SULAIMANI (ESTA) — The United Nations said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s pardon of four American men convicted of killing Iraqi civilians violated U.S. obligations under international law.
Trump pardoned four former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone.
Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on September 16, 2007 while guarding an American diplomatic convoy.
When they stopped shooting, at least 14 Iraqi civilians were dead including 10 men, two women and two boys, aged nine and 11. Iraqi authorities put the toll at 17.
“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” Jelena Aparac, chair of the U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries, said in a statement.
“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” Aparac added, according to Reuters.
The Geneva Conventions oblige states to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when 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, U.N. human rights experts said.
Slough, Liberty and Heard were sentenced to 30 years in prison, though after a federal appeals court ordered them to be re-sentenced, they were each given substantially shorter punishments. Slatten, whom prosecutors blamed for igniting the firefight, was sentenced to life in prison.
A federal appeals court later overturned Slatten’s first-degree murder conviction, but the Justice Department tried him again and secured another life sentence last year.
On December 23, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it would follow up the decision through diplomatic channels with the U.S. government to urge it to reconsider the decision.