Outcry in Denmark over firm’s involvement in occupation

15 December 2010

The Danish-British security firm G4S has come under scrutiny after it was revealed last month that it supplies equipment and services to Israel for use at checkpoints and settlements in the occupied West Bank and at Israeli prisons. The company’s own promotional material describes how it has provided “security systems” to the Israel Prison Service, which detains thousands of Palestinian political prisoners.

The outcry over G4S’s role in the Israeli occupation was reported in the Danish media and was the subject of a presentation at the second international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine held in London on 20-22 November.

Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Lene Espersen called on G4S “not to carry out activities that might help to sustain illegal settlements,” as was reported in Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende on 28 November. Additionally, a group of university students and teachers at the University of Copenhagen and the University of Roskilde are urging their administrations to end the contracts they hold with G4S.

A number of large Danish pension funds hold shares in G4S, according to Berlingske Tidende, which reported that the country’s leading provider of corporate benefit plans, PFA, asked its ethics screening company to check if the fund should divest. The Danish National Procurement Service (SKI) — which is owned by the Ministry of Finance and an association of local municipalities, and assists more than 30,000 customers in their procurement of public services — has also asked G4S for a written explanation of the company’s activities in the West Bank.

The director of SKI, Soren Jakobsen, said the contract with G4S will be terminated if the company’s clarification does not satisfy the requirement that G4S shows respect for UN Global Compact principles (Studerende vil boykotte sikkerhedsgigant,” 26 November 2010). The Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative launched in 2000 for businesses that are committed to sustainability and responsible business practices. The principles include support and respect for the protection of international human rights and the avoidance of complicity in human rights abuses.

G4S is the result of a merge between the Danish security company Group4Falck — which bought one of the largest Israeli security companies, Hashmira, in 2002 — and the British Securicor company. Former Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller criticized Group4Falck in 2002 for its activities in the West Bank, prompting the company to leave the West Bank. Two years later the company merged with Securicor and established a new name. G4S’s approximately 600,000 employees provide security services and equipment to governments, major companies and industries, financial institutions, ports and airports in 110 countries. G4S holds 91 percent of the shares of G4S Israel (Hashmira). The company is quoted at the stock exchanges in London and Copenhagen, and the chairman of the board is Danish.

Research by Danish financial watchdog DanWatch and the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) revealed that G4S has resumed its activities in the occupied West Bank. Hashmira’s armed security guards were seen on duty in a supermarket in Modiin Illit settlement and in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo (G4S Israel (Hashmira)). DanWatch and CWP found on G4S subsidiary Moked99’s website that the company is active in the settlements Adar, Maale Adumim and in occupied East Jerusalem (mokedinfo.co.il).

Meanwhile, G4S provides technology for several military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Occupation industry watchdog group WhoProfits — a project of CWP — documented that Hashmira has supplied luggage scanning equipment and full body scanners to several Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank, including Qalandia checkpoint near Ramallah, Bethlehem checkpoint and Irtah checkpoint near Tulkarm. The company provided full body scanners to the Erez checkpoint in Gaza.

By providing services to Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank, G4S has contributed to Israel’s violations of international law. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirmed in 2004 that Israel’s wall and checkpoint regime in the West Bank impede Palestinians of “the right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living” and are contrary to international law.

G4S involved in Israeli prison infrastructure

In addition to the company’s services to settlement businesses and military checkpoints, G4S also provides security systems to Israeli prisons. In a promotional brochure distributed at a security conference in Tel Aviv this summer and obtained by WhoProfits, G4S describes a perimeter defense system supplied for the walls around the Ofer prison compound, which has a capacity to detain 1,500 prisoners. G4S installed a central command room in Ofer prison from which the entire prison compound can be monitored.

In their presentation on G4S at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in London this November, Dalit Baum and Merav Amir of WhoProfits explained that Ofer prison compound, which is also the site of an army camp and a military court, is specifically for Palestinian political prisoners. The prison is situated in the Israeli-controlled “seam zone” in the occupied West Bank. Baum and Amir stated that visits to Ofer compound by Palestinians from the West Bank are highly restricted. Family members of detainees and their lawyers need a special access permit to attend court sessions or visit detainees.

G4S writes in its promotional material that it also provided all the security systems in Keztiot prison and a central command room in Megiddo prison; both facilities are within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundary. According to G4S, the two prisons can detain 1,200-2,200 “security” prisoners — the majority of whom are Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian prisoner support and human rights organization Addameer reports that as of the end of September, 6,180 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in Israeli prisons in relation to “security” offenses. This number includes 212 administrative detainees who are held without charge, 264 children, 199 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, 691 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and 200 from occupied East Jerusalem (“Quarterly update on Palestinian prisoners,” 20 October 2010 [PDF]).

The majority of Palestinian political prisoners are charged with offenses under Israeli military orders. These orders employ a broad definition of “security,” which includes the banning of protest marches, meetings and the distribution of political articles and pictures. Palestinians can be arrested and imprisoned for practically any form of public activity regardless of whether they present a legitimate security threat to Israel; according to Addameer, Israel arrests and detains Palestinians as a means of repressing the national movement for liberation and self-determination.

Violations of international law

G4S’s involvement in the Israel Prison System apparatus abets the violation of international law. Israel transfers Palestinian detainees from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to prisons within its internationally-recognized boundary, in contravention of international humanitarian law which forbids an occupying power from transferring prisoners outside the occupied territory.

Moreover, the conditions of Israeli prisons fail to meet international legal standards. According to Addameer, “prisoners held in Megiddo, Ofer and Ketziot prisons live in threadbare tents that do not provide adequate shelter against extreme weather in the winter or summer. In general, hygiene facilities are dire” (Palestinian prisoners of Israel).

In addition, Palestinian political prisoners are not allowed to have telephone contact with family members or friends. According to Addameer’s October 2010 update, detainees in Ofer smuggled mobile phones into prison to circumvent their isolation but the Israel Prison Service installed signal disruption equipment to prevent any communication by detainees. After detainees destroyed the equipment, Israel Prison Service units raided Ofer prison and violently searched the prison sections. The prisoners protested and the Israel Prison Service units sprayed tear gas into the rooms of all sections, beating detainees with batons and using police dogs to intimidate them.

G4S’s involvement in these human rights abuses contradicts its commitment to the ten principles of the UN Global Compact as expressed in a 20 September 2010 letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Securing our world, for our Company, means more than just physical security. It means caring for people — our employees, customers, suppliers, our local community and the public at large — in a way which support fundamental human rights and freedoms in a just society, whilst working together to protect each other from all potential challenges to a safe and a secure world,” the company wrote (G4S Israel … supports the principles of the UN Global Compact [PDF]).

Governments, local municipalities, public institutions and public investors all over the world have relations with G4S. They should follow the example of Denmark: not renew or enter into new contracts and divest from the company until it has ended its involvement in Israel’s violations of international law.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.