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Private military/security companies "acknowledge humanitarian law obligations"

27-11-2006 Interview

Melker Mabeck coordinates the ICRC's efforts to promote respect for international humanitarian law by private military and security firms working in conflict zones. He talks about the contacts made with the companies and the States that hire them.

Melker Mabeck    
     What’s the practical involvement of the ICRC in getting arms carriers to respect IHL?

Armed forces are obliged to respect international humanitarian law (IHL) at all times; they are supposed to include this in their training. The ICRC helps states meet these responsibilities by, among other things, making specialists available to give support to their training programmes on IHL, or the law of armed conflict , as they describe it. It extends this type of support to training for police services and other security forces, which are called on to intervene in situations that can put civilians at risk. Other target groups for these activities include organised armed groups in non-international armed conflicts, as they too are bound by IHL.

The purpose of the ICRC’s intervention in this is very practical: to try to prevent abuses of the law, thus making civilians, the wounded and prisoners safer, and to improve safe access to vic tims by humanitarian organisations.

  ©Taken from Shadow Company- www.shadowcompany.com    


 The ICRC has been talking to PMCs/PSCs since 2004; what has been the aim?  


The ICRC wants to have a dialogue with all institutions and people that can influence armed conflicts and how they are conducted, in particular with those who bear arms. The recent increase in the outsourcing of military tasks has put more employees of PMCs/PSCs into direct contact with people protected by international humanitarian law, so the ICRC needs to continue to develop its dialogue with these groups.

The general aim, as with training for armies, is to better protect and assist people affected by armed conflicts through compliance with IHL. More specifically, the ICRC seeks to ensure that PMCs/PSCs and their employees are aware of, and understand, the ICRC's mandate, activities and modus operandi .

 The head of one well-known PMC/PSC is on record as saying that these companies must respect the Geneva Conventions; have others been so positive?

The first steps in this dialogue have been encouraging. Both states and the private military and security industry have been open to dialogue with the ICRC.

The states that employ PMCs/PSCs understand that this outsourcing of military/security tasks does not take away any of their obligations under IHL. The companies have also accepted that they have obligations under IHL. In fact, many are themselves calling for some form of government regulation of the industry.

 What are the ICRC's main concerns concerning the operations of PMCs/PSCs?

Our principal concern is that they respect IHL. We are also concerned that this growing recourse to private guards etc risks eroding the fundamental distinction between civilians and combatants, because these people may not appear clearly as quite one or the other. This distinction is crucial under IHL, both for the conduct of military operations and for humanitarian field work.

Another question is to what extent can systems of command and control – such as those in regular armed forces – effectively exist for PMCs/PSCs? And if there are none, where does that leave the issue of controls on the conduct of PMC/PSC operatives?

 How do you see the future – will ICRC delegates be giving training courses to PMC personnel?

The responsibility for educating and training PMC/PSC employees in the content and application of IHL lies primarily with the company itself and with the states who hire them.

The ICRC should in no way take the place of the company or the state – but we are ready to discuss the possibility of advising them on how they can implement this responsibility.