A United Nations panel has strongly denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s pardons for several former Blackwater mercenaries and convicted war criminals that were found guilty of massacring over a dozen civilians in Baghdad.
The U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries released a statement Wednesday condemning the White House decision to pardon the four killers as an offense to basic justice and insult to the memory of over a dozen people killed in the 2007 massacre, reports Reuters. The panel also sharply condemned the move as a violation of U.S. obligations to international law.
“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” said panel chair Jelena Aparac.
“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” she added.
The four men, all of whom were American, were involved in the indiscriminate killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, when the mercenaries opened fire during busy traffic at the Baghdad square. Twenty additional civilians were injured. Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder while Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough were each convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter.
The four men were employed by the private security firm Blackwater which was owned by security contractor Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince has reportedly served as an informal adviser to the White House while also helping to orchestrate spying efforts to infiltrate campaigns by political and labor groups considered hostile to Trump, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
The four mercenaries were included in a wave of controversial pre-Christmas pardons announced by the Trump administration that critics derided as corrupt and immoral.
“While U.S. Army contractors convicted of massacring civilians in Iraq are pardoned, the man who exposed such crimes against humanity, [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, rots in Britain’s Guantanamo,” tweeted Greek economist and parliamentarian Yanis Varoufakis.
The pardons for the former Blackwater mercenaries, in particular, were sharply criticized by Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the two top American officials in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq at the time of the 2007 massacre, who called the move “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity” in a joint statement.
The U.N. working group’s chair also said that the pardons send the signal that private security contractors would essentially give them the green light to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts” as states increasingly rely on the firms to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law.
In recent years, military contractors have increasingly been deployed in sensitive conflict zones by companies from the U.S., U.K., Russia, South Africa and other countries.
Blackwater, which has since been renamed as Academi, earned worldwide notoriety for the 2007 massacre, after which the company was stripped of its license to operate in Iraq by the country’s government.
Documents released by WikiLeaks have also highlighted major human rights abuses, including the murder of civilians, by private security services such as Blackwater throughout the Iraq War.
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