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January 27, 2000

Humanitarian Emergencies
New Role for Security Firms?


In this article James Fennell, ArmorGroup's VP Humanitarian Services, and formerly ArmorGroup's Country Manager for Democratic Republic of Congo, sets out the case for humanitarian practitioners to look at security as an important discipline and examines the role of commercial security companies in humanitarian emergencies.

Prior to joining ArmorGroup, James Fennell spent nine years in international aid services in Africa, former Yugoslavia and central Asia. He has worked with CARE, UNHCR, World Food Programme and UK Government. He was awarded the MBE for services to the people of Rwanda in 1994.

This article is abridged from a paper given by Mr Fennell at Cranfield University (UK) in October 1999. For a copy of the full presentation e-mail


Targeting of Non-Combatants in Insurgency Warfare

As aid officials have become painfully aware, disaster victims and the humanitarian agencies attempting to help them are increasingly seen as legitimate targets during conflict.

Military strategy and tactics are now commonly dependent on the abuse of the political, human and humanitarian rights of non-combatants. In insurgency warfare - now the predominant form of conflict -- deliberate targeting of non-combatants no longer constitutes "collateral damage" but is becoming a cornerstone of military strategy. For examples, look to East Timor, Congo-Brazzaville, Kosovo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia-Herzegovina, south Sudan. The list runs on and on.

Moreover, humanitarian action itself is often perceived by warring parties as a real threat to military strategies that are dependent on the disabling of civilian support for a combatant group.

Human rights laws assume the neutrality of non-combatants but they have never really succeeded in displacing the political imperatives that condone conflict against politically vulnerable populations. It is the degree of protection available to these populations, rather than the availability of basic resources such as food and healthcare, that should be the key factor in determining humanitarian needs. If exploitation and violence are the causes, then protection against exploitation and violence must be the solution.

The ability of humanitarian agencies to themselves build a consensual framework in which to act is typically rather limited. In East Timor, for example, a multi-national military intervention force (INTERFET) was necessary to protect the politically vulnerable population as a precursor to effective secondary aid action. Where such military interventions have not taken place, in places such as Sudan, Congo-Brazzaville and Angola, the humanitarian agencies remain largely impotent in the face of determined political violence against non-combatants.


Framework Models of Humanitarian Assistance

Humanitarian assistance was originally conceived as a stop-gap measure to get people out of a temporary jam. Development - achieving social justice through the redistribution of resources - was conceived as a long term solution to a crisis. This so-called "Continuum Model" assumed that emergencies are short-term aberrations from a steady process of development.

But now the condition of "humanitarian emergency" - a health crisis out of control - has become the norm for many people on the edge of the globalised economy. Ever-larger numbers of people need relief on a semi-permanent basis. As these endemic crises have deepened, provision of short-term assistance has gradually dried up, replaced by small allocations of conditional assistance intended to promote self-reliance through reconstruction and development. This requires a more overtly political analysis, which acknowledges that humanitarian distress in these cases is being caused by denial of political and human rights rather than the consequence of structural or technical deficiencies. The solution must be lie in intervention to provide necessary protection as a requisite for development: we can therefore call this the "Protection-Development Model". It is the political threshold that holds the key to determining whether protection or development actions are appropriate responses in any given emergency.


The Role of Commercial Security Organizations

If protection is, at least in part, the immediate "technical" solution to the impacts of political violence, then international intervention to protect vulnerable populations may benefit from technical input to policy and the management expertise of commercial security organizations.

A note of caution. Commercial security companies need to be seen as separate from "private military companies" (PMCs) who are often engaged to assist in the prosecution of military actions. In military jargon the utility of PMCs is in "the taking and holding of ground". Commercial security companies, including ArmorGroup, are not involved in such actions: indeed involvement in such activities would damage their reputation with their corporate sector clients as well as the humanitarian agencies.


What Can Commercial Security Companies Offer?

Commercial security companies are contracted to help humanitarian agencies become better prepared to protect their human resources, assets and operations in non-consensual or otherwise insecure environments. They also provide specialist services such as assistance with de-mobilizing or reforming combatant groups, field-level security advice, management and training, provision of specialist personnel such as logisticians and engineers, and humanitarian mines action (awareness and physical demining). They may also provide valuable liaison between humanitarian agency personnel and national and international security services.

ArmorGroup itself has a client list that is remarkably similar to the list of donors to international NGOs. It includes UN agencies, the Governments of the UK, USA, Switzerland, Sweden, Japan and Canada, the European Commission, ECHO, USAID, DFID, the International War Crimes Tribunal, ICRC, as well as NGOs themselves such as IRC, CARE and Caritas.

Every CEO of a humanitarian agency has to ensure that institutional failure does not contribute disproportionately to the death, deprivation or injury of an employee, customer or stakeholder. It is therefore essential to develop a comprehensive and realistic security policy and plans covering human resources, venture vulnerability, and asset protection. The commercial security company may be a legitimate and indeed essential partner in this process.

NGOs often point out, with some justification, that commercial security is regulated inconsistently, with registration requirements varying from country to country. There is also potential for blurring of the definition of commercial security (like the term "NGO", it has been used to hide a multitude of sins!). Therefore, humanitarian agencies should look for stated compliance with international standards like Red Cross and NGO Codes of Conduct. But by far the most powerful motivating force for commercial security operations to regulate their own operations is reputation. Leading international security firms like ArmorGroup and others know that failure to follow the rules may be commercially suicidal if it risks embarrassing or compromizing their corporate clients in the global security services market.



In conclusion: the security and humanitarian agendas are rapidly converging. If protecting people is the required response then donors governments and humanitarian agencies have to learn and apply new skills to function more effectively in non-consensual environments. Perhaps the time has come for commercial security companies to become more involved in the debate about how better to protect politically vulnerable populations from humanitarian crisis.


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