Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  To many of those not familiar with the milieu of Non Governmental Organisations, their part in the debate about the regulation of PMCs must seem at best anomalous. The idea of the hard-bitten mercenary sitting down with the idealistic charity worker to share views on UK legislation could appear to be very unlikely. But these two groups meet each other on a professional and daily basis on every populated continent. For all the legal wrangling, departmental lobbying and public response engendered by the debate on PMC regulation in the UK, the people with the most to offer to make this legislation a workable, relevant and enforceable law are the fiercely independent NGOs who work in the same area of operations as PMCs.

  The NGO view of PMCs runs the breadth of feeling from repulsion at one end to contracted helper at the other. NGOs are cautious of admitting their links to PMCs, as the International Alert paper "Humanitarian Action and Private Security Companies: Opening the debate" makes clear,

    "Aid agencies are understandably very concerned about the reputational risks of such associations. This has even led individual staff members within UN organisations and international NGOs to flatly deny, contrary to the facts, that their organisation has ever sought advice from a private security company or used one for more substantive services. Not surprisingly, there is little or no quantitative or qualitative information about the use of private security companies by aid agencies and the nature of the services that are contracted from them."1

  This refusal to acknowledge the use of PMCs, and indeed the ideological problems that NGOs have with the whole issue of security, will recur in this section. Although many aid agencies have been consulted for input to this paper, none were prepared to have their views put on the record. At one end of the NGO to PMC relationship is the area where NGOs are forced to work next to PMCs involved in combat but where NGOs have nothing but repugnance for the mercenary work that the PMC is contracted to do. However dialogue will be set up between the two, initiated by the NGO in order that the NGO can show neutrality and indeendence in its dealings with all the combatants.2 In the often dangerous corners of the earth in which these two diverse groups operate, the unique perspective that NGOs get of the work that PMCs do, and of the utility of PMCs is invaluable to this paper's assessment. The NGOs consulted have worked with PMCs in Somalia, Aceh, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Congo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Burundi and Myanmar. In order to represent the differences between PMCs and NGOs, this table highlights the variation in their fundamental principles:


Profit orientated
Strong brand name
Willing to sub-contract operations
Will carry arms
Primacy of Ethics
Area of Operations
Poor and failing regimes
Failing regimes


  For those from a military background, it is crucial to get inside the corporate mindset of the NGOs to discover how they see the whole issue of security, which, as already explained is a concept which has been alien to them in the past. Security should not get confused with safety which is defined by Randolph Martin in his article "NGO Field Security" as "protection from illness and accidents". Security relates to "protection from acts of violence and crime."3 It is sobering to note at this point that for the first time, in 1998, more UN staff died providing emergency relief than in peacekeeping missions. Between 1997 and 2001 over 200 NGOs lost their lives in the field.4 The reasons that NGOs have failed to engage fully in the issue of security and private military companies are primarily5:

    —  NGO's legitimate concerns over the associations of PMCs with mercenaries and the possibility that NGO neutrality could be jeopardised. Even with the most upstanding PMC, the subject of tactics, intelligence and weapons does not sit easily with NGO mandates. A case in point was a PMC intelligence agent in Liberia who posed as a photographer using an unwitting NGO as cover.

    —  NGOs are a fragmented area of the corporate world with different mandates and missions, which does not promote harmonisation of approach or desire to self-regulate. From interviews conducted, there was the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue at one end of the spectrum, working with rebel groups on the front lines of conflict who emphasised the need for ex-military observers in many fragile situations.6 At the other end was UNSECOORD in the UN Headquarters who formulate security policy, but rarely have to suffer the consequences of their own diktats in the field, who have placed severe restrictions on the use of PMCs by all UN agencies.

    —  NGOs like to dominate the moral high ground, deliberately distancing themselves from any companies who operate for profit. Although this is easy for them to do, it does not promote understanding, or move the debate forward. It is also disingenuous of them to do this for two reasons. Often the only way for their aid to be delivered is by bribery of officials in certain countries, yet they will rarely admit this and secondly NGOs have haphazardly hired some in-country PMCs whose employees may previously have been a party in a conflict and may have committed human rights abuses.7

    —  Whereas for the military, training for dangerous contingencies expends most of their time, NGOs will rarely have any expertise in security practice. It is not considered a core discipline. NGOs are only starting to link the security of their operations with training for the lawless areas in which they routinely operate.

    —  NGOs have a philosophical worry about engagement in the debate. It takes the onus off national governments and the UN to fill the voids in security that PMCs are filling. Clearly the NGOs would like to be able to rely on responsible regimes or international institutions to provide consistent security wherever it may be needed.

  Despite their unwillingness to grasp the issue, NGOs will continue to need security in many of their operations for the foreseeable future in order to minimise their risk of casualties, which as stated earlier, have been too numerous. Some NGOs are now being sued by relatives of former employees who have lost their lives because of the absence of security training provided to field operatives who have later been killed.8

  The UK military, when deploying to a peacekeeping operation, will consider its own security, and that of the population it is supporting as vital to the whole operation. The mission set by the UK Division in Bosnia in 1999 to all of its subordinates was "to maintain a safe and secure environment in order that" rebuilding of Bosnia could flow from this base of security. For aid agencies security is viewed as just one of a number of tools that may be needed on a deployment. The leading expert on security in the NGO sector, Koenraad Van Brabant, explains in a recent article in "Forced Migration Review" how these agencies have previously not considered security as a central issue9:

    "On the one hand, security needs to be "mainstreamed". It becomes part of the budgeting and the fundraising. It becomes part of general personnel management, and is a consideration in the recruitment and redeployment of individuals, in the supervision of and support to staff, and in disciplinary actions."

  In his attempt to bring security issues to the fore, Koenraad Van Brabant has developed the model of security management shown below that is now widely used by NGOs.

  The central triangle of this paradigm illustrates the continuum which can be employed, simultaneously, but in varying ratios, to produce the right result. The Acceptance Strategy, or active security, seeks political and social consent of belligerents through relationship and trust building to reduce or remove threats. The Protection Strategy utilises protective procedures and devices such as fencing and communications to keep threats at a distance, without addressing the root causes of them. The Deterrence Strategy, or passive security, aims at deterring threats by legal, economic or political sanctions or, in extreme circumstances, by the defensive or offensive use of force that may involve arms. The use of PMCs by NGOs would be an example of the Protection and Deterrence responses to risk.


  As has been alluded to earlier in this chapter, the use of PMCs by aid agencies has already and is continuing to happen. In their Workshop Summary Report at Tufts University in April 2001 on "The Politicisation of Humanitarian Action and Staff Security," NGO delegates were forced to concede that, "In places such as Nairobi and Kinshasa it was recognised that there is no other choice but to use PSCs."10 ArmorGroup, which has recently taken over DSL, counts among its list of clients UN Agencies, ECHO and IRC.

  Although the chief proponent of security in the UN, UNSECOORD, has restricted the use of PMCs by UN agencies, UNHCR, so often the practical implementer of UN action in the field, constantly needs the services of PMCs and wants the most professional PMCs to be legitimised and regulated by UNSECOORD.11 This is unlikely to happen and the breakdown of relations between UNSECOORD and UNHCR could not be greater. While UNSECOORD develops ever-increasing security policy rules and required responses in New York, their knowledge of what is happening on UN operations around the world is often not complete. Their prescriptive "Phase Levels" of risk are unresponsive, inflexible and remove responsibility from UNHCR operatives at the periphery. Janet Lim, Head of UNHCR Security, has identified that PMCs can be an invaluable asset as they screen for the best employees, maintain high standards, are responsive and can be contracted as and when required. The cumbersome UNSECOORD method of contracting for new security staff rarely takes less than six months. Clearly the UN has as many problems over security as the NGO fraternity, and the pragmatism strived for by UNHCR is not matched by the over-regulative behaviour of UNSECOORD.

  The unwillingness of NGOs and UNSECOORD to admit to their use of PMCs and the possible benefits PMCs may bring has similarities to the NGO unwillingness to establish a rapport with NATO military forces in the Balkans 10 years ago. Seeing all military forces, whether indigenous, UN or NATO as belligerents when Yugoslavia first broke up, made much of the NGO work in the early days much harder than it need have been. Throughout the nineties NATO troops proved to be the friends and supporters of the aid agencies thus building a mutually beneficial relationship which today provides the cornerstone of co-ordination and targeting of relief throughout the Balkans using the Five Pillars system.12 Thus when NATO entered Kosovo in 1999, many of the key relationships between NGOs and NATO were already established and aid agency work in Kosovo has thus worked much better. There will always be detractors. MSF still refuse, even in the Balkans to engage with NATO troops tasked with providing their security.13 At the opposite end of the spectrum DFID, recognising the military's engagement with all the local population has been known to offer the UK military an amount of money to go toward aid projects which the military viewed as being of a high priority.14 Some degree of NGO reluctance to side fully with international peacekeeping forces is understandable because although national military contingents themselves are rarely aware of it, there is always a political, diplomatic and commercial agenda which contributing nations are keen to push through their commitment of troops. Too close a co-operation would be viewed by many NGOs as the politicisation of aid.15

  Most heads of security of leading NGOs approached for this study had a clear idea of how they would approach the employment of security in an operation if it were necessary16. All actions would be taken on the basis of finding which solution least jeopardises their neutrality and impartiality. It was a staged response which could be increased as the situation worsened. The levels, not always in this order, could be:

    —  Self-management. The first answer for NGOs would always be to manage their own security without any outside assistance, which means largely following the "Acceptance" and "Protection" approach to risk. They saw the need for overt, contracted security as a last resort.

    —  Indigenous PMC. In aggravated circumstances the next step would be to hire their own indigenous security in country, in preference to bringing security with them. This was seen to be a way of not drawing attention to themselves or making themselves a target. Also the hiring of local guards would be understood by the community who were benefiting from their aid, and by paying locals the NGO was contributing to the local economy.

    —  Indigenous Police or Military. The next escalation could be use of local security forces, but this was unpopular because the government employing these security forces could often be a protagonist in the conflict and by employing state forces, some degree of neutrality could be lost.

    —  Single Country Contributing Forces. Most NGOs have had to endure the inconsistency of capability, equipment and mandate of multinational UN Forces. All would prefer to work if necessary with a neutral, highly trained single nationality force with a robust mandate.

    —  Ethical PMC. Although this is likely to be their last option, NGOs could be pushed more and more into this course of action as will be discussed below. A study by Martin Read has concluded that security is an issue that crops up in 60 per cent of NGO deployments. PMCs are already used for security training prior to deployment, but only a few tentative security contracts for fieldwork have so far gone to western PMCs.


  "The international market for private security is expected to grow from an estimated revenue of $55.6 billion in 1990 to $202 billion by the year 2010," concluded the trend analysis section of the Tufts University Seminar last year.17 Indeed while interviewing Lt Col Spicer, erstwhile director of Sandline, now running SCI, he estimated that the current annual revenue of PMCs in the UK alone to be tens of millions of pounds.18 The reasons for this projected increase in the market are not just the pessimistic forecast of the instability of the world in 2010. The main reason is the continued reluctance of developed countries to intervene with their own sovereign forces in conflicts that have no clear strategic value to them. In the days of the Cold War, intervention was the norm but this situation no longer applies; this despite the penalty of not intervening in these disputes being to have to watch anarchy and genocide, especially in Africa. Even where there has been clear strategic interest or colonial responsibility for the UK, the FCO has consistently blocked deployment of British forces until the security situation has dramatically deteriorated. Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone all exemplify the failure not only of the international community in committing force early, but more especially of the FCO whose policy of delay has allowed security vacuums to develop. These vacuums of security provision by the developed world are being filled by the private sector in the form of PMCs.

  The rise of the private sector in this market is not just associated with security. Official development assistance accounted for three-quarters of the resource transfers from OECD countries to the developing world in 1990. Ten years later, foreign direct investment alone, that is private sector money, has become a multiple of official development finance to developing economies, $240 billion and 84.9 billion respectively.19 These companies who are investing heavily in developing countries are not like the old Dutch West India Company or British East India Company licensed to raise their own armies, thus to protect and secure their investment and assets they must hire PMCs.

  The debate of the fundamentals discussed above raises three conclusions:

    —  NGOs and PMCs usually have the same workplaces and NGOs have often contracted elements of their security to PMCs.

    —  NGOs do not have a good record on their understanding or provision of security, or in facing up to the issues of hiring PMCs.

    —  PMCs are expected to expand and take on more responsibility and market share for the provision of security than national forces over the next ten years.



  With the NGOs global mandate, they would prefer legislation that bound the activities of PMCs on an international treaty basis. The best forum for this would be the UN. However, as discussed earlier, the UN is an imperfect institution which has too many insurmountable problems on the route to legislate on this issue. In the view of Alexandre Faite, an ICRC lawyer, it would take a minimum of five years for the UN to draft an international treaty, the highest form of law, dealing with the issue of PMCs, and then it would need ratification by all the member states.20 To appreciate how futile action taken by the UN is likely to be, one needs to look at the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries adopted by the UN. Ostensibly it was an uncontentious act which sought to protect the independence of states from the sharper end of the PMC market, specifically drafted in response to African lobbying because of the problems Africa had had in the 1960s and 1970s with European mercenaries. Currently it is the only international legislation dealing with PMCs PMCs but so far has only been ratified by 19 UN Member States and signed by nine others. An international treaty supporting the regulation, and thus by extension the legitimisation of some PMCs, is unlikely to receive many signatories in the current climate. The ICRC also point out that the time is not ripe for legislation on PMCs by the UN. The UN has other issues of greater import which it is struggling to address.

  Even though the international treaty route may fail, there are other ways for the UN to move the debate forward. Currently the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is gathering information on worthwhile legislation with a view to producing a "Code of Conduct" or "Best Practice" for the use of PMCs by Member States.21 If drafted well, this could form the basis of the next stage of international ratification, where it will come before the Third Commission, which is political, for examination, comment and amendment. Once the redraft is agreed, it will be sent to the Sixth Commission, which is the legal department who will ensure it is in keeping with international law, after which it may be taken up by the General Assembly and made the subject of a resolution. This will take time and the key point about UN legislation is that this delay means that UK regulation is necessary, and the UK debate may even help to inform the way forward for the UN.

  Before leaving the question over international legislation, the issue of global coverage is a major feature that must be carried through into the UK draft. Worries over PMCs moving offshore if over-regulated, and the inability to prosecute extra-territorially for war crimes under current UK law must stimulate the Green Paper debate. Included in the UK White Paper must be extra-territorial jurisdiction to limit the freedom of action of UK PMC employees or assets in a third country. This would be similar to the South African legislation, the "Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act" of 1998, widely thought to have been a laudable attempt to regulate with some problems over its definitions of mercenaries and PMCs.


  The US legislation, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, also of 1998 regulates not so much the PMC itself, but the services they are exporting abroad. The Act says that anyone "who engages in the business of brokering activities with respect to the manufacture, export, import, or transfer of any defence article or defence services" is bound to declare it. From small arms to tactical training packages, jet simulators to logistic support, all come under the scrutiny of the Department of State's Office of Defence Trade Controls. This draconian law may seem superficially to give the NGOs the confidence they seek in hiring PMCs because all companies allowed to operate abroad would come with the endorsement of the US government. However this misses one of the fundamental concerns of NGOs, that they have little faith for the propriety and ulterior motives of any national government, therefore national approval does not equate to transparency, neutrality and sound ethical practices. Argued in the chapter on PMCs in this dissertation is the premise that US endorsed PMCs like MPRI are merely an extension of US government foreign policy, which would work against this type of legislation being acceptable to NGOs and therefore benefiting non-lethal PMCs in this country. NGOs are less likely to hire an arm of the state than a company which they view as neutral and independent of the state.

  There are a number of key characteristics, many of which reflect NGO organisational best practice, which NGOs would wish to see in a PMC to give them the confidence to hire them:

    —  Transparency throughout the organisation. NGOs will want to know that the PMC has an unimpeachable reputation both in the quality of its staff and in its previous contracts. NGOs do not want to employ a company with a slick marketing procedure to find that the PMC has then sub-let parts of their contract to another PMC with a dubious record. If they felt it necessary, NGOs would wish to be able to question a PMC about its previous record to satisfy the NGOs strict criteria for preserving its own image intact.

    —  Ethical behaviour. In the same way that the Stock Exchange saw a growing trend in the 1990s by investors buying into ethical investment and only backing those firms who could prove their ethical and moral credentials, so in this decade will PMCs have to prove the same. ArmorGroup have realised this trend and already have made clear that they will not hire ex-employees of Sandline and EO. In their examination of suitable candidates to use as PMCs, NGOs would want to check a company's lineage, including subsidiaries, parent companies and backers. They will want to know where else the PMC is operating. This will not suit many of the PMCs.

    —  Clear stance in favour of Human Rights. NGOs will want a PMC to abide by in-country human rights legislation or the Geneva Conventions; whichever provides the most protection to the vulnerable. Extra-territorial legislation will also be seen as advantageous to the NGOs.

    —  Impartiality will be a requirement of the NGOs, but the concept may initially confuse PMCs, used to clearly identifying with one side in a conflict. Essentially the NGO will wish to hire a PMC which will not antagonise any of the protagonists, does not have a history of working with any of the combatants, and can maintain the security and reputation of the NGO in troubled times.

    —  Lack of client confidentiality. Faced with the awkward question of whether they would mind their own client confidentiality being broken by a PMC if they themselves wish for full transparency of a PMC's history, some NGOs were happy that this could be acceptable. There is no such PMC in the market place today who would contemplate this, but it may be popular if one were to be set up.

    —  Vetting of personnel. Although this seems to be an aid to making PMCs more acceptable and transparent to NGOs, and Lt Col Spicer from SCI thinks the industry is ready for it, oddly NGOs do not appear to be to be taken by the idea. Vetting is not a process with which the NGO sector is familiar, and they feel it has little to add to a reputable company.


  Omitted from the FCO's Green Paper as a possible way forward for legislation is any discussion of the "Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights." This was a Code of Conduct drawn up by the US and the UK in December 2000 to ensure propriety and ethical behaviour by multinationals, mostly in the extractive and energy sector, in far-flung corners of the developing world.22 This ready-made framework, negotiated by Governments, NGOs and the private sector, has much of value that could be read across to the Green Paper debate. The signatories of these principles, we are told, "all with an interest in human rights and corporate social responsibility, have engaged in a dialogue on security and human rights...The participants have developed the following set of voluntary principles to guide companies in maintaining the safety and security of their business within an operating framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." The principles fall into the three categories of risk assessment, relations with public security and lastly relations with private security. This code of conduct is commendably wide-ranging. In section two even the security equipment provided by companies to maintain their public security must be assessed for any "foreseeable negative consequences, including human rights abuses."

  It is the third section dealing with private security which is of particular relevance to this paper. In essence private security companies are to:

    —  Observe ethical conduct and human rights and promote the observance of international humanitarian law.

    —  Act in a lawful manner and exercise restraint and caution regarding the local use of force, including using rules of engagement.

    —  Practice in a way that should be capable of being monitored by independent third parties.

    —  Allegations of human rights abuses by private security should be recorded and investigated.

    —  Not employ individuals implicated in human rights abuses, not violate the rights of individuals.

    —  Investigate properly when physical force has been used.

  These are far from all the stipulations, indeed they are less than half, but they would sit well as the basis for regulating PMCs. As a current voluntary tool providing the framework for the interaction between governmental legislation, company freedom to operate and NGOs desire for more demonstrable ethics, this working model must be an invaluable start point. If signing this code of conduct formed part of the mandatory licensing system for PMCs, the code's independence of the government combined with extra-territorial legislation would give confidence to the NGOs hiring PMCs that their behaviour would be exemplary and subject to legal enforcement.


  1  Vaux, Seiple, Nakano, Van Brabant, Humanitarian Action and Private Security Companies: Opening the Debate, International Alert, London.

  2  Interview with Alexandre Faite, ICRC, Geneva by the author 29 May 2002.

  3  Randolph Martin, NGO Field Security, Forced Migration Review, April 1999, page 4.

  4  International Summary Workshop Report, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, 23/24 April 2001, Page 1 and

  5  Elements of this list are drawn from Vaux, Seiple, Nakano, Van Brabant, Humanitarian Action and Private Security Companies: Opening the Debate, International Alert, London. Pages 8,9.

  6  Interview with Andy Andrea, CHD, Geneva, by the author 30 May 2002.

  7  Interview with Security Consultants used by NGOs, June 2002.

  8  Koenraad Van Brabant, Security training: where are we now? Forced Migration Review, April 1999, page 7.

  9  Ibidem, page 10.

  10  International Summary Workshop Report, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, 23-24 April 2001, Page 3.

  11  Interview with senior source in UNHCR, by the author, May 2002.

  12  MOD Doctrine for G5 (Civil/Military Affairs) Operations.

  13  Author's own experience in Kosovo, March-July 2001.

  14  Ibidem.

  15  International Summary Workshop Report, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, 23/24 April 2001, Page 1.

  16  Based on interviews conducted by the author with Red R, Tear Fund, Martin Read and Barney Mayhew, June 2002.

  17  International Summary Workshop Report, Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, 23/24 April 2001, Page 2.

  18  Interview by the authors with Lt Col Spicer, May 2002.

  19  Gilles Carbonnier, Corporate Responsibility and Humanitarian Action, Vol 83, No 844, IRRC, December 2001, page 950.

  20  Interview with Alexandre Faite, ICRC, Geneva by the author 29 May 2002.

  21  E/CN.4/2003 of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

  22  Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State, Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, December 20, 2000, and—rights/001220—fsdrl—principles.html.

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