Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Honduras: Rights experts urge greater oversight of private security firms

Chairperson of the Working Group on the use of Mercenaires Faiza Patel. UN Photo/Violaine Martin

UN - 25 February 2013 – A group of United Nations independent experts back from Honduras today urged that Government to tighten oversight of the increasing number of private security companies, as well as to strengthen the judicial system to properly investigate and prosecute potential human rights violations stemming from land-rights disputes.

“With over 700 private security companies operating in Honduras, the Government should ensure that their activities are properly monitored and that they do not become a substitute for competent and accountable police,” a member of the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries, Patricia Arias, said in a new release.

There are 706 registered private security companies in Honduras, and numerous unregistered ones comprised of high-ranking police or military officers, which operate in a legal vacuum, the experts said.

During its five-day visit, the working group received information that many private security guards carry firearms that are prohibited and are allegedly used to commit human rights violations, which include “killings, disappearances, forced evictions and sexual violence.”

The group said it was particularly concerned about the alleged involvement of private security companies in land rights disputes in the Bajo Aguán region in the north of the country between landowners and peasant associations.

“There is wide-scale impunity prevailing in the country as well as a total lack of confidence of the population in the judiciary, as these human rights violations allegedly committed by private security companies are not investigated, perpetrators remain unprosecuted and victims do not have access to remedies,” said another member of the working group, Elzbieta Karska.

Among its recommendations, the group called on the Government to better fund the national police. According to the news release, the ratio of police officers to private security guards is apparently 1 to 5.

The working group also urged greater funding for the Control Unit of Private Security Services, the body created to oversee private security companies.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.