Reinforcing Responsible Security Against the Resurgence of Mercenaries and Related Actors


ICoCA participated in the NATO Advanced Workshop “Addressing systemic legal and policy challenges of mercenaries and related actors in contemporary armed conflicts: beyond the Wagner Group” in Copenhagen on 7-8 March 2024. The conference, co-organised by University of Copenhagen and the Geneva Center for Security Sector Governance, brought together around 50 experts and representatives of organisations and governments to discuss on the challenges presented by mercenaries to human security and offer legal and policy recommendations.

Private military and security companies have been ever present in situations of conflicts and complex environments. The private security sector often provides legitimate services which are critical to maintain services for the local population, such as protecting business, embassies or humanitarian operations. Much progress has been made in the regulation of the security industry at large and a growing number of private security actors strive to respect human rights. However, in recent years we have also observed a resurgence of the use of mercenaries in order to conduct destabilisation, propaganda and wage wars by proxy in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Nagorno-Karabakh, or Mozambique. Mercenaries thrive in chaos and so perpetuate violence. They engage in mis-/dis- information, corruption and transnational crimes and spread terror. Armed actors such as the Wagner Group have been accused of murders, sexual violence and other gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.

As the international community struggles to respond to the expanding role of malign private actors in modern conflicts and complex environments, ICoCA is the only organisation having a dialogue on the operationalisation of human rights and IHL norms with the private security industry. We provide human rights due diligence to clients of PSCs by overseeing a rigorous certification process and monitoring companies in the field. By developing training on critical topics for the protection of civilian population, ICoCA directly contributes to risk reduction and improves standards of private security in the field.

This role is critical not only to set and uphold standards but also to maintain a responsible security sector even in situations of crisis as an alternative to rogue actors for governments and business actors. Responsible security companies contribute to maintaining key services which are essential for the local population in crisis. It allows business continuity and provides employment, preventing displacement, widespread corruption or mis-appropriation of natural resources. As part of the global response to the growing presence of malign private actors, ICoCA calls on experts and governments to provide additional support to its certification and monitoring mechanisms and to the further development of operational engagement with the security sector in the field.