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United Nations: Working Group Says Private Military Companies Should Be Regulated

(Nov. 13, 2013) On November 4, 2013, the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries urged the countries of the world to create a binding agreement that would regulate the operations of private military and security companies (PMSCs). (Press Release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Expert Group Calls for Robust International Regulation of Private Military and Security Companies (Nov. 4, 2013).) Anton Katz, who currently chairs the U.N. expert group on the issue, stated:

[p]roviding security is a fundamental human right and a fundamental responsibility of the State. … But the ever expanding activities of PMSCs continue to raise a number of challenges, and the outsourcing of security to these companies by States create risks for human rights, hence the need to regulate their activities. (Id.)

According to the Working Group, national laws do not fully regulate the transnational companies involved. The laws lack adequate registration and licensing requirements and do not include accountability for human rights violations. Effective mechanisms are needed to provide remedies for those violations. (Elizabeth LaForgia, UN Rights Experts Call for International Regulation of Private Military Companies, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Nov. 5, 2013).)

There are some non-binding, self-regulatory plans, including the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct, that represent attempts to oversee the actions of PMSCs. The Montreux Document on private military and security companies, which argues that international law does apply to PMSCs, was drawn up in September 2008; it has a set of good practices for the activities of PMCS in armed conflict zones. It is designed to assist countries who are adopting legislation on the issue. (The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs website (last modified Sept. 20, 2013); Annex [text of the Montreux Document] to Permanent U.N. Representative of Switzerland, Letter dated Oct. 2, 2008, from the Permanent Representative address to the U.N. Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/63/467-S/2008/636 (Oct. 6, 2008).)

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) is designed for companies to sign, and it states that the signatories endorse the principles of the Montreux Document. (ICoC text (Nov. 9, 2010), ICoC website.) The ICoC is the result of a Swiss initiative and, according to the website for the Code, it sets up

human rights based principles for the responsible provision of private security services. These include rules for the use of force, prohibitions on torture, human trafficking and other human rights abuses, and specific commitments regarding the management and governance of companies, including how they vet personnel and subcontractors, manage weapons and handle grievances internally. (About the ICoC (last visited Nov. 7, 2013).)

The U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries has previously addressed problems in the actions of PMSCs in specific locations. For example, in February 2013, the Group pressed the government of Honduras to regulate the many PMSCs operating within the country. The 607 registered businesses and numerous unregistered companies there are allegedly responsible for murders, disappearances, forced evictions, and sexual violence. (LaForgia, supra; Press Release, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Private Military and Security Companies in Honduras Need Robust and Effective Monitoring, Says UN Expert Group (Feb. 25, 2013).)