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Conference on Private Military Contractors in Latin America Print

The A.E. Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change
The Privatization of Security and Human Rights in The Americas: Perspectives from the Global South

University of Wisconsin-Madison - January 31-February 3, 2008

Check back soon for registration information.

I. Context and Justification

In recent years, states around the world have loosened their claim to a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, instead ceding increasing numbers of military, police, and security duties to the private sector. This global privatization of security has coincided with a marked rise in the number of companies stepping forward to fill the vacuum. Private military and security corporations (PMSCs) offer armed and unarmed services not only to transnational corporations seeking protection in unstable regions, but also to governments engaged in war or low level conflict, including extensive participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While most of the world’s leading PMSCs are based in the Global North, much of the work they are hired to do—either on the battlefield or the oilfield—takes place in the Global South. Increasingly, that work is also being carried out by recruits from Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

This expansion of private military and security companies raises a host of questions about what the privatization of security means for real people in terms of human security, human rights, and the democratic oversight of coercive forces. The concern that PMSCs are dangerously unregulated has started to become a matter of international public debate, as was echoed recently in the press when the PMSC Blackwater was expelled from Iraq for killing several civilians. While scholars have begun to address these issues (e.g. Avant 2005, Singer 2004), many basic questions remain regarding what types of PMSCs pose the most direct challenges to human rights and human security, how these challenges play out differently in different contexts, and how such issues could be most effectively addressed.

Scholars are not the only constituencies who have actively investigated these questions in recent years. Journalists, lawyers, NGO workers and public officials in countries where PMSCs operate have often raised the same questions from the grassroots. Some of these representatives of civil society have proposed systems of reform or oversight for countering the potentially negative effects of PMSCs. From 2006-2007, the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries as a Means of Violating Human Rights and Impeding the Exercise of the Rights of People to Self-Determination (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights) conducted exploratory missions to different countries to evaluate whether the use of PMSCs in those countries posed threats to human rights, human security, and democratic governance. Of the five countries, four of them were Latin American: Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Honduras. Through these missions, the Working Group discovered that there were scholars throughout the region who expressed interest in forming a regional research network on security privatization. At the same time, in each of those countries there encountered non-academic experts on PMSCs whose experiences stand to greatly enrich academic debates.

This conference will bring together academics, civil society members and UN investigators to examine the consequences of security privatization and the possibilities for effective regulation of PMSCs. The conference will launch the creation of an international research network on PMSCs and Human Security, with a regional focus on the Western Hemisphere. A second conference is being planned for October 2008, to take place in Bogota, Colombia. It will be jointly hosted by the Javeriana University and the Externado University. Subsequent meetings will take place on an annual basis in different countries throughout the Americas.

This conference, and the network it aims to launch, are unique for several reasons. Given the relative newness of this topic, there is an urgent need to bring scholars together to define and formalize a research agenda on PMSCs. There is also clear interest among scholars throughout the region, as members of the UN Working Group discovered through their delegations. While a few academic institutions have begun to focus specifically on PMSCs (such as New York University’s Institute for International Law and Justice), this is only effort we know of to bring together academics, nationally based civil society representatives from a single region, and members of international governance organizations (UN) to examine the impact of security privatization on human rights, human security, and democratic governance. This combination of participants brings together national, regional, and transnational perspectives on PMSCs, all of which are necessary for understanding the different impacts of the industry and the potential for regulation. More specifically, this conference is a conscientious effort to bring together scholars and other informed parties from both the North and the South to discuss the varying effects of PMSCs in each of these contexts. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first conscious attempt to build a North-South research network on PMSCs. In addition to bringing together different geographic experiences, the combination of academic and non-academic participants draws upon empirical, theoretical, and applied perspectives. This will help to create a research network that is both scholarly, and grounded in current public debates.
II. Guiding Questions

The purpose of this conference is to bring together both scholarly and non-scholarly experts on PMSCs from throughout the Western Hemisphere in order to develop a research network on PMSCs and their implications for human rights and human security. To that end, three sets of questions will guide the conference: 1) identifying the implications of PMSCs for human rights and human security; 2) examining the different approaches to regulating or monitoring PMSCs; 3) setting a research agenda for the network. The first is aimed at identifying the ways in which PMSCs are problematic for human rights and human security, and the second focuses on potential solutions to these problems. Both of these will inform the subsequent discussion of the role of an international research network on PMSCs.

National and Regional Implications of Security Privatization for Human Rights, Human Security, and Democratic Governance.
i. What are the different national experiences of security privatization?
ii. How do these experiences affect human rights, human security, or democratic governance?
iii. What are the relevant differences between types of security privatization with regard to human rights, human security, and democratic governance on the ground in the Americas? (For example, are certain types of security privatization more in line with human rights than others? )
iv. Building on the above, is there a distinct regional experience of PMSCs?
v. What might these experiences imply for current and future scholarly research on PMSCs?

Regulation, Monitoring and other Approaches to PMSC Oversight
vi. What responses to PMSCs have emerged in different national contexts? How successful have they been? Who promoted these efforts? Have they had any unanticipated outcomes? What explains their success, failure, and/or unanticipated outcomes?
vii. What transnational efforts at PMSC oversight have emerged? How do proposals from different sectors (ie, the UN vs. industry advocacy organizations) address human rights and human security? What challenges do these transnational efforts face? How desirable are transnational efforts to establish oversight? What potential is there for successful transnational oversight, and what conditions would need to be in place to make it effective?
viii. Are there any implications of security privatization that have not yet been addressed at either the national or transnational level? If so, would such concerns lend themselves to some form of oversight? What type?
ix. What are the various social, political, legal, and economic implications of PMSC monitoring and/or regulation?
x. What are the implications of national and transnational attempts at regulation and oversight for current and future scholarly research on PMSCs?

Setting an Agenda for the Research Network
xi. What themes of scholarly interest emerge from the above questions?
xii. What gaps in our current understanding of PMSCs appear from the above questions?
xiii. Which of these gaps and themes might be fruitfully incorporated into the agenda of the research network?
xiv. How might non-academic experts inform the work of the research network in the future?
xv. How might the work produced by the research network be used to inform the decisions made by governments, NGOs, and the UN?

III. Conference Format and Outcome

The conference will begin on Thursday evening with a keynote panel posing the reasons why an international research network on this issue is needed at this point in time. The panel will be composed of a mix of academic and non-academic experts with an extensive background in this area. Among those we intend to invite for this panel are U.S. journalist Jeremy Scahill, Chairperson José Luís Gómez and Amada Benavides de Pérez of the UN Working Group on Mercenaries, Chilean Senator Alejandro Navarro, U.S. Political Scientist Deborah Avant, and Colombian Human Rights Lawyer Diana Murcia.

The remainder of the conference will consist of two parts. The first part will be open to the public and will consist of panels with question and answer sessions. The second part will be a workshop among participants to determine the future trajectory of the research network.

The first part will last from Friday morning until Saturday early afternoon. It will begin with a short panel on the current state of scholarly research of PMSCs. This is intended to both give some background to those in attendance, and raise questions early on about what direction the research network might take. The rest of Friday and Saturday morning will be devoted to exploring different national experiences of PMSCs, as well as efforts at regulation and oversight (see the section on “Guiding Questions”). Saturday afternoon will be an open discussion among participants on the ways in which the international research network could address some of the questions raised by the papers. Sunday morning will involve a workshop of the academic participants to formalize the agenda and future trajectory of the research network.

Prior to the conference, all academic participants will be commissioned to write papers on the implications of security privatization for human rights, human security, and democratic governance. These papers will provide a picture of the state of academic research in this area, which, in combination with the presentations of civil society representatives, will lay the groundwork for determining the future trajectory of the research network. In addition, compilations of these papers will be published in both English and Spanish. Papers presented in English will be compiled for a special plenary issue of Politics and Society, whereas Spanish-language papers will be compiled and published through the Externado University (Colombia).

The conference will also encourage public participation from both the University of Wisconsin and the broader public. Due to the heavy participation of PMSCs in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is mounting public interest in this topic. We anticipate significant interest from both members of the general public, and from students and faculty interested in international law, international politics, Latin America, human rights, globalization, and war. On campus, we will publicize the conference through the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program, the Law School, the Global Studies Program, World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE), and relevant student groups. In the larger community, we will publicize the event through Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, WORT community radio, and the various peace groups and Latin American solidarity organizations.

The conference will bring together 17 academic and non-academic experts from seven countries, including the U.S. Participants will represent three groups: mainstream academics researching the issue of private security and its consequences on human rights, human security, and democratic governance; non-academic representatives of civil society who have promoted regulation or monitoring of PMSCs in different national contexts; and members of the United Nations Working Group and its affiliated organizations who have investigated these issues in a transnational perspective, with the goal of identifying threats to human rights, human security, and democratic governance and developing more effective systems of regulation. Each participant’s country is listed next to their name. At the end of the each bio, we indicate whether the person has confirmed his or her participation, whether they have already been invited, or whether we intend to invite them.

Academic Participants:

    * Antoine Perret (Colombia/Switzerland/France): Junior Professor and Researcher in International Relations at the Externado University in Bogota, Colombia. Research interests focus on the use of Private Military Companies in Colombia. Master’s equivalent (licence) from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, with a specialty in United Nations Peace Operations. Currently finishing a Master’s in International Affairs jointly offered through Columbia University (USA), the Political Science Institute of Paris (France) and the Center for International Studies and Research (Colombia). Confirmed.
    * Simon Chesterman (Singapore/USA): Global Professor of Law and Director of the New York University School of Law Singapore Program, Singapore. Associate Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore. From 2004-2006 he was Director of NYU’s Institute for International Law and Justice, which convened several special sessions on Private Military and Security Companies. Prof. Chesterman is the author of various books on international law and international security, as well as the editor of From Mercenaries to Markets: The Rise and Regulation of Private Military Companies (2007). Intended.
    * Deborah Avant (USA): Professor of Political Science and Internacional Affairs at George Washington University. Director, Institute for Global and International Studies. Her research focuses on civil-military relations, military change, and the politics of controlling violence. She is a recognized expert on PMSCs, most notably for her book The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security (2005). Intended.
    * Laura Dickinson (USA): Associate Profesor of Law, University of Connecticut. During 2006-2007, Prof. Dickinson was a Fellow at Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs, where she developed her work on private military and security companies.. She previously served as an Senior Policy Advisor for the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her areas of expertise include international human rights, immigation law, and constitution law. Intended.
    * Katherine McCoy (USA): Conference organizer. PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin. Ms. McCoy’s areas of expertise are political sociology and the sociology of law. Here research interests include human rights, civil-military relations, globalization and social movements. She is the author of the article “Trained to Torture? The Human Rights Effects of Military Training at the U.S. Army School of the Americas” (Latin American Perspectives, 2005). Her dissertation examines the role of Private Military Corporations in the Americas. Confirmed.
    * Patricia Arias (Chile): Associate Director for the Chilean Branch of the, Latin American Center for Social Science (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales-FLACSO). Currently directs the program on Security and Citizenship. Author of Democracy and Citizen Secruity: A Humanist Perspective (2000). International speaker and consultant on issues of citizen security. Invited.
    * Adrian Bonilla (Ecuador): Director of the Latin American Center for Social Science (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales-FLACSO). Expert on human security, international conflict, Andean regional security and military relations between the U.S. and Latin America, including military programs involving the use of PMCs. Doctorate in International Studies from the University of Miami, 1994. Intended.
    * Gustavo González Rodríguez (Chile) Associate Professor in the School of Journalism in the University of Chile. Extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, including stints in Quito, Rome and San José, Costa Rica. Since 1989, he has been the correspondent-director of the Santiago bureau of IPS. Dr. González has contributed to many Chilean and international publications and has written several essays on Communication and Journalism. From 1993 to 1995 he was the president of the Foreign Correspondents Association of Chile. Invited.
    * Judith Salgado (Ecuador). National Coordinator for the Andean Human Rights Program (PADH for its Spanish acronym) of the Simon Bolivar Andean University-Ecuador branch. Doctorate in Law from the Catholic Pontifical University of Ecuador. Advanced degree in Social Science with a specialization in Human Rights and Democratic Security from Latin American Center for Social Science, and author of various articles on human rights. Intended.

Civil Society Representatives:

    * Jeremy Scahill (USA): Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow and author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Mr. Scahill has testified before the U.S. Congress on the need for greater regulation of PMCs. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for “Democracy Now!” Intended.
    * Lina Cahuasqui (Ecuador): Founder of the “No Bases Coalition-Ecuador”. Special researcher on Collective Rights for Terre des Hommes Italia”. Elected Technical Secretary of the Interinstitutional Committee Against Fumigations (Comite Interinstitucional Contra las Fumigaciones). Confirmed.
    * Alejandro Navarro Brain (Chile): Mr. Navarro is a Senator in the Chilean congress. He devotes much attention to human rights and the rights of indigenous people. He was instrumental in organizing the UN Working Group visit to Chile in July 2007, and has advocated greater regulation of PMSCs in Chile. Intended.
    * Cecilia Anicama Campos (Peru): Coordinator of the Human Rights Area for the Andean Commission of Jurists-Peru (CAJ for its Spanish acronym). In 2007, Dr. Anicama was hired by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to implement a series of programs designed to protect the Rights of the Child in Latin America. Invited.
    * Diana Milena Murcia (Colombia): Human rights lawyer with negrees from the Nacional University of Colombia (2002 and 2005). Specialization in Criminal Legal Institutions. Currently Works as a a lawyer for the "José Alvear Restrepo" lawyers’ collective, a non-governmental human rights group based in Colombia. Since 2003, Ms. Murcia has investigated the implementation of US foreign policy toward Colombia, which relies significantly on private security companies. In February 2007, the Lawyers’ Collective launched a formal accusation against the PMC Dyncorp, through the framework of the People’s Permanent Tribunal-Colombia section. Ms. Murcia has been a core member of the Colombian working group on the use of mercenaries, which was formed in conjunction with the UN Working Group. Confirmed.
    * Robert Marcus (USA): Lawyer and Legislative Assistant to U.S. Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky (D-IL). Representative Schakowsky has been a leader in the U.S. Congress on the issue of PMSC regulation. She is the sponsor of the Iraq and Afghanistan Contractor Sunshine Act, which is intended to open the contractual records of PMSCs to Congressional scrutiny. Mr. Marcus has worked extensively on the issue of PMSC oversight for Rep. Schakowsky. Intended.

United Nations-based Participants

    * José Luís Gómez del Prado (Spain): Chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries. Former Senior Official of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), with over twenty years of experience in the UNHCHR.. Member of the U.N. Advisory Group of the Voluntary Fund for the I International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Collaborates as independent expert with the European Commission and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE). Has coordinated several UN investigation missions of gross human rights violations, such as the UN Commission of Experts of the Security Council on the Rwanda genocide, which laid the basis for the creation of the International Penal Tribunal on Rwanda (Arusha); the Mission of the UN Secretary-General’s Team and the Joint Mission of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire). Organizer and innovator of the UN Human Rights Advisory and Technical Cooperation Program, establishing field offices and elaborating cooperation programs in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Cambodia, Mongolia, Palestine, the Region of the Great Lakes of Africa, Romania and Georgia. Confirmed.
    * Amada Benavides de Pérez(Colombia): One of five members of the United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries as a Means of Violating Human Rights and Impeding the Exercise of the Right of Peoples to Self-Determination. President and Founder of the Schools for Peace Foundation (Colombia). National and international consultant in border affairs, border integration and development, human rights, peace culture, peaceful transformation of conflicts and youth leadership organization. Member of the Advisory Board of the Global Campaign for Peace Education, Hague Appeal for Peace. Confirmed.
    * Mauricio Lazala (UK): Senior Research & training coordinator for Business and Human Rights. BHR is an independent non-profit international organization that works in partnership with Amnesty International sections and leading academic institutions. BHR has also supported the work of the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries. Invited.

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