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Private Security Companies in Somalia are in violation of the arms embargo – UN

altThe United Nations is concerned that member states are failing to uphold the arms embargo on Somalia by allowing private security companies (PSCs) to operate in the country. South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates were singled out in a UN report.

In its Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the United Nations said that the provision of security assistance, in the absence of UN authorisation, “constitutes a violation of the general and complete arms embargo on Somalia.” It added that the Monitoring Group was concerned that member states “routinely fail to fulfil their obligations” which require them to prevent "the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons and military equipment and the direct or indirect supply of technical assistance or training, financial or other assistance" to Somalia.

The report highlights several of the numerous security companies operating in Somalia, notably Sterling Corporate Services/Saracen International Lebanon. In late 2011, the assets, personnel and operations of Saracen International Lebanon were transferred to Sterling Corporate Services (SCS), reportedly a Dubai registered company, which resumed large-scale military training, technical assistance and support to the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

“Established in May 2010, with the involvement of Erik Dean Prince, the American founder of Blackwater U.S.A., this externally-financed assistance programme has remained the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a PSC,” the report said. “In 2011, Saracen’s training camp near Bosaaso became the best-equipped military facility in Somalia after AMISOM’s bases in Mogadishu. The SCS base today includes a modern operational command centre, control tower, airstrip, helicopter deck and about 70 tents, which can host up to 1,500 trainees.”

“Thanks to this massive initiative, the Puntland Maritime Police Force is now a well-equipped elite force, over 1,000 strong, with air assets used to carry out ground attacks, that operates beyond the rule of law and reports directly to the President of Puntland. This private army disingenuously labeled a ‘counter-piracy’ force, has been financed by zakat [Muslim charity] contributions mainly from high-ranking officials from the United Arab Emirates, including Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE government, however, has officially denied any involvement in the project,” the UN reports.

The Monitoring Group stated that SCS was characterised by a lack of transparency, accountability or regard for international law and this was unlikely to change without intervention from its state sponsor.

Another private security company mentioned in the report was the South African-based Pathfinder, which in August 2011 was contracted by Africa Oil, via its local subsidiaries, to provide security advice and risk analysis. Pathfinder personnel on the ground liaise with local authorities in charge of security and oversee the Exploration Security Unit (ESU), a special branch of the Puntland security forces established to protect oil exploration and exploitation.

The UN report noted that Pathfinder’s transparency and its efforts to comply with the sanctions regime arguably represent ‘best practices’ for private security companies in Somalia. “However, its ‘temporary issue’ of military equipment and the direct funding of the ESU by Africa Oil (via its subsidiary, Canmex) constitute violations of Security Council resolution 733 (1992).”

Also singled out in the report was the Washington DC-based charity Bancroft Global Development, operating in Somalia under the auspices of AMISOM. The report said it is currently the only private company providing assistance to Somali security sector institutions that complies with UN resolutions.

Other security providers form part of a growing network of private contractors that provide security details for individuals, foreign companies, diplomatic missions, international non-governmental organisations and international organizations in Somalia. They supervise local militias, provide armed escorts and static guards, often importing armoured vehicles, personal protective equipment (PPE) and operating in an arguably paramilitary fashion, according to the United Nations report.

Apart from organisations based in Somalia, private security companies are also used to provide protection to diplomats, international NGO workers, journalists, foreign contractors and businessmen visiting Mogadishu. Since November 2011, even the United Nations has also engaged a private local militia in Mogadishu to protect the movements of its staff.

Potentially violating the arms embargo on Somalia were the activities of Ethiopia, France, Sudan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Nations and the United States, which “have all provided support to Somali security sector institutions without providing prior notice or obtaining advance authorization from the Committee,” the Monitoring Group notes.

In its report, the Monitoring Group recommended that the Security Council Committee on Somalia and Eritrea designate Sterling Corporate Services and Australian African Global Investments for “targeted measures”. It also called on the Committee to urge the governments of South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda and Ethiopia “to take all necessary steps to prevent the use of their ports and airports for activities in connection with technical assistance and training, financial and other assistance to military activities in Somalia in violation of Security Council resolutions”.

Furthermore, the report called on the Security Council to consider expanding AMISOM’s mandate to enforce the arms embargo on Somalia and develop a specialised unit to do so.

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