research Fellow for non-governmental organisation Swisspeace. Dr Schmeidl has just completed the first study of its kind in Afghanistan of private security companies, and today marks the launch of the Swisspeace report. I’ll now hand over to Dr Schmeidl and we will take questions after her opening remarks.

Dr Susanne Schmeidl, Swisspeace: I would like to thank the UN for giving the opportunity to discuss this report with you. The Afghanistan case study is part of a comparative study with Angola in Africa. This importance of this study is because there is very little knowledge about the work of the private security sector, especially about its impact on the local population in the country they operate in. The study is trying to fill a gap and in many ways to give voices to the people about what they think about private security companies in their countries.

The study can be found as a hard copy on the side table and a soft copy is available on the Swisspeace website – www.swisspeace.ch

Before I share the findings, I would like to thank the Swiss government for funding this study. However, I would like to emphasise that the research was conducted independently by Swisspeace and myself. I am presenting the perceptions of the Afghan population that were collected through interviews and focus group discussions.

The first finding is that there is unease among the Afghan population that there is currently no legislation or regulation for private security companies in Afghanistan. I have to note that the regulation is currently pending before the Cabinet for approval. So the government has worked on one [private security company legislation], but it has not been passed yet. However, it is important that most of the findings in this study are influenced by the fact that there is no regulation and that there is a situation where nobody guards the guardians.

There were numerous calls during the interviews for the Afghan government to pass a regulation as soon as possible – some actually perceiving it as a weakness of the government that they have not created a regulation over the past few years. There was also disappointment with the international community and the international military establishments in not pushing harder to work with the Afghan government to pass a regulation sooner.

There was a feeling among those interviewed that without regulation this would encourage bad behaviour, bad business practices, corruption, a lack of accountability – and most importantly, people felt that without regulation there would be impunity of those working for the companies. The main recommendation of this study coming from the people of Afghanistan interviewed was that the government should fast-track regulation. Other findings were that the lack of transparency, the lack of information and the lack of knowledge around the private security sector makes it very difficult for the population to understand who they are and what they do in the country.

This meant that many Afghans were unable to distinguish the private security sector from the international armed forces, from their own Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army, and that general confusion prevails. Because of the lack of information and transparency it was also very difficult for many interviewees to understand that private security could be a legitimate business in Afghanistan. And because of the lack of information around the private security sector, there are many fears voiced by Afghan civil society and the local population interviewed that potentially private security firms could become havens for local strongmen trying to preserve their militia forces. The latter was even considered as contributing to insecurity in Afghanistan – which is the next finding. While it was acknowledged that private security companies provided security for those who they guarded – international actors, as well as Afghan businessmen who are all producing a very positive impact in Afghanistan, there was a feeling that they do not help the security of ordinary people.

Some of the focus group discussions even raised the issue that in neighbourhoods where there are a lot of private security companies, people felt increased insecurity because of arms in the hands of many people, attracting potentially insurgent and criminal activities performed by some of the private security staff.

The positive finding was that those interviewed acknowledged that there was a potential contribution to the Afghan labour market in terms of employment, by providing jobs for former mujahedeen fighters; former militia fighters and skilled Afghan workers. For this positive contribution to the Afghan labour market to stay positive, there was a call for very transparent hiring practices, for adequate training, for capacity building, for good salaries, as well as appropriate supervision and monitoring of the staff. Training was emphasised over and over again and that it should be improved as that could be a very positive contribution to the Afghan labour market. When the guards leave they could potentially find jobs with the Afghan security forces.

Because of all those findings – which are mainly linked to the lack of transparency, lack of information flow, lack of awareness amongst the Afghan population of the private security sector, but above all, the lack of a regulation – the study appeals to everybody – the private security industry, international actors, Afghan government. They should work together to improve this problem and to work on transparency and improve knowledge of private security firms and above all – fast-track private security regulation to assist in changing this negative perception that has prevailed so far to potentially become positive.

This summarises the key findings. There is more information in the study itself. The study also contains an overview of the private security sector, of the part that knowledge is available for. It also provides an overview of the legislation process. I apologise that currently this study is only available in English. Thank you.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

IRNA (translated from Dari): Please tell us when you conducted this research study, including some statistics and also tell us which groups of people you interviewed about private security companies?

Swisspeace: The majority of this research was conducted over a three-week period in March and the focus group discussions were conducted through May and June. It is a very good question. Direct interviews were conducted with thirty-three individuals which came from the government, the international community, civil society, international military establishment and very few private security firms themselves – their were only two in the study because the study’s aim was to get the views of the people. In the focus group discussions, of which there were seven involving about 115 individuals both men and women and both young and old, the percentage of women participating was about 20 percent.

Their were three focus groups in Kabul – one involved NGO leaders, intellectuals from university and the media, one involved specifically young leaders within the communities, and one provided a random selection of individuals from [central Kabul neighbourhood] Shar-e-naw and also from Logar. So it was mixed group.

There were two focus groups in the south, both in Kandahar, but one group involved participants from Helmand. There were two in the south-east of Afghanistan, one in Khost and one in Paktya. This indeed limits the study to the east, south-east and the Kabul area. There is nothing from more central, northern and western Afghanistan. So we admit that this is a limited survey. And thank you for asking this question because my work becomes more transparent itself.

Roz news agency (translated from Dari): The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly expressed that these private security companies are one of the causes of insecurity in Afghanistan. What do you think about this?

Swisspeace: All I can is to repeat the findings of the study. As a private security company is a private sector service, the security provided goes to the clients of those companies. So, while the security is very much targeted at clients and while there was a perception among the people interviewed that they did not contribute to the security of the general population, I would make the argument that further research is needed to understand fully how much they contribute to insecurity in the country. But clearly, unregulated environments contribute to many problems. So, again I emphasise that within a regulated environment the positive effects may be more visible. Because it could give clear rules about who can or cannot participate in private companies.

BBC (translated from Dari): I have two questions. Dr Susanne you said that there is no regulation on security companies, but recently the Ministry of Interior closed down two security companies saying they did not have licenses. In your view, based on what laws were these two companies shut down? My second question is for Adrian Edwards. Are such security companies providing security for UN offices in Kabul and in the provinces? If yes, then why has UNAMA not paid attention to this fact and why isn’t the UN using the government security institutions to provide security for its offices?

Swisspeace: On the regulation, I will give you the knowledge that I have, but it is better for you to check it with the government as well. As far as I understand, the Ministry of Interior asked private security companies, operating in Afghanistan to send a set of information to the ministry to obtain temporary licenses until the regulation was officially passed. So the temporary licensing is very possible, but I will tell you again to check it with the government itself because maybe there were inconsistencies in the information presented. I encourage you to talk to the Ministry of Interior. The only information that I have is that of the about 90 companies that may be in existence in Afghanistan only 35 hold these temporary licenses. But you should verify those figures with the Ministry of Interior.

UNAMA: On your second question, I don’t have information about contractual details for security among the various UN agencies and offices in the country. But let me say this: The United Nations operates on a principle that the host government is responsible for the security of UN staff and premises. In Afghanistan, where the security institutions are still being rebuilt, there are obviously dilemmas related to whether the host government is able to provide necessary security. What we do is work with government security institutions to develop and build the necessary capacity for future security needs related to the UN and diplomatic community.

Pajhwok (translated from Dari): In your survey, did you include the following: violations committed by security companies, like the incident in Zabul where they arrested and used physical violence, the fact that the establishment of security companies has boosted the arms business in the country and subsequently slowed the DDR [Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration] process, and as the Ministry of Interior says, these companies strengthen government opponents?

Swisspeace: As I noted before, Zabul was not part of the study. But there are anecdotes told by those interviewed about abuses from members of private security companies. On the issue of arms and the arms market, it is clearly an area that needs far more research, but I will tell you what came out of this study. One of the recommendations is that when one thinks of the regulation of private security firms, one should particularly pay attention to how arms can be obtained legally for those to use in those firms because there is likely a problem with how arms are obtained. As with links to the DDR process it is very difficult to establish causality. I think more research would need to be conducted into those linkages. So clearly there is a link but where the blame lies needs to be understood further.

Follow-up question (translated from Dari): The Ministry of Interior says that they did not issue their weapons, that these arms are not legal and that the weapons have not been imported. Taking into consideration that around 62 companies employ from 500 to 1,000 personnel, people say that these weapons have been obtained from the black market and that the weapons belong to the Ministry of Defence. How could you say there is no link between the DDR process and security companies?

Swisspeace: I did say that there was a link and I did say that there should be a part of the regulation to consider how arms can be obtained legally. What I said, as a researcher, is that before I go out there and say what influences what, more research need to be done. Indeed the very likely process is that the people who come to work for security companies already come armed. It is also true that many armed people did find employment in the private security sector. What I was trying to say is that before we start blaming or saying who is responsible you really need to consider more. Was this because the DDR process to begin with didn’t work properly and that they went away to be employed by private security firms? That is what I am trying to say, I am a researcher so I am very careful about the statements I make. One of the recommendations of the study as well is that there should be potential for more collaboration between the private security sector and the security sector reform process, particularly DDR to make it very transparent about having fighters that have undergone the DDR process seeking employment. I think there is a lot of improvement again that can be made in terms of cooperation and transparency.

Freelance: You talked a lot about regulations and need for a regulatory framework. I am wondering if you could talk a little bit about the legitimate role of the security agencies, especially vis-à-vis the use of private security firms by the international forces and the government forces. What are your views on the use of private security firms? And another short question, you mentioned a range of 18,500 to 28,000 for the number of employees in these private security companies – why is there such a wide range?

Swisspeace: The reason why we can only estimate between 18,500 to 28,000 individuals potentially working with the private security sector is to do with problems with information flow and transparency. This figure was constructed by interviewing several people, and best estimates were made. Frankly speaking I would say that nobody knows exactly how many people are employed within the private security sector, but this is probably the best estimate that can be made at this point of time. In terms of what they do, I can provide you with what I know in the areas they are working. As I noted earlier, the private security sector works mainly with the international community and secondarily with Afghan businessmen and for the Afghan private sector. The reason for using private security is because in an insecure environment, as I think we all agree exists in Afghanistan, outsiders coming to Afghanistan with not so much knowledge about the country often need security to perform their services for the country. So a certain set of the international community, embassies and certain international contractors – not all, but a certain set – would not be here if they could not have private security working for them.

Based on the limited information that is available to me from the interviews, private security companies work in logistics support functions for the military. Some of them also provide protection for compounds in the south and south-east to the military. There is also a function of training and instruction of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army which is performed by private security companies. So, the answer is yes, they are working in those functions, I have very limited information because again there is a lack of transparency, so that is exactly what I can tell you from our findings, nothing more. However, this is different from Iraq. Private security companies do not perform active combat duties in Afghanistan. That is an important difference that needs to be understood between Afghanistan and Iraq.

Radio Killid (translated from Dari): For the last one and half years we have been repeatedly hearing different cases about these private security companies, and the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior have all talked about the need for regulation, but still we do not have it. Recently the US Senate passed a Bill after they were faced with a case with Blackwater in Iraq. It was said there that security companies committing offences in Iraq can be investigated only by international authorities such as United States, not by the host country itself. Does this not mean that they are given much more freedom and how do you see this in terms of human rights violations? What does the UN think about this?

UNAMA: That is a pretty broad question and a little bit beyond the scope of today’s press conference. I will not comment on what the US Congress may have decided, but we do however support what has been said today, which is that there has to be accountability and transparency. There needs to be better knowledge about what the security companies are legitimately doing, as well as what they are doing that needs correction, control, and management. Above all there is a need for legislation that can be enforced.