Privatising Violence: Mercenaries, States and the Sub-Contracting of Human Rights Obligations

Dave Whyte, University of Leeds

Recent statements emanating from the United Nations and proposals currently in the legislatures of at least two UN Security Council members suggest an impending official endorsement of the use of private armies for mediating in international conflict. Whilst the UN has sanctioned the use of private armies for protection in previous diplomatic missions, current developments signal a new direction for UN policy, and for the policy of western states in this area.

Although criminological literature on the consolidation of private sector security in domestic crime control has grown rapidly over the past two decades, concomitant developments in international security and human rights have received relatively little attention.

This paper traces the recent history of the use of private armies for the protection of western corporate and state interests in the developing world and argues that the latest developments suggest a fundamental and potentially catastrophic shift in the politics of conflict mediation. These developments also raise a series of profound political and legal questions for the ability of the international community to exert control over the commission of state crimes and corporate crimes.

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Updated 05/20/2006