PMSCs and International Regulations

As the use and reliance of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) continues to increase, it is important to consider how this sector can be regulated. While there is not yet a legally binding method of regulating PMSCs, several documents outlining regulation standards were signed at the regional, national, and international level.

International and Regional-Level Regulation Initiatives

Established in 2008, the Montreux Document was a Swiss initiative to outline legal obligations and good practices for States in regulating its PMSCs operations. The Montreux Document stands as a commitment from participating States that their contracted PMSCs will adhere to relevant national law, international humanitarian law, and international human rights law[1]. As of June 2020, 56 states, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have signed the Montreux Document[2]. The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Services Providers (ICoC) endorsed the Montreux Document and went further to affirm that PMSCs would respect and fulfil humanitarian responsibilities[3]. Thus, a “Code” was adopted that would convert human rights and humanitarian responsibilities into governance requirements and oversight mechanisms[4].

The United Nations Human Rights Council has also taken initiative through various working groups to consider an international regulatory framework for PMSCs[5]. This working group invited all UN member states, observer states, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations to attend and participate[6]. The last session held in May 2017 concluded that there is a continuing need for PMSCs to be held accountable for potential international law violations[7]. Moreover, this session highlighted that governments, regional groups, and relevant stakeholders needed to collaborate to establish a uniform framework[8].

The Council of Europe adopted two reports in 2008 and 2009 aimed at regulating PMSCs by stating standards. In these reports, the Council of Europe also expressed interest in establishing a legally binding document to regulate PMSCs[9]. Likewise, the Organization of American States, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Commonwealth of Independent States expressed a similar need for security sector regulation and governance[10]. However, the African Union has suggested that PMSCs also be regulated at a regional and sub-regional level rather than solely relying on an international framework[11]. Despite this recognised need for regulation at the international or regional level, there is a lack of common standards for PMSC registration, licensing, vetting, training, and safekeeping of weapons[12].

Difficulties Regulating PMSCs Contracted by Individual States

Difficulties in establishing international standards are due in part to the fact that PMSCs are often contracted by individual states rather than international or intergovernmental organizations. Thus, it is more difficult to monitor each individual states’ contracting methods and regulations. Moreover, PMSCs often subcontract other companies, that might not be registered, to assist with its operations[13]. Consequently, the diffused responsibility to subcontracted companies creates difficulty in maintaining overall accountability of PMSCs operations.

PMSCs are contracted by both individual states and intergovernmental institutions, and are constantly deployed from country-to-country in different types of operations. Thus, an international framework will provide clarity to PMSCs by establishing comprehensive guidelines to use in each of its varying operations. Moreover, regional monitoring of compliance might be an effective method to hold subcontracted entities accountable in larger PMSCs operations. A combination of comprehensive international guidelines and regional on-the-ground monitoring will help guarantee a means for governance and accountability on both a national and international scale.

By Nina Mangiola

[1] All sources were consulted between 06/06/2020 and 20/06/2020.

“The Montreux Document”, International Committee of the Red Cross, 2008, p. 9:

[2] “Participating States of the Montreux Document”, Swiss Confederation: Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, 01/06/2020:

[3] “International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers”, Swiss Confederation, 9/11/2010, p. 3:

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Private Security Monitor, Global Efforts: UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly”, Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy, University of Denver, 2018:

[6] “Private Security Monitor, Global Efforts: Open-ended Working Group”, Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy, University of Denver, 2014:

[7] “Report of the open-ended intergovernmental working group to consider the possibility of elaborating an international regulatory framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies on its sixth session”, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 04/08/2017, p. 10:

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 10

[10] “Private Security Monitor, Regional Initiatives”, Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy,  University of Denver, 2014:

[11] “Activities of Private Military and Security Companies: Regulation and Oversight’”, UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, 14-16 April 2010, p. 5:

[12] Ibid., p. 7

[13] Ibid., p. 11