Two academics absolve G4S of moral and legal responsibility
[6 June 2014] – On 2 June 2014, the UK/Danish security company G4S published on its website a document under the heading: “Human Rights Report of G4S Israel – Human Rights Report and Legal Opinion – Summary of Independent Review”. G4S engaged two academics, Dr. Hugo Slim and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, to prepare the report in advance of the company shareholders’ meeting on 5 June 2014. This is the second time G4S has published extracts from academic reports on its website seeking to absolve itself of all moral and legal responsibility arising out of its commercial activities in Israel and Palestine. On a previous occasion G4S engaged Professor Hjalte Rasmussen, who similarly provided the company with a report giving it a clean bill of health.
The following statement focuses on one aspect of the company’s potential legal exposure relating to the unlawful detention of protected persons outside the West Bank and makes no comment regarding the “moral” assessment raised in the report. The thrust of the report commissioned by G4S relating to the company’s contractual arrangements with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) is that there is no causative link between the equipment and maintenance services provided by the company with any relevant violation under international law. By way of example, the authors of the report emphasise that no G4S employees are permanently located inside IPS prisons and there is no evidence that any of the equipment it supplies is used to mistreat detainees. This point was expressed on page 9 of the report as follows:
No Causal or Direct Role in Violations
This means that G4S is not playing any direct role in the commission of human rights violations. In its business with the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), such a direct role would involve specific acts of commission that directly bring about the ill-treatment of prisoners, that transfer people illegally or that obstruct family visits […] G4S is doing none of this.
Although specifically briefed on the issue, the report makes no mention of the company’s potential legal liability arising out of the uncontested fact that more than 80 per cent of Palestinian detainees from the West Bank are held in prisons located inside Israel with commercial ties to G4S. It should be noted, that liability in this instance, is not dependent upon there being any evidence of ill-treatment, transfer or obstruction of family visits. Under Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (the Convention) all Palestinians from the West Bank detained by the Israeli military authorities must be held in the West Bank, and not inside Israel. This legal conclusion was, not surprisingly, confirmed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in July 2012. Once a protected person is transferred out of occupied territory any ensuing detention outside the territory becomes unlawful on a continuing basis. The Convention classifies this unlawful detention as a “grave breach” for which personal criminal liability applies. The relevant question therefore, which was not addressed in the report, is whether G4S is contributing to this unlawful detention in some material way or is its involvement so marginal as to not warrant criminal liability or other legal consequences?
According to the report, G4S provides the following equipment and services to IPS prison facilities located inside Israel where Palestinians from the West Bank are being unlawfully detained in violation of the Convention:
1. Closed circuit televisions;
2. Access controls;
3. Remote locking systems;
4. Low voltage networks;
5. Public address systems;
6. Panic buttons;
7. Inspection machines; and
8. Maintenance services.
MCW submits that on no reasonable view of the evidence can G4S’s contribution be considered to be de minimis or non-essential to the effective running of a prison – for instance take item three from the list above, and ask what is a prison without a locking system? Although the report suggested that some of the equipment supplied by G4S benefits the detainees, this is clearly an irrelevant consideration to any legal inquiry based on a possible violation of Article 76 of the Convention or its domestic counterparts. It should also be noted that the detention of protected persons outside occupied territory is considered sufficiently serious to attract a maximum prison sentence of 30 years for persons convicted of aiding and abetting the detention under UK law. It is also of note that the report is silent on the possible legal, commercial and reputational ramifications of the company’s involvement in the unlawful detention of protected persons outside occupied territory in the field of public law.
MCW has requested that the full-unedited report and legal opinion provided to G4S by Dr. Hugo Slim and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame be made publicly available in addition to the summary published on the company’s website. Failure to make the balance of the report and opinion public inevitably creates an inference that its contents do not support the company’s case.