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Comment: University! Stop working with G4S

University of Copenhagen measures to stop working with Israel-linked and controversial security firm G4S are just rhetoric, argues Vivian Ochanda

I was lucky enough to be able to address someone who represents security firm G4S on Jan 12.

It was Mr Søren Lundsberg-Nielsen, Group General Counsel who leads a team of company lawyers, and it was at a session held at the Danish UN Association, dealing with the issue of G4S’s involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The watchdog interest-group Danwatch was present, and they made a strong case for the fact that G4S is involved in the violations of human rights taking place on the West Bank. It was made clear that G4S supplied infrastructure and personnel, which entrenched Israeli expansion in the West Bank.

Duty as national institution

When asked directly why G4S was involved in humanitarian violations in the West Bank and in various prisons, Mr. Nielsen engaged in apologism: He began by stating that it is ‘difficult’ for the mother organization to maintain control over its daughter units. He furthered this point by adding that G4S Israel was more or less an emancipated entity (from the mother organization), heavily implying that the mother organization was not responsible (despite being legally and ethically accountable) for the ‘alleged’ breaches of international humanitarian law in the West Bank and in the various prisons.

G4S is still encharged with the security of various University of Copenhagen locations, including the CSS faculty. This strikes me as slightly ironic for an educational and research institution whose vision states that it will strive to ‘strengthen its position as a university focusing on internationalization without failing the national responsibilities.’

As far as I am concerned, the University of Copenhagen, as a Danish institution, has a duty not to aid and abet a corporation instrumental in sustaining a political regime renowned for its discriminatory policies and its disregard for international law and morality.

Just a small margin of business

Time and time again, news on the involvement of G4S in the West Bank has prompted the ‘need to investigate’ and to ‘establish the facts’. The facts are now on the table: A Danish-British security corporation is directly involved in the illegal occupation, and the University of Copenhagen has a duty to take a stand (as does institutions such as the Danish national procurement agency SKI, and the major Danish pension fund PFA etc.)

Courses at the University of Copenhagen teach the laws of International Security and Human Rights. It is contradictory that the same institution instrumental in educating the masses on what is right and wrong, would aid a corporation such as G4S. At stake is the institution’s credibility.

The counter argument is that the University of Copenhagen represents such a small margin of business to the transnational corporation that ‘aiding and abetting’ is hardly appropriate.

Rhetoric of divestment

But here I believe that the ‘national responsibility’ we have as a people and a society is not quantifiable. The University of Copenhagen, the whole as well as the sum of the parts, has a duty not to be complicit in the human rights abuses taking place in the West Bank (U.N. Global Compact, Article 2).

Just as G4S rhetorically emancipates itself from G4S Hashmira, like at the event on 12 January, so the University of Copenhagen has discursively abstracted itself from its duty to divest.

G4S, according to Lundsberg-Nielsen, had ended all contracts that were settler-related by June 2003 (they had re-materialized by the time of an inquiry by DanWatch). Similarly, the University of Copenhagen has made rhetorical but not decisive measures to materially discontinue the contractual relationship with G4S.

Tacit approval of abuse

Lundsberg-Nielsen, when asked if G4S operated in the West Bank, answered by saying that despite corporate respect for the 1967 borders, the actual separation between Israel and Palestine was difficult to determine. So if G4S operated in the West Bank, it was largely unwittingly.

A contractual relationship with G4S is enabling this political stance to continue unsanctioned. Are we then to assume that the University of Copenhagen abides by a corporate mantra and disregards international conventions and UN resolutions?

G4S Israel hires settlers and soldiers to protect settlers and soldiers; settlers who have stripped Palestinians of land, property and even nationality. By continuing to use G4S, the University of Copenhagen gives its tacit approval to this.