Donald Trump’s pardon of four American security guards convicted of killing Iraqi civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007 was “an affront to justice”, United Nations human rights experts have said.
Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder, while Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter, over the massacre in which US contractors opened fire with machine-guns, grenade launchers and a sniper on a busy square in the Iraqi capital, killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.
The four contractors, who worked for the private security firm Blackwater owned by the brother of the president’s education secretary, were included in a wave of pre-Christmas pardons announced by the White House.
Mohammed Kinani, the father of the youngest victim, nine-year-old Ali, said Mr Trump “broke my life again” on learning of the pardons.
Experts from the UN have now said the move by the outgoing president violated US obligations under international law.
“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” Jelena Aparac, the chair of the UN working group on the use of mercenaries, said in a statement.
The Geneva Conventions oblige states to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when they act as private security contractors, the UN experts said.
“These pardons violate US obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level.”
By allowing private security contractors to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts”, states will be emboldened to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law, they said.
The pardons were strongly criticised by many in the United States.
General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, respectively commander of US forces and US ambassador in Iraq at the time of the incident, described Mr Trump’s pardons as “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity”.
In a statement announcing the pardons, the White House said the move was “broadly supported by the public” and backed by a number of Republican lawmakers.