NEW YORK: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Thursday said it is “deeply concerned” about US President Donald Trump’s pardon of four military veterans working in Iraq for the private security contractor Blackwater.
The four had been tried and convicted in what a US court determined were unjustified and unprovoked shootings with machine guns and grenade launchers that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
The massacre took place on Sept. 16, 2007, in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. One of the victims was a medical student who died with his mother. Two were boys aged 9 and 11. The killings sparked global outrage.
Blackwater was founded by former Navy SEAL member Erik Prince, who later became a close ally of Trump.
The military company won billions of dollars in contracts, and multiple accusations of abuses did nothing to stop its expansion.
The four Blackwater guards — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were convicted in 2014.
Slatten, who fired the first shots, was given a life sentence, while the three others were sentenced to 30 years in prison for manslaughter.
The protracted investigation saw 30 Iraqi witnesses who lost their loved ones in the shootings travel to the US to testify at the trial.
“Pardoning (the four) contributes to impunity and has the effect of emboldening others to commit such crimes in the future,” said Marta Hurtado, OHCHR spokeswoman.
The White House said in a statement that the four had “a long history of service to the nation,” and their pardon is “broadly supported by the public” and some elected officials.
The White House also claimed that there are evidentiary issues around the case, and that the lead Iraqi investigator on whom prosecutors relied “may have had ties to insurgent groups himself.”
The statement recast the story of the massacre as an unfortunate moment where suddenly “the situation turned violent, which resulted in (the) deaths and injuries of Iraqi civilians.”
But Hurtado said: “By investigating these crimes and completing legal proceedings, the US complied with its obligations under international law.”
She added: “Victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law also have the right to a remedy. This includes the right to see perpetrators serve punishments proportionate to the seriousness of their conduct.”
She urged Washington “to renew its commitment to fighting impunity for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as to uphold its obligations to ensure accountability for such crimes.”