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October 10, 2007

New Directions: The LAD Industry is Us

When we were talking about new research directions at Law and Society in Berlin earlier this year, Bryant Garth urged more work on the LAD industry. The development industry is under intense scrutiny this year in the US. Revelations about the extent of privatized security in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the political linkages and profits of a major player, Blackwater, prompted Congressional hearings. One result has been repeal of the immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law given to contractors in 2004. New legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week subjects contractors to US criminal law. (Recall the 19thC treaty immunities and consular courts in China, Japan and Thailand. At least these contemplated a local legal venue for pursuing claims against foreign merchants, even while applying foreign law. Empires of the 21st century, by contrast, gave unconditional legal protection to their privateers.)

As scholars we probably like to distinguish our work and practice from the gun-toting intimidation of 'security' in conflict or post-conflict settings. A very small news item this week shows how tissue thin the distinction is.

Two Iraqi women were killed this week in Baghdad by employees of Unity Resources Group, an Australian-owned security firm based in Dubai. Their mistake was not slowing sufficiently as they approached a Unity convoy in the street, possibly because they panicked after the convoy threw a smoke device at them.  They were not the first Unity casualties in Iraq.

Unity is one of a number of firms listed (though not guaranteed) by the State Department website. Its client in this case was RTI International. Technically a non-profit corporation, RTI is a 2600 employee-strong entity established by, and still affiliated with, Duke University, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State U. Its major client is USAID, for whom is is performing multiple multi-million dollar contracts. Described as a research institute, this is in fact a very large business, headed by a former Monsanto executive.

RTI's project in Iraq? Democracy and governance. Their major activity in Iraq  has been the roll-out of local government elections including selection, vetting and training of local councilors. All directed by a former professor of political science.

RTI boasts a comprehensive Code of Ethics, which is strong on not buying meals for US government employees and not renting local office space from your cousin in a developing country. It is silent on the organization's obligations to citizens in the countries in which it works.

Like many colleagues in this field, I have hired local security and I have occasionally run for my life. I have no experience of Timor or Bosnia or Gaza, but I presume that personal security has been a key issue there as well. I am not arguing against taking maximum precautions and traveling with care. But when a routine 'outcome' of a democracy and governance project is the deaths of innocent civilians, it seems to me that we are looking at a critical flaw in the enterprise. Moreover it is an enterprise in which universities and our LAD projects are embedded.

- VT

October 10, 2007 in Research | Permalink


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