The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement announced a victory today as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan confirmed to journalists that it has not renewed security contracts with the British private security firm G4S.
The announcement followed an intensive phase of campaigning by groups around the world demanding that the UN drop its contracts with G4S, reaching a high point at the end of November with actions to coincide with the UN-declared International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Groups is at least six cities around the world held protests at UN offices, and over 15,000 people took action online over the week demanding that the United Nations drop its contracts worth US$22 million with Israeli prison contractor and human rights abuser G4S.
G4S is the world’s largest private security company in the world, and has come under fire from campaigners for a range of grave human rights abuses, including deaths in custody at its prisons and detention centres in the UK, Australia and South Africa.
G4S has been a target for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement because it supplies services and systems to all of the major Israeli prisons, including those where Palestinian political prisoners are held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, and subject to torture. On top of this G4S provides equipment and services to military checkpoints along the illegal Apartheid Wall, and to a new Israeli police academy.
The UN’s use of G4S security services in Jordan was brought to light in an open letter to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, penned by Kali Rubaii of Friends of Sabeel North America in September 2014. After more digging, campaigners discovered that various UN agencies held more than $22million USD in contracts with G4S in locations around the world. The UNHCR in Jordan was one such agency, with G4S contracts worth $1.7million in 2014.
A detailed set of guidelines has been put in place by the UN to ensure that its contractors “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” And yet, G4S has been specifically named by Palestinian human rights organisations and even the UN former special rapporteur on Palestine as a company with a particularly high level of complicity in systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians.
UN officials certainly had more than enough time to respond to these issues. In April 2015, a group of Palestinian human rights organizations wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urging the UN to terminate its contracts with G4S due to its complicity in the Israeli occupation’s prison system and human rights violations as well as a record of grave human rights violations around the world. After receiving no response, over 220 solidarity groups, trade unions, human rights organizations and migrant solidarity groups from around the world joined the call.
After months of no response from the UN, on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, we asked: What is the meaning of solidarity if not heeding the repeated calls put out by Palestinian groups to boycott companies profiting from the oppression of Palestinians?
G4S has already come under tremendous pressure over its Israeli contracts and other human rights issues. The international campaign against G4S has cost the company millions of dollars’ worth of contracts with universities, trade unions and banks. However, the UN continues to enable G4S to whitewash its image by allowing its various agencies to maintain contracts with G4S.
It is good news that the UNHCR has decided to stop contracting G4S, but we still need to keep up the pressure on the other UN agencies to follow suit.
If you haven’t already, please add your name to the more than 15,000 who have already emailed Ban Ki-moon demanding that the #UNdropG4S.
G4S Media Manager Matt Magee contacted Mondoweiss after the original publication of this article and offered the following statement, “We continue to work with the UNHCR in Jordan, and last month signed a new contract to provide electronic security services, which we are currently installing. Outside of Jordan we have contracts with the UNHCR in a number of locations and we are proud of the important work we continue to do for them and other UN agencies.”
Author Ryvka Barnard replies: “G4S has officially responded to this article saying that it does still do business with UNHCR in Jordan. However, additional sources in Jordan have confirmed a Jordan Times report saying that a different company is currently providing security guards at the UNHCR in Jordan where G4S guards were previously stationed. The speed with which G4S responded to this article with a refutation shows how significant the UN’s ongoing business with G4S is to the company, and thus why it is such a crucial campaigning point.”