A number of European Parliament members have called for private security companies to be regulated by the European Union in order to ensure compliance with international human rights and conventions at a subcommittee meeting earlier this month.
Mainly due to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, private security companies have been growing exponentially over the last decade. Private security companies often guard non-military personnel such as aid workers, civilian contractors and diplomats. However, private security companies sometimes kill civilians and their members may be affiliated with criminal and paramilitary elements.
The European Union Parliament’s Security and Defence Subcommittee debated the role and legal control of private security companies on March 15.
“There have been very controversial cases, due to the lack of a clear legal framework at the international level, defining the status of these companies and the way in which they carry out their duties”, said Security and Defence Subcommittee Chairman Arnaud Danjean
Anne-Marie Buzatu from the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) told the Hearing that International law is not directly applicable as private security contractors are non-State actors. She point out that in war zones the rule of law has often failed and it difficult to see who has jurisdiction.
She went on to say that “private security is not just an American problem; 43% of companies signing the international code of conduct are from Europe, 21% from the US”. She said that there was a need to raise awareness in countries: “States as contractors can include conditions and help to build an international system of oversight,” she said.
“International law is not crystal clear on what constitutes a combatant”, said Natalino Ronzitti, Professor of International Law of the LUISS University in Rome. “54% of workforce deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan are contractors,” not mercenaries, she Ronzitti said, “but how do you distinguish them? We need EU legislation, as Security services are excluded from the directive on services”. He suggested an alternative code of conduct.
Željko Branovi?, a Research Associate at the Freie Universität Berlin said the involvement of ex-militias (Angola, Afghanistan) in the commercialisation of security puts reconciliation attempts in jeopardy.
Andy Bearpark, Director General of the British Association of Private Security Companies (BAPSC) noted that in Europe, “demand for such operations is increasing. The end of cold war era saw a decrease in interstate conflicts but an increase in intrastate conflicts”. He said the important question is how we use PSCs [private security companies]?”
He said it needs to be made clear that private security companies should only be used for defensive, not offensive action and that they should operate in a culturally sensitive way – operations by Blackwater private security agents in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the deaths of civilians, have proved to be culturally unfriendly in many instances. Bearpark added that there needs to be a clear and complete regulatory environment for private security companies.
Michael Clarke, Director of Public Affairs for UK based security company G4S, defended private security companies, saying that, “we protect people. Interference in politics, state affairs, services that breach human rights is not what PSCs do or should do”.
Outsourcing security is a growing trend around the world but the misuse of force remains a problem in spite of improving regulation, according to a report published several years ago by the United Nations Development Programme sponsored South Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC),
SEESAC’s report, entitled Private Security Companies in South East Europe: a Cause or Effect of Security, says that the rapid privatisation of security in the region following the fall of communism created an unregulated industry that involved criminal elements. Over the last decade the growing private security sector has started to become more professional, according to the report, as governments bring in legislation to control the industry. However, the report warns that political or paramilitary affiliations, the improper use of force and criminal ties were still affecting the private security industry.
The authors of the report urged regulatory authorities in the region to work together with the industry to improve regulations meeting international standards and create best practice standards. DCAF said the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers could address some of the challenges facing the industry.
In October last year the Afghan government began disbanding private security companies in the country, shutting down eight firms and seizing more than 400 weapons as part of its plan for Afghanistan to take over all domestic security from foreign troops by 2014. Last year there were 52 registered private security firms in Afghanistan, according to Reuters, with half of them foreign. Kabul estimated there were up to 40 000 Afghans employed by private security firms.
In November last year almost 60 private security companies deployed to war zones pledged to curb their use of force, report any misconduct and train their personnel as part of an international code of conduct that set down the first set of standards for private security. Switzerland initiated the landmark code, which was drawn up over a year with assistance from Britain and the United States, which host most private security companies, Reuters reports.