Call for inputs: report on the role of PMSCs in humanitarian action

26th March 2021
Issued by:
Working Group on the use of mercenaries
To inform the WG's annual thematic report to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 48th session in September 2021


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


The decades since the end of the Cold War have witnessed a significant expansion in the number, type and size of humanitarian organisations, including a proliferation of actors operating in complex humanitarian emergencies. In its efforts to keep pace with the growing demands of protracted conflicts, the ever more frequent man-made and natural disasters, pandemics and displacement, the ‘humanitarian landscape’ as traditionally understood is undergoing significant change. The rise of ‘new’ or ‘different’ actors, including private military and security companies (PMSCs) and the emergence of new forms and modalities of humanitarian assistance are illustrations of such shifts.

While considerable attention has been paid in the last decade on the relationship between humanitarian actors and State security forces, little consideration has been accorded to the proliferation of private sector providers in complex humanitarian emergencies. Such involvement raises concern about the legitimacy, accountability, and control of PMSCs. Most importantly, the role of PMSC in humanitarian action, and militarization of humanitarian aid has raised concerns over their impacts on the legal and ethical foundations of the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and operational independence. Reliable information on the nature, scale and oversight of PMSCs services in humanitarian settings is sorely lacking.

Building on its previous work on PMSCs (see A/HRC/45/9, A/HRC/39/49), the Working Group on the use of mercenaries decided to tackle the issue and identify the key human rights challenges posed by the use of private security services in humanitarian contexts.

This thematic study on the role of PMSCs in humanitarian action will focus on the current trends, practices and human rights impacts of contracting private security services, as well as related regulations, monitoring and oversight mechanisms. On this basis, the Working Group hopes to formulate concrete, time-bound and actionable recommendations aiming to ensure that the human rights and IHL protection of all civilian populations in humanitarian contexts are guaranteed when PMSCs provide some form of support or assistance.

Scope of study and key questions

The Working Group welcomes submissions from States, civil society organizations, academics, international and inter-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, private companies, individuals and any other concerned actors.

Access the questionnaire in Français and Español

The Working Group welcomes any information deemed pertinent to the issue, and is particularly interested in the below mentioned areas.

While addressing the questions, please provide data, examples, good practices and recommendations to the extent available that you consider important in the context of this questionnaire, as well as any analysis on future developments in this area.

Current trends and developments
  1. Please provide information on the types, level and scale of services provided by PMSCs in humanitarian settings, whether contracted by States or non States actors, particularly with regard to:
    • Security services and supplementary logistics: such as armed protection for convoys, provision of guards (armed or unarmed) for site protection, notably camps, offices, warehouses and residences, shelters and transit stations run by humanitarian actors, UN agencies or UN peace operations;
    • Technological and security expertise provisions, such as security management and tracking system, risk analysis, security training for staff, crisis management advice, security audits;
    • Transportation of humanitarian aid, personnel and affected populations; cash and in-kind donations of goods and services;
    • Evacuation services: management and security of temporary evacuation facilities, including military evacuations whether in the context of armed conflicts, natural disasters (e.g., tsunamis, earthquakes), or epidemics;
    • Health services and biosecurity as they relate to PMSCs, primarily in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and other epidemics (e.g., Zika, Ebola, cholera, yellow fever).
  2. What motivations, conditions and priorities inform the decisions of humanitarian actors to contract PMSCs (armed or unarmed) to support their work?
  3. What precautions and measures do humanitarian actors take when contracting PMSC, if any?
  4. What is the role of PMSCs contracted by international and regional organizations, including UN peace operations and other international or regional organizations (e.g., UN, EU, NATO, AU, Arab League)?
  5. How did the needs of humanitarian actors evolve in recent decades prompting the recruitment of PMSCs, and what are the implications for humanitarian independence?

Regulatory frameworks and their application

  1. Please provide information on existing legislative, policy or other frameworks that regulate the use of PMSCs in humanitarian action. This can include for instance rules and procedures, contractual requirements, monitoring and oversight of contractual clauses and standards, and accountability mechanisms put into place to protect and safeguard against human rights violations by security service providers.
  2. Please provide information or examples of performance-based contracts and performance assessments of private security providers involved in humanitarian action, incorporating human rights/IHL provisions and/or humanitarian principles.

Human rights and IHL impact of the use of PMSCs in humanitarian action

  1. How do IHL standards and humanitarian principles apply to PMSCs operating in humanitarian action, and what are the consequences for the protection of civilians?
  2. What are the human rights/IHL implications for humanitarian actors contracting PMSCs to operate in humanitarian action, including in third countries?
  3. Please provide information on allegations of human rights abuses by PMSCs in humanitarian contexts. This may include, for instance, acts in which PMSCs are reportedly directly responsible for, or acts that support the commission of violations and abuses by other actors.
  4. What efforts have been undertaken to secure accountability for abuses and violations by PMSCs, and to provide effective remedies for victims?

How and where to submit inputs

Inputs may be sent via e-mail, and must be received by 9 March 2021. When submitting your reply, kindly indicate if you have any objections with regard to your reply being posted on this website.

E-mail address:
E-mail subject line:
Input for the report on cyber mercenaries of the WG on the use of mercenaries
Word limit:
No limit
File formats:
Accessible Word document
Accepted languages:
English, Français, Español

Inputs received

All substantive submissions received are published below, unless the submitter clearly indicated that they did not wish to have their input be made publicly available when submitting their response.

Member states:

Other stakeholders:

Special Procedures
Working Group on the use of mercenaries
Recent thematic reports
Contact information
Others involved
External links