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Colonialism, Human Rights, and Scoundrels - Page 4

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Even so, the Miliband’s own record on human rights is in shambles following the shocking revelation earlier this year that ‘a significant number’ of British M15 security agents and their Pakistani counterparts have routinely engaged in the torture of terrorism suspects, including British Muslims. In addition, he has been criticized as colluding in the torture of prisoners for refusing to disclose US documents relating to the treatment of Guantánamo detainee and former British resident Binyam Mohamed. The documents are believed to contain evidence about the torture of Mohamed and British complicity in his maltreatment.

Miliband is also facing fire from an anti-poverty charity named War on Want which legally challenged him over the human rights violations by British mercenaries and private security companies working in Iraq. War on Want published a report titled ‘Getting away with Murder’ and called for legislation, including a ban on mercenaries' used in combat. The report cited hundreds of human rights incidents which have involved guards from Aegis and another British firm ArmorGroup. There are even allegations that they were involved in the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners.

While acknowledging seven years ago that legislation was needed to regulate private security companies, the British government dragged its feet and has just now released a plan: much to the horror of many who were following this, Miliband has recommended that mercenary groups be left to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct through which they can police their own operations! Inspite of their human rights violations, releasing the report on April 29, he praised private military companies for their "important role" alongside British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said mercenaries were "essential" to Britain's future military action abroad.

In essence, Miliband has subordinated human rights to monetary gains. Britain’s private mercenary companies have become a lucrative export commodity. To give just one example: Aegis’ 2003 turnover of £554,000 rose to £62 million in 2005, three quarters of which came from work in Iraq. It became one of the world’s largest private armies with the awarding of a US$293 million contract in Iraq in May 2004, at a time when the company was two years old and had no experience in that country. The company is run by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Spicer, former chief executive of Sandline International, of the 1998 Arms to Africa scandal. (Spicer was accused of breaching a UN resolution by arranging for a shipment of 35 tons of Bulgarian-made AK-47 rifles to Sierra Leone.)

Of course, privatization of the military also allows a government the luxury of "plausible deniability:" it does not have to take responsibility for human rights abuse and other misdeeds of mercenaries. What a nice copout!

Given all of this evidence, Defense Secretary Rajapaksa was not far out when he discounted the humanitarian concerns of the visiting foreign ministers as a ‘ploy.’ In fact, the drama of the three foreign ministers’ visit, complete with the dangling of sticks and carrots, presents a microcosm of neo-colonialism. In the nineteenth century, it was the bible, now it is ‘human rights.’

To parody a famous line by Samuel Johnson: ‘Human rights’ is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

By Hassina Leelarathna

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