Call for accountability of private military and security companies

March 9, 2013

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) welcomes the report of the Inter-governmental Working Group on Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs), in particular the multiple references to the serious lack of accountability for human rights violations of private military and security companies.

In recent years, Member States and international organisations -including the United Nations (UN)- have been increasingly using private military and security companies to provide support for a wide range of military and security purposes.

Since the exposure of the conduct of Dyncorp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there have been continued reports[1] of employees of some of these companies perpetrating serious crimes including human trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, and rape. The accountability mechanisms are weak and not enforced, leading to a culture of impunity, which when coupled with military concepts of masculinities form a dangerous environment for the domicile population.

There is an urgent need to tackle this culture of impunity, since perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse enjoy almost complete immunity from national prosecution in either the host or their home country, and are rarely subject to international prosecution. Engagement in criminal behaviour and the impunity that follows threaten long-term post-conflict recovery and stability, including through the reinforcement of culturally, politically and socially entrenched forms of gender inequality in both the host nation and the country contributing peacekeeping operations (PKOs) personnel.

It is the position of WILPF that international law, if properly enforced, would provide protection and accountability. The issue relates more to private companies seeking to find loopholes to avoid liability, such as locating to States with no effective regulatory framework. It is these lacunas that need to be addressed and the accountability mechanisms strengthened and implemented. Codes of conduct must be based on law and not on perceptions of morality.

Private military companies must be firstly accountable to their contracting States, through provisions of contract or status of forces agreement (SOFA). It is essential that their contracts clarify that PKOs and PMSCs personnel are subject to the State jurisdiction in cases of criminal activity should immunity be claimed and not waived in the country of deployment.

The accountability procedures for investigation and prosecution of offenders must be established too.

States must be reminded of their accountability for human rights violations if they fail to exert due diligence in relation to the PMSC and crimes are then committed by personnel in a PMSC. By hiring PMSCs, States outsource one of their inherent functions: security and the implementation of foreign policy commitments. Hence, States should give effect to the due diligence standard inter alia, by retaining control and oversight of these companies through stricter processes of licensing and registration.

In addition, contracting States have the obligation, as part of their fundamental legal duty to protect human rights, to investigate and prosecute third party partners for any alleged violations.

There must be consequences such as punitive fines and/or blacklisting for States that fail to act upon reports of misconduct. Mechanisms should be implemented to facilitate more effective investigation of suspected crimes: victims should be encouraged in coming forward, whistleblowers should be protected from the fear of retaliation, and the accused should be prevented from being removed from the host-country for a reasonable period in order for investigations to be resolved or trials concluded.

Primary responsibility lies with the State and hence, troop contributing countries who sub-contract to peace keeping, must insist: that there be vetting of personnel prior to deployment and effective training both pre-deployment and in-country. The training should highlight the consequences of misconduct and violations, and include information regarding how to report such misconduct.

This issue of UN PKOs, including activities of private military actors, and specifically the conduct of personnel, should be brought before the review and monitoring bodies of the UN, including in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), of both host and sending States, to address questions relating to personnel conduct.

Thus, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom:

  • Calls for the strengthening of licensing and registration criterions in contracts between UN/States and private actors,
  • Recommends the implementation of high standards of appropriate training of private military actors on human rights law and international humanitarian law,
  • Maintains that responsibility for violations committed by private third parties lies with contracting States, but also reminds the Human Rights Council members that many crimes committed by these private actors fall within the realm of international jurisdiction,
  • Encourages the inter-governmental working group to continue its discussions on human rights issues related to the activities of private military companies, in particular on issues regarding redress and reparations for victims.
Download this statement in PDF here.


[1]    Such as the report submitted to the Conduct and Discipline Unit of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations by the Watson Institute for International Studies: “Conduct and Discipline in UN Peacekeeping Operations: Culture, Political Economy and Gender” and the report from the Secretary-General on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” A/63/720

Access to Justice Human Rights Violations Militarisation Private Military and Security Companies Human Rights Council Statement

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