Global Policy Forum

PMSCs in Africa

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2012 | 2011| 2010


Private Military and Security Companies in Somalia Need Regulation, Says UN Expert Group (December 18, 2012)

The increasing privatization of Somalia’s security might drastically harm an already fragile state, especially if private military and security companies are not bound by strict operating regulations. The South African personnel of Sterling Corporate Services, a PMSC registered in Dubai that was found to have violated the UN arms embargo, has trained the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPC) to fight piracy in the region. Yet, the PMPC is reportedly operating outside the Constitutional framework for security institutions in Somalia while being involved in operations unrelated to piracy. Faiza Patel, the Chairperson of the UN Working Group on the use of Mercenaries warns that “as Somalia rebuilds its security institutions, the Government should ensure that private security forces are properly regulated and do not become a substitute for competent and accountable police.” (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy (October 4, 2012)

In the past years, Western governments have increasingly relied on private military contractors in Somalia. The shadowy establishment of the counter-piracy Puntland Maritime Police Force in Somalia is another example of the risks involved in contracting PMSCs. In a recent UN experts’ report, the Dubai-funded PMSC Sterling Corporate Services has been accused of violating Somalia’s arms embargo as well as committing human rights abuses. As the US-based PMSC Bancroft Global Development is taking over the mission, many doubts remain about the potential for misconduct. But one thing is certain: now that Sterling’s mandate is over, the PMSC “is leaving behind an unpaid but well-armed security force in Puntland,” which will further destabilize the region’s security. (New York Times)

South Africa-Linked Military Firm Loses Anti-Piracy Contract (September 29, 2012)

The South African PMSC Sterling Corporate Services, which the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland contracted to train a paramilitary maritime force to fight pirates in the Horn of Africa, has been sharply criticized by the UN for its systematic violations of UN arms embargoes and potential implication in cases of human rights violations. It is likely that Bancroft Global Development, a US-based PMSC already working for the UN’s AMISOM in Somalia, will get the contract. Yet, this transition has been the result of a “behind closed door deal to avoid sanctions”. (Independent Online)

Ex-Navy Officers Take on Pirates (September 12, 2012)

The use of private security companies has expanded beyond Iraq and Afghanistan and onto the high seas. Now joining British and US private contractors are those from Australia and New Zealand, “because their military training is interoperable with the US and UK'', according to military analyst James Brown of the Lowy Institute. With 2700 armed guards hired to secure merchant ships against piracy on the Indian Ocean, there is a risk of a ''mini-arms race'' developing between pirates and the private security operators, said Brown. This is particularly relevant with regard to Somalia, where raiding parties extract millions in ransom money for captured ships, thereby attracting investors to fund piracy operations for the profits. This article highlights that outsourcing private military personnel to perform anti-piracy operations raises questions of jurisdiction and accountability. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Pirates and Privateers: Managing the Indian Ocean's Private Security Boom (September 12, 2012)

A recent report issued by James Brown from the Lowy Institute for International Policy sheds light on the current “private counter-piracy security boom” taking place in the Indian Ocean. Shipping companies operating in the Gulf of Aden are increasingly contracting private military and security companies to protect their crews and cargo from the spread of Somalia-based pirates. The report shows that “over 140 recently launched PMSCs employ at least 2700 armed contractors onboard commercial ships, with more than a quarter of commercial ships now using armed security.” These warriors are unaccountable and they represent the end of a long tradition of unarmed merchant ships. Ultimately, they may deepen the region’s instability, as shootings at sea have already led to international disputes and accidental confrontations. (Lowy Institute for International Policy)

Australian Accused of Funding Private Somali Army (September 4, 2012)

In its latest report, The Somalia Monitoring Group at the UN looked at the case of Mr. Luitingh, a former mercenary in the South African apartheid era who also a prominent member of both Saracen and Sterling Corporate Service, two private military companies used extensively in Somalia. According to the group, Mr. Luitingh has been responsible for assisting, training and supervising security forces to carry out "the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a private security company". Luitingh, currently based in Sydney, is using Australia as the financial hub for money transfers that connect back to his activities in Somalia. Formerly known for his company’s illegitimate involvement in Papua New Guinea, Luitingh is now being closely watched by UN investigators. (ABC News)

Private Firm Flouts UN Embargo in Somalia (February 26, 2012)

The PMSC Saracen International is training a private army in Somalia, disregarding a UN arms embargo of that area. Saracen’s operation in Somalia is headed by a senior manager from the defunct Executive Outcomes. The operation is shrouded in secrecy, and its funding has been linked to Blackwater founder, Erik Dean Prince, as well as a former CIA officer. Saracen was contracted by the semi-autonomous Puntland State of Somalia and has now created the largest army in Somalia apart from UN peacekeeping troops. While Saracen claims to fight piracy, it has been accused of using force to pave the way for oil drilling in Puntland against the local population’s wishes. In spite of this record, the UN contracted Saracen Uganda, an affiliate of Saracen International between August 2010 and July 2011. (IOL News)

You’re Nicked: Arrest on the High Seas (January 18, 2012)

New policies in the UK, US, and Denmark allow the use of private security guards aboard ships to help defend against pirates. UK Prime Minister David Cameron says that armed ships have a lower chance of being hijacked, and that Private Military and Security Companies provide a way to fight piracy. But there has been little guidance from the UN regarding the legal status of maritime PMSCs. Pirates are civilians under international law. PMSCs do not have the power to hold, arrest, or detain pirates like police officers, coast guards, and naval officers do, let alone use lethal force against them. (The Interpreter)


Contractors to the Congo (December 1, 2011)

The US State Department has awarded a contract to the contentious private military and security company Dyncorp International to train the military in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For decades, private military contractors have been active in African countries, and their involvement has included everything from bringing down governments and fighting rebels to natural resource extraction and illegal involvement in arms trade. Private firms acting on behalf of the US government are also surrounded by controversy due to lack of regulation and accountability. (ISN)

Private Security Companies Used in International Waters (August 26, 2011)

Ship owners are increasingly using private military and security companies (PMSC’s) on merchant ships in response to growing levels of pirate violence off the coast of Somalia. The use of these companies to protect ships falls into an international “legal grey area” making regulation and monitoring of their actions difficult. Some commentators have suggested the PMSC’s resort to violence too readily, rather than pursuing the non-violent international guidelines to prevent pirate attacks. The German government is now relying on a vote next month at the International Maritime Organization to clarify the legal standing of the use of PMSCs in international waters. (Spiegel Online)

US Funded Contractors in Fight against Somalia’s Al-Shabaab (August 10, 2011)

The US is notoriously loath to send troops to Somalia following the disastrous Black Hawk Down operation in 1993. Instead it has been quietly ramping up its use of private military and security companies in the region. The New York Times reports on the involvement of US company Bancroft in training African Union troops in the fight against the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab. Whilst the private company does not directly contract with the US – as its funding comes from Burundi and Uganda – the US reimburses both Governments for the costs. This throws into light the increasing involvement of the US government in private security in Africa. (New York Times)

Security Firm Offers Apology in Bid to Free Britons Held in Eritrea (June 9, 2011)

The UK private military security firm, Protection Vessels International (PVI), has issued an unreserved apology to the Eritrean government for one of their ships (equipped with weapon systems including sniper rifles) making an unscheduled stop near the Eritrean coast last year. The incident outlines the growing and difficult relationship between nation states and private corporate entities that are increasingly engaged in militarized work. A PVI spokesperson said that they had not intended to engage in a hostile confrontation with Eritrea. The ship was intercepted and the four men aboard are currently being held. The men are at the center of a growing rift between Eritrea and Britain. The article also considers the need for regulating private military security contractors. (Independent)


Pirate vs. Private Security (April 14, 2010)

Private security contractors are entering a new realm: protecting foreign ships from pirate attacks. This week, a private security company used lethal force whilst protecting a Panamanian ship, the MV Almezaan, off the coast of Somalia. The use of PSCs is very worrying because they act without. However, the EU did not seem so worried, stating: "great shot" and "well done to the man that pulled the trigger." (ISN Security Watch)


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