UN faces pressure over contracts with G4S
More than 200 trade unions and campaign groups from 23 countries have called on the UN to cancel its contracts with G4S over the security firm’s track participation in human rights abuses against Palestinians. The call comes at a time when Israel has stepped up its ill-treatment of hunger strikers, some of whom are held in G4S-equipped prisons.
G4S is a British private security company that acts as a key contractor for Israel’s apartheid regime, providing services and equipment to the police force and prison service, as well as military checkpoints and settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian political prisoners have in recent years held a series of hunger strikes to resist the use of arbitrary detention and torture in the prisons that G4S helps Israel to run.
A letter sent to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations’ secretary-general, by campaigners details how G4S also has a long and documented track record of participation in human rights and workers’ rights abuses elsewhere in the world, especially in prisons and migrant detention centres it has run in the US, the UK and South Africa.
The UN’s own data shows it has spent more than $22 million on services provided by G4S in 2014.
That included 37 separate contracts to provide guards and other security services in Jordan — more than in any other country — and security services for UN projects and offices in Morocco, Lebanon, Austria and the UK.
As the letter sent to Ban notes, such extensive cooperation with G4S seems to be completely out of step with the UN’s own procurement guidelines, which state that “the UN expects its suppliers to support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights and to ensure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.”
A report by Richard Falk, then a UN special rapporteur on Palestine, calling for a boycott of G4S over its role in Israeli human rights violations was approved by the UN General Assembly in 2012.
Palestinian signatories to the letter include the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), both of which bring together a wide variety of groups demanding basic justice.
Among the 215 international signatories to the letter are leading Jordanian trade unions. They also include British groups, campaigning against G4S’s ghastly role in helping the UK authorities detain refugees and deny them adequate shelter.
Six organizations which endorsed the recent Black Solidarity with Palestine statement have also supported the call to Ban. That statement describes Palestinian liberation as a “key matter of our time” and calls for action against G4S given its role in both the US and Israeli prison systems.
The broad support for the campaign urging the UN to cut its ties with G4S indicates that it’s likely further pressure will be brought to bear if the UN fails to address the issue.
Palestinian political prisoners have held a series of mass hunger strikes in recent years to protest the use of administrative detention — imprisonment without charge or trial — and torture in the prisons that G4S helps Israel to run.
Yesterday, Israel arrested Muhammad Allan, less than one month after his detention was suspended. Allan had undergone a 64-day hunger strike. He has been placed under administrative detention.
Allan has gone on hunger strike again.
At least six other Palestinian political prisoners are currently on hunger strike to protest their administrative detention. Some of them have have been going without food for more than 25 days.
Many of the seven are being in detained in Israeli prisons equipped and serviced by G4S.
The Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer stated today that the Israeli Prison Service is denying cold drinking water to three of the hunger strikers and restricting their access to clothes, books, blankets and fresh air.
The three — Munir Abu Sharar, Badr al-Ruzza and Shadi Maali — are all in Naqab prison in southern Israel. They had already being held in solidarity confinement before a new set of puntitive measures was imposed on them.
Addameer reported last week that another two Palestinians held under administrative detention were also placed in isolation when they started their hunger strikes.
The inspiring international campaign against G4S over its role in Israeli apartheid and human rights violations across the world has seen it lose contracts with universities, trade unions and banks. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is among the investors to have sold their shares in the company.
Crucially, the G4S campaign has provided an important way for the Palestine solidarity movement to communicate with a broader audience about the struggle of Palestinian political prisoners. It has given the movement an opportunity to highlight how the Palestinian struggle is inherently connected to other struggles for justice.
Having lost contracts worth millions of dollars and seen its image seriously tarnished in the media, G4S stated in June last year that it “does not intend” to renew its main commercial agreement with the Israeli Prison Service when it expires in 2017.
Yet G4S has so far failed to end any of its numerous contracts with the Israeli government or military.
In 2012, G4S stated it would terminate its contracts to help Israel run the Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank, as well as military checkpoints, by 2015 at the latest. That promise has not been kept.
Further pressure is needed to make G4S live up to its commitments.