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Cristina Hernández Lázaro
Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) have been involved in a variety of conflicts worldwide, most notably since the end of the Cold War in the beginning of the 1990s. Nonetheless, after the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions in 2003, observers both inside and outside the humanitarian aid community, started noticing an increasing interest of the private military and security sector in entering the humanitarian sphere.
This article aims to describe the involvement of PMSCs in humanitarian actions, highlighting the lack of regulation and accountability when operating in those settings.
HUMANITARIAN ACTION ENTAILS THE PROVISION OF HUMANITARIAN AID, AS WELL AS THE PROTECTION OF VICTIMS AND THEIR FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS, THROUGH MONITORING AND ADVOCATING THE COMPLIANCE WITH INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW (IHL) AND INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW (IHRL)
Humanitarian action consists on the assistance to victims of disasters, including armed conflicts and natural catastrophes. It entails the provision of humanitarian aid (that is, the provision of basic goods and services) as well as the protection of victims and their fundamental rights, through monitoring and advocating the compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).
One of the most relevant milestones in the evolution of humanitarian action is the 1968 Biafra famine. Due to a lack of presence of the UN and bilateral aid, humanitarian organizations intervened in alleviating the situation, being it the first humanitarian operation leaded by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Médicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) was founded as a consequence, and its creation was followed by a proliferation of aid organizations, such as Doctors of the World, Oxfam or CARE, along the decades of the 1970s and 1980s. In the following decade, during the 1990s, the end of the Cold War led to a greater development of the humanitarian sphere, both in terms of number of agencies and budget.
The purpose of IHL is to protect the wounded, sick and shipwrecked war prisoners or civilians from the armed forces during armed conflict situations. It is ruled by the Geneva Conventions (1949) as well as its Protocols I and II (1977). These Conventions confer to the ICRC the responsibility to supervise and monitor the application of IHL, as well as to promote and inform on the Fundamental Principles that guide humanitarian action. These principles are the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. They ensure that humanitarian action is not interpreted as favorable to one of the parties in detriment of the other, and that assistance is provided to all victims regardless of their race, gender, political ideology or belonging to a determined social group.
The Fundamental Principles that guide humanitarian action are included in the statutes of the ICRC and of most humanitarian organizations. Nonetheless, there are no legally binding instruments to ensure the application of the Fundamental Principles.
Therefore, an essential tool in trying to ensure the compliance with these principles is that the organization commits itself to respect the Codes…