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Geneva, 10 March 2008: The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries said Monday it is concerned that many private military and security companies at the national, regional and international levels currently operate without effective oversight or accountability.

The Working Group, which presented today its report at the 7th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, notes that a growing number of such companies in conflict-ridden areas, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia, are recruiting former military and policemen from developing countries as “security guards.” However, once they engage in low intensity armed conflict or post-conflict situations, they become in fact “militarily armed private soldiers.”

"Militarily armed private soldiers" are essentially a new way of describing mercenaries, who are frequently responsible for human rights abuses, the Working Group points out.

War-torn States often lack the capacity to effectively control and regulate these private companies. In some cases, national legislation grants them immunity. The Working Group warns that since the private guards are only accountable to their employing companies, immunity can turn easily into impunity. A significant responsibility falls on the States from where these transnational companies export their military and security services, the Working Group adds.

States, as holders of the monopoly of the legitimate use of force, are the main actors responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, the Working Group says in its report. The Group calls for a wider ratification of the International Convention against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries.

In 2007, the Working Group conducted field missions to a number of countries including Peru, Fiji and Chile; made recommendations to bring national legislation in line with the International Convention, and convened a regional consultation on “the effects of the activities of private military and security companies on the enjoyment of human rights” in Panama. The Working Group plans to hold additional regional consultations in order to facilitate a critical understanding of the need for additional regulation and control on the international level.

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries was established in 2005 by the Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate includes monitoring the impact of the activities of private military and security companies on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities, and headed by its Chairperson-Rapporteur, José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain). The other Working Group experts are: Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Alexander Nikitin and Shaista Shameem (Fiji).

For more information on the mandate and activities of the Working Group, please consult the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at: www.ohchr.org/english/issues/mercenaries/index.htm.