February 2008

Courtesy of Human Security Gateway, we learn that the Harvard International Law Review has published a report on mercenaries in international law and human rights:

Mercenarism 2.0? The Rise of the Modern Private Security Industry and Its Implications for International Humanitarian Law Enforcement-(PDF)

Abstract :
In response to reports of frequent criminal misconduct, aggressive behavior, and human rights abuses committed with impunity by private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, some have argued that private military and security companies (“PMSCs”) are no more than modern mercenaries, and that they should therefore be banned under the standing international prohibition on mercenarism. However, the existing instruments prohibiting mercenarism would be difficult to apply to most PMSCs, making it easy for states that want to continue to use these companies to evade such a ban. In contrast, given market forces pushing PMSCs to be more compliant and emerging state practices that favor regulation, coordinated international regulation of PMSCs might feasibly be enforced. This article proposes that many of the issues with private military and security companies could be addressed by creating an international humanitarian law (“IHL”) principle that recognizes state use of PMSCs as a means of warfare. The availability of advanced, independent security and military capabilities-for-hire enables states or nonstate actors to get around political or resource constraints that otherwise might limit the use of force, and may undermine IHL enforcement. These threats might be addressed if IHL established a stronger state responsibility link between states and the PMSCs they hire. International humanitarian law should provide that states who outsource government security or military functions in support of any combat or humanitarian operations that would otherwise trigger IHL must establish internal oversight, accountability, and liability mechanisms to ensure that these actors comply with international and domestic legal norms and regulations.

It is an interesting report as far as it goes. It begins to describe the issues and dangers posed by PMSCs employed by sovereign states, which is critical. It only briefly mentions the existence of private or corporate employers of PMSCs, it does not specify any of the dangers they pose, or suggest how privately employed PMSCs might be regulated or held accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to start some study and discussion of the PMSCs, their roles, what kind of regulation is needed, and how to enforce it.

Check my article on the private security industry in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.



The Institute For Security Studies in South Africa is organizing a study of the private security industry, particularly as it operates in the Congo DRC, Uganda, and South Africa.

From the ISS:

The past decade has seen rapid growth in the private security industry, both in Africa and globally. Private security companies have diversified their activities to include military advice and training, arms procurement, intelligence gathering, logistical and medical support and in limited instances, combat and operational support.
. . .
Understandably, the presence of these organisations in Africa has raised questions related to the accountability and democratic oversight of this industry, the extent to which governments, the UN and relief agencies are outsourcing key ‘state’ functions and the influence that these companies gain in the process.
. . .
Mercenarism, the darker side of the private military sector, continues to be a threat to stability on the African continent as was illustrated recently.__. . . The connections of certain individuals to more ‘legitimate’ private security activities in Africa have blurred the lines between this and the blatantly illegal activities associated with the private security sector.
. . .
The rapid growth of private security in Africa has outpaced the regulation of the industry. With this in mind the ISS through the Defence Sector Programme (DSP) has initiated a project on “The Regulation of the Private Security Sector in Africa”.__ . . . the project seeks to further support the effective regulation of the growing private security sector in Africa towards the establishment of a consistent and logical regulatory framework for national, sub-regional and regional legislation and protocols.

There are also a number of relevant documents linked and listed at the end of the announcement.

As to the industry itself, there was a recent conference in Nairobi, reported by IRIN Africa:

During a three-day conference in Nairobi that brought together UN agencies, NGOs, officials of numerous governments and several private sector companies, PMCs said they had much to offer in terms of logistics, personnel and expertise.
. . .
However, they have recently suffered a barrage of bad publicity and criticism from human rights organisations.
. . .
According to a report prepared for (US Secretary of State) Rice by a US diplomat, PMCs in Iraq currently “operate in an overall environment that is chaotic, unsupervised, deficient in oversight and accountability, and poorly coordinated”.
. . .
That the private [security] sector is here to stay is beyond question and because it poses a major concern to Africa, it must be controlled and regulated,” a senior researcher with the South African-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and human rights lawyer, Sabelo Gumedz, said.

The ISS is researching the role of PMCs in South Africa, Uganda and DRC with a view to establishing a continent-wide regulatory framework.

You can see my article on the private security industry in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.

UPI Correspondent
BRUSSELS, Feb. 1 (UPI)China’s growth and close economic ties with Africa are affecting the ability of the United States and the European Union to influence politics on the continent, experts say.

Europe became aware of its new secondary role in Africa during the latest round of trade negotiations at the EU-Africa summit last month. The EU, which had grown accustomed to getting what it wants from Africa, was fiercely rebuffed by the majority of African nations that refused the terms proposed by the European Commission.

The reason African countries could now stand up to their former colonizers was an alternative and more attractive Chinese market, which has been offering African countries better prices and more investment.

“China’s own economic growth has allowed it, and forced it, to accelerate engagement with Africa pretty much across the board in a way that the EU and the U.S. just don’t,” said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, an economic think tank in Brussels.
. . .
Africa supplies a third of China’s oil, and trade between China and Africa has risen by 6,000 percent since 1990, according to Erixon.
. . .
“The EU most certainly overplayed its hand in trade negotiations,” Erixon said. “They pushed Africa into China’s hands. They just asked for too much. They demanded reforms from African nations that they would never be able to do.”
. . .
China’s dispensing of soft loans to Africa makes it easy to plummet the continent back into the debt crisis that it’s just starting to crawl out of. “A buildup of new debt and a new debt crisis could occur one or two decades down the road,” Erixon said.
. . .
“There’s at the margin some erosion of U.S. economic leverage because China is a new alternative market,” Setser said. “When it comes to bidding on the right to develop Africa’s oil fields Africa will sell it to the highest bidders and it will have no qualms of going to Chinese companies instead of EU or U.S. ones.”

The Chinese oil companies routinely overpay in order to secure oil fields, according to Setser. “Growing exports from Africa to China might interfere with exports from Africa to Europe,” Erixon said.

Some are saying Angola may surpass Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer soon, especially since militant political activists and guerilla entrepreneurs in the Delta have cut Nigerian production by around 25%. This is not good news for the west. The US past involvement in Angola’s civil war, and actions that helped prolong that war an extra 10 years give the US very little leverage when dealing with Angola.

I’ve wondered about the debt issue. The west has used debt as a weapon to keep developing countries weak and dependent. Will the Chinese loans do the same?

The Chinese do not care about good governance and human rights, so long as the projects get done and the goods delivered. Of course the west has mostly paid minimal lip service to good governance and human rights, tolerating and supporting ruthless dictators and extreme horrors if the deal is right and corporate interests advantaged.

The Chinese prefer to bring in Chinese workers, so they are not helping much with creating jobs in the countries where they operate. This causes resentment. And flooding those countries with cheap subsidized goods, particularly textiles, clothing and shoes, are putting local manufacturing out of business, or preventing it from getting established. It was distressing to me that the textiles bought for the Ghana@50 celebrations in 2007 were bought from China, and not from Ghanaian textile and clothing producers. Ghana has beautiful textiles.

Nigeria and the US have generally had fairly good relations. And now Yar’Adua is calling for one of the goals of AFRICOM, partnering with African militaries:

01/02/2008 12:40

Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua has called for a joint security force in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea amid an upsurge in violence in the Niger Delta, a presidential statement said Friday.

“The establishment of the Gulf of Guinea Guard Force will address emerging security concerns at the region”, the statement quoted Yar’Adua as saying during talks with Equatorial Guinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Addis Ababa.

Both leaders met on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, the statement said.

Yar’Adua called for a meeting of members of the Gulf of Guinea Commission to approve the modalities for setting up the force.

The commission comprises Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sao Tome and Principe.

Yar’Adua said he discussed the proposed force with US President George W. Bush during his recent visit to the United States and hoped that Washington would assist with training and logistics.

The statement said Mbasogo raised security concerns in the volatile Niger Delta with Yar’Adua, who assured him of his government’s resolve to stem the unrest and criminality in the region.

The Niger Delta has seen an upsurge in violence in the past two years as militant gangs renewed their attacks on oil facilities and personnel, slashing Nigeria’s daily output by a quarter.

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