Since the news of the involvement of private contractors in abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Iraq became public, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has sought to ensure effective mechanisms of oversight and accountability for private military and security companies (PMSCs). While some measures have been undertaken towards this end, the legal and regulatory framework remains patchy. Under these circumstances, the industry has a contribution to make in ensuring that companies adhere to the highest ethical standards and respect human rights in their operations. Industry self-regulation can not substitute for the government's primary regulatory responsibility; but it can serve as a useful compliment.
The trade association of PMSCs, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), describes its mission as undertaking efforts "to promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the Peace and Stability industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development, and human security; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry." IPOA has taken a step towards pursuing industry self-regulation by releasing a revised, twelfth version of its Code of Conduct. All member companies agree to abide by the Code's standards. IPOA would like to see the Code as a sort of seal of approval, ensuring possible clients of its member companies that they operate in difficult environments in a manner respectful of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Unfortunately, after three years of engaging with IPOA to identify ways to strengthen Code standards and implementation, oversight, enforcement, and reporting mechanisms, AIUSA must report that the Code has not developed to a point where clients can be assured that companies are actually compliant with Code standards. The Code remains an aspirational set of values. Efforts at industry standard setting and self-policing through codes have been underway for over three decades. One lesson learned from these efforts is that simply listing standards with no stipulations for how they are to be integrated into business operations, no means of measuring adherence to standards, no outlet for independent adjudication of code breaches, and no reporting to ensure relevant stakeholders that standards are being met, is mere window dressing.
AIUSA is sharing its analysis of the recently released, twelfth version of the IPOA code in the hopes that an open and transparent dialogue between the public and private sectors will occur, as IPOA claims to strive for in its mission statement, to ensure that the industry is truly operating to its full potential in a way that respects human rights.