In many conflict-affected environments today, private companies are assuming roles traditionally reserved for national armed forces: going beyond physical security of employees and infrastructures, they now provide logistical and intelligence support, training, and sometimes even fight alongside regular armed forces.

The proliferation of contractors in conflict-affected areas over the last 30 years has been accompanied by concerns about violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws. Infamous incidents such as the killing of 17 civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad by private military contractors affiliated with the US company Blackwater inspired in turn an international movement to better monitor, regulate and hold accountable these responsible for civilian harm.

Drawing from in-depth literature reviews, interviews, and participation in external forums such as the intergovernmental working group on private military and security companies, CIVIC contributes to holding private military companies (PMCs) accountable through the publication of this issue brief.

The issue brief addresses the impact of private military companies on the protection of civilians in five parts: (1) Clarifying terminology and definitions; (2) Providing an overview of the relevant legal architecture applicable to PMCs; (3) Identifying civilian harm attributable to PMCs in contemporary conflicts – with case studies of PMCs in Central African Republic, Libya and Mozambique; (4) Highlight six key issues preventing attribution and accountability towards civilian harm caused by PMCs; (5) Providing actionable recommendations tailored to States, Private Military Contractors, the United Nations and Other Intergovernmental Bodies, International Non-Governmental Organizations and Local Civil Society Organizations to address the gaps identified in the fourth part.

Read the brief’s main takeaways below:

Gaps toward attribution of civilian harm and accountability

This issue brief identifies six key issues making it harder to prevent, minimize, address and remediate civilian harm caused by PMCs:

  1. States are using PMCs to conceal their involvement in conflicts
  2. Data on civilian harm is almost never disaggregated to reflect specific harm that can be attributed to PMC
  3. Those who monitor abuses of PMCs and collect info on them are facing significant risks
  4. Definitional challenges and excessive rigidity in some regulatory regimes that apply to private contractors enable companies & individuals to evade regulation
  5. Too few states have joined regulatory frameworks or adopted sufficient national regulations, enabling many players to abuse the “plausible deniability” of their involvement
  6. Civilians harmed by PMCs have very limited – if any – recourse to ensure accountability and access to amends


To solve those crosscutting issues, CIVIC addresses recommendations tailored to four types of actors. Among other things:

  • States should:
    • Sign the Montreux Document and adhere to its principles
    • Join the ICoCA and adhere to its principles
    • Support multilateral initiatives aimed at promoting higher standards in the use of PMCs such as the Intergovernmental working group on PMSCs and the Working group on the use of mercenaries
    • Ensure that armed forces have updated frameworks allowing them to identify and address threats to civilians arising from the use of PMCs
    • Take active steps to protect those who report on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law violations by PMCs
  • PMCs should:
    • Operate in accordance with applicable domestic regulations, corporate standards of business conduct such as the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA) and applicable IHL and IHRL
    • Adopt and implement basic safeguards to prevent and mitigate the risk of civilian harm arising from their presence in accordance with the Montreux Document
    • Monitor and track civilian harm incidents arising from their presence
    • Proactively establish internal grievances mechanisms – with particular regard to vulnerable populations such as women & girls
  • The UN and intergovernmental bodies should:
    • Gather and publish disaggregated data on harm to civilians resulting from PMCs’ presence in contexts where the UN and PMC are present
    • Strengthen the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP) to prevent and mitigate harm that could result from UN support to national security forces that are operating with or through PMCs
  • INGOs and humanitarian organizations should:
    • Develop training for field-based staff on how to engage with private contractors
    • Reinforce or create security protocols for the use of technical devices and data management
    • Adopt strict security protocols for staff physical protection
    • Develop and integrate indicators on the impact PMCs on civilians, where possible
    • Apply the “Do No Harm” principle internally & externally
  • Local CSOs should:
    • Adopt a “Do No Harm” approach when monitoring incidents of civilian harm
    • Liaise with other organizations to strengthen monitoring of civilian harm attributed to PMCs
    • Engage in evidence-based advocacy with governments to promote stronger regulatory and policy frameworks
    • Reinforce their internet security protocols
    • Develop internal security reporting mechanisms

Read the rest of the recommendations and the full issue brief here


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