Regional Conference Asserts Need for National Regulatory Framework for PMSCs
November 16, 2015
African states should push for stronger regulatory frameworks to deal with Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs), according to the participants of a two-day regional conference on PMSCs which ended on Thursday (12th Nov) in Addis Ababa.
Co-organised by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) based in Switzerland, the conference identified good practices for cooperation at the national, regional, and international levels on issues related to the regulation and oversight of PMSCs. The two- day workshop brought actors from African states representatives, civil society, RECs (Regional Economic Cooperation) and academia to discuss the Montreux documents and its potential adaptation by African countries. This workshop is one of the seven that the DCAF has organised throughout the world. The panelists gathered for the workshop presented the different issues that Africa is facing with PMSCs and the Montreux document.
Day one of the workshop began by opening (welcome) statements from the representatives of the Switzerland government, ICRC, the IPSS, DCAF, and a keynote address by the African Union. Discussions opened with a panel where academics and researchers presented their findings of the state of PMSCs in Africa. The second panel, consisting of the legal and project research coordinators of the Montreux Document, introduced the document to participants as a non-binding document that does not introduce new principles rather reaffirms already existing IHRL (International Human Rights Law) principles and good practices. Participants and panelists noted the need to domesticate the Montreux Document at local levels especially in African countries where the industry is new and susceptible to abuse.
The third session of day I saw presentations by researchers on the legal and practical operations of the PMSCs in Africa with case studies from South Africa, Malawi, and Ethiopia. The session further asserted that many of the challenges faced by African countries in the operations of PMSCs are similar. In most African countries, PMSCs fall under different regulatory bodies in different countries, there is not one format for regulation. They are usually owned by ex-military personnel or even high government officials, which usually result in an unfair influence and power. Moreover, government oversight of PMSCs is limited to licensing. And when it comes to staffing PMSCs are not professionalized and they lack of adequate training, equipment and armament. As of this year, seven African countries have a national regulatory framework, while three others have a draft regulatory law before their parliament.
Day two began with the recap of day one, with the first session dedicated to the clarification of the Montreux document. Due to the large amount of questions that state representatives presented, the legal team from DCAF, ICRC, and the government of Switzerland gave a broader explanation of the documents. The second panel of day two gave a larger perspective of regional experiences on PMSCs with representatives from West, South, and East Africa presenting the regional challenges and perspectives on the operations of the PMSCs. The following panel went on to share the experience of different countries in the use of PMSCs in extractive industries: the voluntary principle on security and human rights and its interaction with the Montreux documents. As one of the largest customers of Private Security companies, the extractive industries’ activities sometimes tend to result in the violation of human rights leading to a clash between local law enforcement and the private security companies.
In the afternoon of the second and last day, two panels assembled to present and discuss the continental and international perspectives with special focus on the African Union, the United Nations, and the International Code of Conduct of PMSCs. In the first discussion, the panelist asked what have the AU and the UN done with respect to PMSCs and if recommendations for better monitoring can be shared with regional bodies and state representatives. This session emphasised that even though both the AU and UN have different working groups on the control of PMSCs, it is still not enough. One of the panelists stated, "Let us assume that PMSCs are here to stay. But the question is what the AU can do [about them]." The panelists recommended that the AU come up with the continental regulatory framework for the use of PMSCs and emphasised that the states must contextualise the definition and operations of PMSCs in their contest and national need.
Another panelist argued, "States’ core function is providing security to its citizens and that it is admitted that PMSCs are here to stay so. The challenge is where we draw the line." For the state to determine when, where, and how to utilise PMSCs, the relative stability of the state itself is important.
Moreover, the last session dealt with the need for an international code of conduct for PMSCs and how they can be used to complement the Montreux Document, which aims to enhance the protection afforded to people affected by armed conflicts by clarifying and reaffirming existing obligations under international law.
The international code of conduct outlined the need for PMSCs to monitor the practices of human rights and International Human Rights Law. It was launched in 2010 and had been signed by 700 companies and 70 countries by 2013. Besides, the code of conduct led to the founding of the Association of the code of conduct for PMSCs which has 87 companies including eight in Africa and thirteen civil society organisations. This code of conduct recommends that we raise international standards and minimise the impacts of PMSCs.
The two-day conference ended with the affirmation of that PMSCs are not mercenaries nor are they security companies. But they are here to stay even though they lack of clarity of definition and transparency and are transnational in their nature. Africa has a loophole that can be filled by these organisations. Furthermore, the conference recommended strengthening support for states, learning good practices from others, recognising community voices, limiting the use of weapons, and updating existing documents and conventions. As one of the plenary put it, "A document is good, a convention is better but a national regulatory framework is great."