New Guidelines for Armed Private Security Companies Doing Business with the UN

New Guidelines for Armed Private Security Companies Doing Business with the UN

Armed Private Security Companies (APSC) doing business with the UN are now subject to a new set of practices and protocols that contain a multi-stakeholder monitoring and complaints mechanism.   These practices and protocols are set forth in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (“Code”), which the UN incorporates via its new Guidelines on the Use of Armed Security Services from Private Security Companies (“Guidelines”) (to be read in conjunction with the UN’s Security Policy Manual, Chapter IV, Section I, “Armed Private Security Companies”).

The UN now requires that APSCs comply with the Code, and limits its hiring of armed APSCs to those that cooperate with the mechanism, as detailed in Section F of the Guidelines.  Prior to commencing UN service, the Guidelines require the APSC to provide training to its personnel on, among other things:

  • cultural sensitivity training
  • Human Rights Law and application
  • Use of Force training
  • integrity and ethical awareness
  • preventing sexual harassment

James Cockayne provides a good overview of the context and content of the Guidelines over at the IPI’s Global Observatory.

The effort is significant for a few reasons.  First, it demonstrates a new effort towards regulating the activities of the UN’s numerous commercial partners in the peace and security field.   This effort to implement and maintain international standards will replace practices that many have described as incoherent and inconsistent (as described in the report here).

Second, these UN specific Guidelines supplement a general but stalled effort to create a multilateral convention on private military and security companies, and will consequently contribute to the soft law in the field.   The most recent draft (from 2010) is available here.  The UN is thus to be applauded for introducing the Guidelines at this time, as opposed to stepping back and waiting for the multilateral process to mature.

Finally, the Guidelines are indicative of a general move towards multi-stakeholder regulation of non-state actors.   This trend has been noted in other international areas including health, as this paper by Professors Abbott and Gartner make clear.   The oversight mechanism here will be established as an association under Swiss law.  It will be governed by two multistakeholder bodies: a General Assembly and a Board. There are three ‘pillars’ in each composed of civil society, industry and states/IOs.  Voting is arranged so as to give any pillar the power to block a decision.  As a result, states, civil society organizations, and industry must cooperate in the Association’s certification, human rights monitoring and complaints mechanism processes.

The oversight mechanism works by requiring the Association to review APSC performance under the Code through external monitoring and self-reporting based on established criteria.  If an APSC violates the code, the Association can initiate suspension proceedings.  For proceedings launched by individuals, the Board can also set up a grievance process to ensure an effective remedy.

I am interested in what OJ readers think.  Will this approach fill an accountability gap by improving   human rights compliance in the field?  Moreover, will this soft law approach establish new benchmarks for an eventual multilateral treaty?  There will be a panel on this topic at the annual ASIL meeting later this week which will be well worth attending.


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

By “soft law,” do you mean incipient or emergent legal norms? Is “soft” meant to be weak by comparison with “hard?” (If so, I propose we think rather how a Daoist might understand soft, that is, as a yin rather than a yang category, in which case it does not suffer in comparison to its ‘harder’ version or counterpart.) Yes, I realize this term is often used in international law and politics, but sometimes it’s intended rather pejoratively, other times not, so I’d like to be a bit clearer on what you mean by soft law here.