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“It’s high time to close the legal gap for private military and security contractors” – UN expert body on mercenaries

Legitimate use of force?

30 April 2010

(Key reasons to create an international convention on private military and security companies)

GENEVA – The UN Working Group* on the use of mercenaries is appealing for broader support towards the creation of a new international Convention to regulate the activities of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs). The group of experts is currently drafting a possible new binding legal instrument, after sharing its core elements with all UN member States.

“It’s high time to close the legal gap for private security contractors,” said José Luis Gómez del Prado, who currently chairs the Group. “Minimum international standards must be established to regulate the activities of these very special kind of companies at the international level. It will be difficult, but it can be done.”

“Regional bodies, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, also expressed concern at the lack of democratic control, transparency and accountability of PMSCs and recommended the adoption of a legally binding instrument”, he added.

The panel of five independent experts is calling for further support in a letter addressed to all UN member States, summarizing seven core reasons to move forward towards the adoption of a new international instrument aimed at regulating the relation of States with PMSCs.

“Given the character of this new industry and its impact on the enjoyment of human rights, PMSCs activities cannot be considered as normal commercial commodities but as a highly specific and dangerous trade requiring strong control mechanisms,” said Mr. Gómez del Prado, stressing that the UN offers the best framework for the elaboration of a new Convention.

Since its creation in 2005, the Group has been monitoring the impact on human rights of the activities of mercenaries and private security companies and their lack of accountability. “There is clear gap regarding the jurisdiction applicable to PMSCs,” he said. “Employees of private military and security companies cannot usually be considered as mercenaries, and their activities are not covered by the Geneva Conventions or the International Convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries,” he explained.

The Working Group, which has observed challenges to the application of domestic laws for international PMSCs operating in a foreign State, recommends in its letter to all UN member States that the existing legal gaps be filled at the international level.

“The aim of such legally binding instrument would be to establish minimum international standards for States parties to regulate PMSCs’ activities at the international level,” said Mr. Gómez del Prado. “A number of inherently state functions, particularly in the military and security fields, should not be outsourced to PMSCs,” he said, calling attention to the fact that “the extensive outsourcing of these functions is affecting the sovereignty of States and eroding the role of the State as holder of the monopoly of the legitimate use of force.”

Finally, the proposed draft for a possible new binding instrument would help ensure that States take the necessary measures to promote transparency, responsibility and accountability in their use of PMSCs and their personnel, as well as establish mechanisms for the rehabilitation of victims.

The group of independent experts will submit its report on the progress achieved in the elaboration of this draft legal instrument for consideration and action by the Human Rights Council, in September 2010.

(*) The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Spain), Ms. Shaista Shameem (Fiji), Ms. Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Mr. Alexander Nikitin (Russian Federation) and Ms. Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya).


Note to journalists: The Committee’s Chairperson, José Luis Gómez del Prado, is available for interviews in the following languages: English, French and Spanish.

For further information and media queries, please contact Karin Lucke (+41 22 917 9134 / email: [email protected]) or write to [email protected].

Learn more about the Working Group on the use of mercenaries:

Read “Guns for hire”: