Report on the use of private security companies in places of deprivation of liberty

4 August 2017
Working Group on the use of mercenaries
To the 72nd session of the General Assembly in 2017


Twice a year, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries issues calls for inputs to inform thematic studies to be presented at the Human Rights Council in its September session and at the General Assembly in October.

In its resolution 33/4, the Human Rights Council emphasized utmost concern regarding the impact of the activities of private military and security companies (PMSCs) on the enjoyment of human rights, in particular when, inter alia, operating in privatized prisons and immigration-related detention facilities. In that resolution, the Council noted that such companies and their personnel were rarely held accountable for violations of human rights, particularly the right to self-determination.

On 27 April 2017, the Working Group convened a public panel event and a private expert consultation with States and civil society organizations to discuss this issue. Representatives of more than 50 States participated in the panel event, along with representatives of civil society organizations, and mainly discussed the human rights challenges and risks of outsourcing prisons and detention facilities to private security contractors, and the measures required to ensure respect for the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty.


In this report, the Working Group examines the use of private security companies in places of deprivation of liberty, with attention given to the resulting impact on human rights. The report highlights that the profit motives of private security operators often override human rights considerations, leading to situations in which human rights violations are likely to be committed with impunity against those deprived of their liberty, with little or no recourse to effective remedies for victims.

The report analyses: the relevant legal framework (part I); the growth of privatization of inherent State functions, in particular as it relates to prisons and detention facilities (part II); the human rights costs of privatization of deprivation of liberty, including in immigration-related detention (part III); as well as the challenges related to accountability and remedies (part IV).

The report concludes that outsourcing of security services by States creates a great risk of human rights abuses, including impediments to accountability and remedy for victims, and calls for an end to this practice. It notes the importance of exercising due diligence by both States and private security companies to safeguard against potential human rights violations, and provides recommendations for both sets of actors.

Inputs received

In preparing this report, the Working Group sent out questionnaires to States, civil society organizations and relevant stakeholders to request information on the use of private security companies in places of deprivation of liberty. In the questionnaire, the Working Group requested information, inter alia, on whether States were: “home States”, where private security companies are registered or incorporated or where the management of such companies is primarily carried out; “contracting States” that directly contract the services of private security companies, including from private security companies that subcontract to other private security companies; or “territorial States”, where private security companies operate, in relation to privatized prison and detention facilities.

Several States responded to the questionnaires mostly by stating that they did not privatize places of deprivation of liberty. Civil society organizations working on issues related to prisons and detention provided important and useful information to the Working Group.

Inputs received have not been made public.

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