Private military and security companies face greater international regulation

The 15th session of the UN Human Rights Council © Credit UN Photo/Jean-Marc FERREAt its most recent meeting in Geneva, the Human Rights Council decided to establish an intergovernmental open-ended Working Group to consider the possibility of drawing up a new convention to regulate, monitor and ensure accountability of the activities of private security and military companies.

This follows several years of work by a team of five independent experts (the Working Group on the use of mercenaries) which has been actively monitoring the impact on human rights of the activities of private military and security companies.  Pressure for additional regulation of these companies has been growing because of repeated incidents in various countries including involvement in the interrogation of detainees, including ill-treatment, and the indiscriminate shooting of civilians.

Addressing a side-event at the September Council meeting, the Working Group’s Chair Amada Benavides de Pérez said “the private military and security industry has expanded exponentially in the last ten years”.  However, she said it “remains fundamentally unregulated at the international level and often insufficiently regulated at the national level.”

“It goes without saying,” Benavides said “that not all private military and security companies are involved in human rights violations, but enough of them have been to warrant action from the international community.”

The process of consultation and drawing up of a draft convention has been lengthy.  Over the last few years, the Working Group held discussions in each of the five regions of the world. It heard that there was an increased privatization of security in all regions and a clear need for regulation of private military and security companies.

The Group has noted in its reports that because of the publicity and subsequent pressure after a number of incidents involving private security companies in different countries, regulation at the national level has been strengthened in several countries. Nevertheless, prosecutions have been relatively rare.

There has also been progress towards the adoption of an international code of conduct, however, Benavides noted that “the private military and security industry is by no means an ordinary commercial activity… Self regulation may be useful, but it is by no means sufficient.”

The draft Convention, proposed by the Working Group, seeks to clarify the responsibilities of States for regulating, monitoring and overseeing the activities of private military and security companies. It also gives States the responsibility for ensuring that allegations of human rights violations are investigated, that those held responsible for such violations are prosecuted and that victims have access to effective remedies. It proposes that international organizations which make use of the services of these groups also be covered by the Convention. Finally, it provides for the establishment of an international oversight and monitoring body.

The open-ended working group will meet for the first time in 2011.

15 October 2010