Bloomberg is reporting that “Security companies including ArmorGroup North America and DynCorp International Inc. are getting U.S. and British backing as they oppose international regulations the contractors say would boost costs and dangers.”
What these groups and their trade association, the Washington‐based International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) specifically object to is a proposed United Nations treaty to set screening and training standards in an effort to avoid a repetition of alleged abuses by war zone guards.
This history of this is a bit complex so bear with me. The proposed treaty has been drafted by a UN working group, formally titled “The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self‐determination.” The Working Group is part of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. OHCHR represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. Its mandate is to promote and protect all human rights.
That sounds all well and good. But some history is needed to fully understand why some people are suspicious of the Working Group. It was established in July 2005 pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 2005/2. It succeeded the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries, which had been in existence since 1987 and was headed by Mr. Enrique Bernales Ballesteros (Peru) from 1987 to 2004 and Ms. Shaista Shameem (Fiji) from 2004 to 2005. In March 2008, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Working Group for a period of three years.
Past heads of the Working Group have not been complimentary about private security contractors (PSC), which has made for some interesting irony. For example, Ballesteros once said that PSC are “corporate mercenaries” whose activities are criminal and “must be severely punished.” Yet at the time he said that the UN had previously hired PSC in the past. Several PSC, including the former Sandline International, founded by former British military officer Tim Spicer, who went on to found Aegis Defence, were registered with the UN Common Supply Database.
Now in the past, while the group has clearly never been a fan or private military and security contractors, it also acknowledged that PSCs were not mercenaries. It still does, if you dig down into the guts of their rhetoric. The group’s own news release acknowledges that private military and security companies are something different; not just a synonym for mercenaries.
In fact, in his last report as former UN Special Rapporteur on mercenaries, Ballesteros proposed a new, modern legal definition for mercenaries which: