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Alarming rise in mercenary activities calls for attention

NEW YORK (1 November 2011) – The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries warned Tuesday of an alarming resurgence of the use of mercenaries in armed conflict –“often in new and novel ways”. The expert panel also noted in a report* to the UN General Assembly that the growing activities of private military and security companies raise numerous human rights challenges, and called for international regulation.

“Recent events in Africa clearly demonstrate that the problems posed by mercenaries are still a live issue,” said Ms. Faiza Patel, who currently heads the Working Group. “Mercenaries pose a threat not only to security, but also to human rights and potentially to the right of peoples to self-determination. It is crucial that States cooperate to eliminate this phenomenon.”

Traditionally, ‘mercenaries’ are understood to be soldiers hired to fight in an armed conflict or to overthrow a Government. In contrast, during some recent conflicts, Governments have used foreign fighters against their own populations.

In Côte d’Ivoire there is considerable evidence that the government used some 4,500 Liberian mercenaries to avoid the results of a democratic election at the end of 2010. In Libya, foreign fighters’ involvement in the repression of peaceful demonstrations was reported earlier this year. Such mercenaries were allegedly recruited from neighbouring African countries and Eastern Europe.

“As for private military and security companies, their ever-expanding activities continue to raise a number of challenges,” Ms. Patel said. “Providing security to its people is a fundamental responsibility of the State and outsourcing security to private military and security companies creates risks for human rights, hence the need to regulate their activities.”

The UN independent expert noted that these companies continue to undertake an ever-larger range of activities in an increasing number of countries around the world. It is difficult to gauge the extent of the private military and security industry worldwide, with estimates varying from $20 billion to $100 billion per year.

However, Ms. Patel recalled that spending on contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to exceed $206 billion in 2011, according to the August 2011 report by the US Commission on Wartime Contracting. Also, in 2010, the number of contractor employees hired by the US Departments of Defense and State and USAID exceeded 260,000, in contrast with the 9,200 contractors hired by the US military during the first Gulf War.

“This is the tip of the iceberg, because private military and security companies also operate in a variety of other situations ranging from drug eradication programs in Colombia to post-conflict reconstruction programs, she said. “And it is not just governments who take advantage of their services, but also NGOs, private companies and the United Nations.”

For the Working Group, “the potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability.”

The expert welcomed all national efforts to regulate private military and security companies, but regretted that none have yet come close to achieving full accountability for human rights violations. “We envision that these initiatives will effectively complement a binding international legal instrument of the type that has been proposed by the Working Group.”

The 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 was established in 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. It is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Faiza Patel (Chair-Rapporteur, Pakistan), Ms. Patricia Arias (Chile), Ms. El¿bieta Karska (Poland) and Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa) and Mr. Gabor Rona (United States/Hungary).

(*) Check the Working Group report to the UN General Assembly: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/477/70/PDF/N1147770.pdf?OpenElement

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/index.htm

Check the Working Group’s full report to the UN General Assembly: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/18session/A-HRC-18-32-Add2_en.pdf

The Working Group’s draft of a possible Convention on Private Military and Security Companies: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/docs/A.HRC.15.25.pdf

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York: Fred Kirungi (+1 917 367 3431 / kirungi@un.org)
In Geneva:Margaret Maffai (+41 22 917 9689 / spdconsultant@ohchr.org) or write to wgmercenaries@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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