Iraq-bound NZers could be mercenaries under new law

Green MP Keith Locke today warned New Zealanders contemplating ‘security’ work in Iraq that active involvement in the conflict for money will soon be a criminal offence under the mercenary bill returned to Parliament yesterday.

The Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill, which aims to bring New Zealand into line with the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, returned from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee, of which Mr Locke is a member. It is aimed at a relatively narrow definition of “true” mercenaries – unaffiliated individuals who fight wars, overthrow governments or commit terrorism for money.

“This Bill should make New Zealanders think twice about chasing $1000-a-day jobs in Iraq; as should their local recruiting agents who could qualify to up to 14 years imprisonment,” said Mr Locke, the Green Party Spokesperson on Defence.

“If someone is carrying out a role usually associated with security guards or police, like the New Zealander who has been accompanying a BBC TV crew, they have no worries under this legislation.

“However, the Bill now uses the term ‘take part in hostilities’, rather than ‘fighting’, which means that if a New Zealander is effectively supporting the US occupation by, say, guarding military facilities or convoys, they could be deemed to be a mercenary and be prosecuted upon their return. This is an appropriate distinction, as the privatisation of military operations in Iraq is setting a worrying precedent.

“The Green Party supports this bill because it will help remove the scourge of mercenaries from the globe and because we don’t want New Zealand’s good name tarnished by any of our citizens being mercenaries in Iraq. We concur with the Select Committee’s view that ‘criminalisation of these activities will act as a deterrent to New Zealanders who might contemplate becoming mercenaries and will also ensure that mercenaries from other countries do not regard New Zealand as a ‘safe haven”.

“The NZ Herald reported on Wednesday that there are “18,000 mercenaries” in Iraq, which makes them the second largest military force present, more than even than the British army. These ‘contractors’ are not subject to normal military conventions and are not accountable to political authority.

“The Washington Post reported on 6 April that an attack on the US military headquarters in Najaf was initially beat off by Blackwater Security Consulting staff, who used their own helicopters to ferry in ammunition. New Zealanders need be clear that if they get involved in that sort of activity after this legislation is passed, they will be breaking the law,” said Mr Locke.