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Privatised military operations study

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Cedric de Coning, Research Fellow and Advisor to the Peace & Security Unit at ACCORD, made a presentation on the current and future role of private contractors in peacekeeping operations in Africa, at the University of Stellenbosch on Wednesday, 17 May 2006. The presentation formed part of a day-long seminar organised by the Department of Sociology of the University of Stellenbosch for a group of approximately 30 students from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces

The ICAF students are on a two-week visit to South Africa as part of their Privatised Military Operations Industry Study Programme 2006. The overall focus of the study programme is to conduct industrial analysis of the privatised military industry with a focus on commercial industries’ support to stability operations and reconstruction within the framework of military transformation.

The theme of de Coning’s presentation was on the need for conceptual clarity between ‘private contractors’ that provide logistical and support services, and that are currently widely used in United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) peace operations in Africa, and some ‘Private Military Companies (PMCs)’ that provide offensive security services. He argued that it is highly unlikely that the UN or AU will outsource those aspects of peace operations that may involve the use of lethal force to such PMCs, as the legal basis for the use of force by peacekeepers is intrinsically linked to their international legitimacy and credibility as derived from their UN Security Council mandates based on Chapter 7, and 8 in the case of the AU, of the UN Charter. The status of peacekeepers as serving soldiers of member states of the UN or AU, temporarily deployed as part of a multi-national UN or AU peacekeeping force, provides an additional national legal framework that address specific operational, disciplinary and related legal issues. In addition, soldiers in a national military establishment have specific obligations and privileges under the Geneva Conventions that codify the Law of Armed Conflict.

The international (UN and IHL) and national legal frameworks, taken together, thus provide an internationally acceptable legal context within which lethal force can be used on behalf of the international community to maintain international peace and security. Private military companies that provide offensive security services lie outside this legal framework (except when their services can be categorised as mercenary activities for which there are international and African conventions in place), and it is thus highly unlikely that they will be used by the UN or the AU, under the current international legal framework, to provide such services.