Responding to fresh data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) demonstrating record global military spending, Transparency International Defence and Security Director, Josie Stewart, said:
New SIPRI data has revealed that the total global military expenditure increased by 3.7 per cent in real terms in 2022, reaching a new high of $2240 billion.
This increase in spending – coupled with our Government Defence Integrity index’s finding that nearly two-thirds of countries face a high to critical risk of corruption in their defence and security sectors – should be cause for concern for governments around the world.
To ensure that military expenditure is contributing to security rather than corruption and abuse, governments should strengthen transparency, accountability, and oversight in the defence sector, providing for adequate scrutiny from lawmakers, auditors, and civil society.
Transparency is the best way for states to ensure that military spending is used effectively to enhance security.
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Negotiations have been taking place in Geneva this month around the control and accountability of private military and security companies (PMSCs). Transparency International Defence and Security’s Ara Marcen Naval contributed to the discussions in Switzerland. Here she delivers a call to action to other civil society organisations.
As an NGO committed to promoting transparency and accountability in the defence and security sector, Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) is deeply concerned about the corruption risks associated with the activities of PMSCs. These groups, while playing a role in enhancing security in some cases, often operate in secrecy, outside standard transparency and accountability structures. This permissive environment creates opportunities for corruption and conflict to thrive, deprives governments and citizens of financial resources, and undermines security and human rights.
I write having participated last week in the discussions of the Open-Ended Intergovernmental Working Group on PMSCs. This fourth session was convened to discuss a new draft of an international instrument to regulate the activities of PMSCs. This is a critical platform for addressing these concerns and others related to companies’ human rights obligations. There are various questions: how to ensure their activities comply with international humanitarian law? Should these companies be allowed to participate directly in hostilities?
The PMSC industry is a rapidly evolving and intrinsically international one, with a well-documented link to global conflict. The lack of regulatory oversight has led to heightened global risks of fraud, corruption, and violence, with little in the way of accountability mechanisms at both the national and international levels, so progress at a global level is key.
Current initiatives to try and regulate the market, such as the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, are a step in the right direction. However, these initiatives have limited support among states around the world. They do not cover some key military and intelligence services and exclude some important anticorruption measures. TI-DS thinks these initiatives don’t go far enough to address the risks posed. We are hopeful that the efforts of the working group will provide a much-needed stronger set of enforceable standards.
TI-DS welcomes the progress made in the revised draft discussed last week, including references to the UN Convention Against Corruption and the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. These references are essential steps towards policy and legal coherence, aligning efforts to regulate PMSCs with international legal obligations related to corruption and transnational organised crime.
While in Geneva I continued to propose ways that the text of the draft instrument can better incorporate anticorruption standards, including transparency of contracts and beneficial ownership, and through the recognition of corruption-related crimes as well as human rights abuses.
But we are deeply concerned about the overall lack of engagement. The room was almost empty, with many states not attending the discussions and a general lack of civil society actors actively following this critical process – prospective changes that could significantly impact conflict dynamics, international security, human rights and respect for international humanitarian law.
This is the Geneva Paradox. Other similar processes, like those related to business and human rights or others trying to get a grasp of new types of weapons systems, are filling the rooms of the United Nations, with both states and civil society in attendance. We feel that this process – which is attempting to regulate the activities of PMSCs to stop the trend of these corporate actors becoming rogue actors in wars and conflicts around the world – deserves equal attention.
In September, the Human Rights Council will set the agenda for this issue going forward. We hope that more states and civil society organisations join efforts in the coming period to give this issue the critical attention and scrutiny it deserves.
A working group of the United Nations assembled in Geneva, Switzerland on April 17, 2023 to evaluate and negotiate regulation of private military and security security companies (PMSCs).
Transparency International Defence and Security Head of Advocacy Ara Marcen Naval joined and delivered the following statement:
Mr. Chairperson rapporteur, distinguished delegates,
I stand before you today at this crucial discussion to bring to your attention, and consideration, the corruption risks linked to the activities of Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) with a sense of urgency and resolve. PMSCs can play an important role in government efforts to enhance security, but they often operate in secret and outside standard transparency and accountability structures. This dynamic provides a permissive environment for corruption and conflict to thrive and deprives governments and its citizens of financial resources and security.
The Defence and Security Programme of Transparency International welcomes the progress made in the revised draft and the changes made to include references to the Convention Against Corruption and Convention against transnational crime. These references are important steps towards policy and legal coherence and to ensure that the efforts to regulate the activities of PMSCs align with the international legal obligations in relation to corruption and transnational organised crime.
Corruption and the unchecked actions of PMSCs have far-reaching consequences, eroding the rule of law, undermining human rights and security, and threatening the legitimacy of governments. It corrodes public trust, undermines democratic institutions, and creates a culture of impunity that breeds more corruption. It can also weaken the fabric of societies, divert resources meant for development, and perpetuate inequality and injustice.
Transparency International has identified dozens of cases in which PMSCs are suspected of involvement in corruption and fraud. Some of the most concerning cases involve PMSCs colluding with government officials to inflate threat perceptions to win or sustain contracts. In one case, this action led to excessive use of force against protesters resulting in unnecessary injuries to civilians and security forces.
Transparency International has also raised concerns about some of the practices of PMSCs failing to disclose conflict of interests that could undermine government decisions, or even threaten national security.
In some cases multinational PMSCs have fuelled corruption by requiring local partners to pay kickbacks for participating in government funded contracts.
In these cases, the opaque arrangements prevalent in the sector make it extremely difficult to ascertain chains of command, responsibilities and levels of coordination among the different security actors, and undermine monitoring efforts and accountability. Furthermore, it is usually difficult to find public confirmation of the nature of the contract and the identity of subcontractors in the event that they are hired.
We hope that during the discussions on the potential instrument, the distinguished delegates will confront the implications corruption has and the abuses of PMSCs head-on and work together to prevent, detect, and punish corruption in all its forms. Transparency and reporting are the greatest steps that states can take to allow for effective monitoring and oversight of private military and security companies and other actors providing security services in order to effectively prevent, address and remedy any abuses committed.
Distinguished delegates, the stakes are high. The impact of corruption and the actions of PMSCs are felt by communities around the world, often with dire consequences for the most vulnerable among us. The fight against corruption and the responsible use of PMSCs requires our unwavering commitment and concerted and holistic action. Thank you.
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The victims of human rights abuses associated with private military companies (PMCs) are often left with no access to justice because of the lack of transparency in PMC contracts.
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