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‘Guns for hire’

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries believes there is a global trend toward the increased privatization of war and security. So much so that in some conflict zones, private contractors, which include military and security companies outnumber conventional forces and often have sophisticated weaponry and logistical support.

Chair of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries Gómez del Prado - © UN Photo

The Working Group, a team of five independent experts, was created in 2005 and has been monitoring the impact on human rights of the activities of mercenaries and private military and security companies and their lack of accountability. The existing International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries does not cover the activities of the private military and security companies.

Early in 2010 the Working Group provided UN member States with the basic elements of a proposed new Convention. The Chair of the Working Group, José-Luis Gómez del Prado says the new international legal instrument would provide for the monitoring of human rights violations resulting from the activities of private military and security companies and compensation for the victims of violations.
 
Acknowledging that a number of Governments have indicated they favour self regulation and the adoption of an international code of conduct rather than a new treaty, Gómez del Prado says the transnational character of the security industry requires an international framework of regulation. “This industry, which deals with heavy weaponry in conflict zones is less regulated than the toy industry”, says Gómez del Prado.

According to Gómez del Prado, “the proposed Convention would reaffirm the principle that States should retain the monopoly on the legitimate use of force which is increasingly being eroded.  It would ban the outsourcing of inherent State functions, thus preventing companies’ directly taking part in hostilities or assuming police roles, including the interrogation of detainees.”

The proposed Convention also requires States to lift all immunity agreements covering private military and security companies and their personnel and makes it clear that supervisors, such as government officials or company managers, may be liable for crimes under international law, committed by personnel under their authority and control.

Opposition to a legally binding approach has come from a number of countries where the private military and security companies are headquartered. However, Gómez del Prado notes, many of these Governments have responded to increased scrutiny from civil society, parliamentarians and media, and adopted regulations or other measures at the national level and are considering a model of self regulation for the industry.

The additional regulation is welcome, Gómez del Prado says, but it is not sufficient.  “Despite intense pressure from civil society which has forced States that are extensively contracting out the use of force to adopt measures to ensure better oversight and accountability,” he says, “there remains a legal gap covering such activities at the international level.”

“We urge all States,” Gómez del Prado says, “to work together towards the further elaboration and adoption of this important treaty in order to fill the legal vacuum surrounding these companies’ activities.  We call on individuals and civil society organisations to lobby their governments and their parliaments to support this process which includes setting up an independent international oversight and monitoring mechanism.”

“Each new scandal involving such companies reinforces the obvious truth that self-regulation by an industry this powerful is clearly not sufficient,” Gómez del Prado says.

In its rounds of consultations, the Working Group has sought information from the five regional groupings, first in Panama for Latin America and the Caribbean, in Moscow for States from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in Bangkok for Asia and the Pacific, with 20 countries from Africa in Addis Ababa earlier this year and most recently in Geneva for Western Europe and Others, including the U.S., Canada and Australia.  Its report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September.

29 April 2010