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Preliminary Findings of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries Official Visit to Ghana, 8-15 December 2017

Presented by Ms. Patricia Arias on behalf of the Working Group*

Accra, 15 December 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to be here today on behalf of the Working Group on mercenaries, to present our preliminary findings on our visit to Ghana.

Firstly, I wish to thank the Government for the invitation to conduct this visit. Our delegation was able to hold meetings in Accra and in Takoradi with various stakeholders and I extend my thanks and appreciation to everyone who took the time to meet with us. These included various representatives of the State; civil society organizations; and individuals from the private sector, including from the extractive industry. We were also able to meet with representatives of private security companies in Accra and Takoradi. I would like to also express my appreciation to UNDP here  in Accra for the assistance and support  in the preparation of this visit.

I wish to give a brief background to the purpose of our visit to Ghana.

Our mandate is essentially a human rights mandate focused on mercenaries, mercenary related activities and private military and security companies. We assess the impact of these actors on human rights, particularly the right of people to self-determination.

In this context, we have presented annual reports on these issues to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and to the General Assembly in New York. We have also undertaken country visits to various parts of the world to study  the activities of these non-State actors and the challenges they pose to human rights and national security. We have also looked into good practices that could be replicated by countries facing similar challenges.

On the regulation of private military and security companies, the Working Group devoted the last four years, to studying the national legislation of private military and security companies in around 60 countries including in Francophone and Anglophone Africa. Ghana was one of those countries, and our visit here in the past week has helped us better understand the present situation concerning the private security industry in the country. We have also been able to learn more about the emerging challenges that Ghana is facing in relation to non-State armed actors that pose threats to the human rights and security of its people.

In the past year, our Working Group decided to look closely into the activities of private military and security companies operating within the extractive industry, an issue of relevance to our visit here.

Positive Practices

Many of the countries that the Working Group has visited in the past had experienced armed conflict or had been seriously destabilised by mercenaries, foreign fighters and even by private military and security companies. Some of these countries are in this region.

Ghana however, does not fit into this category, having evolved over the past years into a stable and peaceful country. With its rich natural resources and minerals, culture of tolerance and relatively high standard of education, Ghana is a country with great potential for further progress socially, economically and politically. The recent 2016 elections, although marred by incidents of violence, were largely peaceful.

During our mission, we often heard people say that Ghana has been an “oasis of peace” for many citizens in the region who sought refuge and safety from violence and instability in their own countries. The close affinity and kinship between Ghanaians and people in neighbouring countries who share the same language and ethnic groups, has indeed made Ghana a destination for refugees in the region. Inter-marriages among Ghanaians of different ethnicity and religion has also contributed to the peace and stability in the country.

With regard to human rights work, the Working Group was informed that there is space for robust civil society work on human rights issues in the country. Human rights defenders generally do not face deadly reprisals. We are also informed that during the preparation for Ghana’s report for the Universal Periodic Review (to the Human Rights Council) in Geneva this year, government representatives and civil society organizations collaborated for the first time to prepare the reports – an unprecedented and welcomed initiative.

We were also informed that the media is generally able to freely and independently report on human rights issues without suppression from the Government. The judiciary as well is generally seen as independent. The Working Group was pleased to note that Ghana has ratified the African Union’s Convention on mercenaries, but also calls on the Government to ratify the United Nations International Convention on mercenaries. Ghana is also one of the few non-Western States to also sign on to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights which encourages companies to operate within a framework that respects human rights. Many companies around the world in the extractive industries have also implemented these Voluntary Principles.

We commend and support many of the positive initiatives that we have observed being undertaken by the Ghanaian authorities. However, we were also informed of the following challenges that need to be addressed to ensure ongoing stability in the country.

ISSUES OF CONCERN

Mercenarismand mercenary related activities

Though mercenarism and foreign fighters are not currently a significant problem in Ghana, the Working Group referred to past incidences in which mercenarism had impacted the country. In a visit to Cote d’Ivoire in 2014, the Working Group was informed of alleged mercenaries who fled to Ghana. Mercenaries had been recruited to fight in the conflicts of 2002 and 2010 in Côte d’Ivoire and some had fled to Ghana and were causing instability in their home country. During our visit this week, the Working Group was informed that these mercenaries had been dispelled from Ghana and that currently there were no significant threats concerning mercenary activities in the country. However, with its porous borders, the Working Group cautioned that mercenaries and foreign armed actors can easily enter Ghana and cause instability and this needs to be monitored closely.

Regarding foreign fighters, we were informed that there were around three cases of Ghanaian citizens who had travelled to join groups such as ISIS, but that generally these cases were not in high numbers. With regard to threats of violent extremism, the Working Group was informed that for the moment, this was not a significant problem. However, a government representative expressed concern that with the widespread availability of the internet, it is possible that certain individuals may become vulnerable to radicalisation that could potentially lead to violent extremism. Some civil society actors informed that they were working on these issues at the community level and were involved in education and awareness raising activities to counter the problems related to radicalisation and violent extremism.

Private Security Companies (PSCs)

The Working Group focused attention on the situation related to private security companies in Ghana. Private security companies are regulated under the Police Service (Private Security Organisations) Regulations 1992 and are administered by the Ministry of Interior. Despite the existence of regulations to oversee this industry, the Working Group was concerned with the large number of private security personnel in comparison to the number of police personnel. It was also concerned the number of private security companies that are reportedly operating illegally throughout the country. The delegation was informed that in Ghana there were around 33,000 members of the police force while there were 400 legally registered private security companies with around 450,000 personnel. The current number of PSC personnel far outnumber the police force. The Working Group was not provided with a specific figure of private security companies that were operating illegally but understood from representatives from the PSC sector that there were many of these companies in existence.

The lack of effective systems to oversee private security companies is therefore an issue that needs addressing. There is also a need to systematically vet company personnel and ensure they have proper training including on human rights. The likelihood of PSC personnel carrying arms and that many operations may be outside those being monitored by the authorities is a problem that the delegation repeatedly raised with the government. Due to many of those operating illegally, it is likely that the number of PSC personnel in the country is much higher than what has been accounted for and measures are needed to effectively regulate these operations.

The lack of data and a systemised mechanism to track of PSC operations and their personnel needs to be addressed. The Working Group notes that out of all the registered PSCs, a few as two companies have signed up to the International Code of Conduct Association which obliges PSCs to abide by good practices including human rights principles. The presence of partially foreign owned PSCs are also common in Ghana and the Working Group encourages the vetting of these companies to ensure that they are also in good standing and do not involve individuals who have either criminal backgrounds or have committed human rights abuses.

The Working Group notes that there is a serious need to establish an independent oversight body or mechanism to oversee the PSC industry and to ensure that their operations are in accordance to law and that they are not engaged in criminal activities or human rights abuses.

Non-state armed actors that pose threats to security in Ghana

The Working Group took note of the presence of non-state armed actors that currently pose threats to security in Ghana. The Working Group underscores that these threats need to be addressed effectively to ensure long-term stability in the country and further protect against potential activities of mercenaries and mercenary related actors.

Illegal miners or “galamsey”

Many of those we met in this visit consistently raised the issue of illegal miners or galamsey, which involves mostly small scale miners operating illegally in various parts of the country. With gold being one of the major resources in Ghana, illegal miners have become a serious concern to the past and current governments. This is particularly problematic to the Working Group as a number of these illegal miners are armed.

We were informed that foreigners also engaged in illegal mining and that many of these foreigners come from neighbouring countries and from other regions including Asia and Europe. The grave concerns regarding the environment as well as safety issues regarding armed illegal miners, prompted the Government to initiate Operation Vanguard composed of members of the police force and the military. The Working Group is concerned with the armed individuals involved in these illegal activities and the impact of these on local communities. It also recommends human rights training to be undertaken by the police and military personnel who are engaged in the extractive industry operations to ensure against human rights abuses. We were informed that some police and military personnel working with mining companies are required to undergo training including on the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and this should be replicated for those engaged in the operations against illegal mining and other criminal activities.

Vigilante groups

An issue of serious concern involves the so called “vigilante groups” composed of youths and individuals affiliated with political parties in the country. The spread of these groups which are sometimes referred to as “foot soldiers” has resulted in incidences of violence during and after the past elections. The Working Group was informed that the existence of these groups dates back to the 1990s and today have become a serious challenge as they normally form groups or mobs and engaged in violence and human rights. In connection to the problem of vigilante groups, the use of private bodyguards by political representatives was also raised by various interlocutors as these private individuals are often armed. In accordance to Ghanaian law, no private security personnel can be armed and this would also extend to those working as bodyguards. However, there are many reports to say that this is not the case. The existence of these parallel groups or individuals in various parts of the country continue to be a threat to security and therefore strong political will to combat these activities, particularly the phenomenon of vigilante groups, is critical.

The Working Group was repeatedly informed that these vigilante groups can mobilise and also overpower local police as evident in an incident where they stormed a courtroom and freed suspects who were on trial, while at the same time threatening the presiding judge. The police who were present in the courtroom were outnumbered by the mob.

Proliferation of illegal arms

The delegation was informed that around 1.3 million illegal arms are currently in circulation in Ghana and thus represents serious threats to security in the country. With the existence of vigilante groups, armed galamseys and the high number of private security personnel who may not be under the monitoring of the government, the need to effectively eliminate the proliferation of illegal arms should be prioritised. With the porous borders and conflicts in neighbouring countries, illegal arms in the hands of criminal elements can cause serious security problems for Ghana. The Working Group was informed that the smuggling of arms into Ghana through its borders is also a matter of concern.

Turning to some of our preliminary recommendations, the Working Group notes that the newly established  Government in Ghana is informed of  the challenges that have been mentioned. We have had very constructive discussions with government authorities who have also echoed our concerns. Ghana has adopted many good laws which are important for the promotion, respect and protection of human rights. However, it is critical that these laws are fully implemented to ensure continued peace and stability. The need for peace and stability is a critical priority as it can also encourage economic progress in the country . Having strong regulations and oversight over the PSC industry and armed non-State actors and the strengthening of measures to combat mercenaries and foreign-armed elements will assist in ensuring that Ghana remains an “oasis of peace” in Africa.

In spite of some of the challenges we have identified, the Working Group would like to emphasise that it has been impressed with the openness and readiness of the authorities to dialogue about human rights issues in Ghana. It would like to encourage the continuation of this open and democratic culture that has contributed to the peace and stability enjoyed by Ghanaians today.

The Working Group will provide a full list of recommendations in its report to the Human Rights Council next year. However, it wishes to make a few preliminary recommendations, as follows:

  • TheWorkingGrouprecommendsthestrengtheningofregulationand oversight of private security companies, including the establishment of an independent body or mechanism to oversee the industry; it calls for stronger actions to combat illegal operations of private security companies and private security company personnel are properly trained in human rights and are unarmed;
  • Establishsystemsto maintain data related to private security industry;
  • Strengthenpublicsecurityforceto address vigilante groups and other non-State armed actors; Provide training to public security personnel in relevant international human rights standards, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for those deployed to work in the extractive industries;
  • EncouragesfullimplementationoftheNationalIdentificationSystemthatwillassistin capturing biometric data of Ghanaian citizens as this would assist in monitoring the inflow of potential foreign armed actors;
  • Pass the right to information bill to ensure access to information that could help in human rights work in the country, including on private security;
  • Strengthenongoingcooperationwithinternationalandregionalmechanisms,includingECOWAS,to combat mercenarism and mercenary-related activities;
  • Increaseefforts with ECOWAS and neighbouring countries to tighten border control and management to safeguard against mercenaries, foreign fighters and foreign armed elements including those engaged in illegal mining activities;
  • RatifytheInternationalConventionagainsttheRecruitment,Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries;
  • Incorporatemercenarism into domestic criminal laws. 
*The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world. The Chairperson-Rapporteur is Mr. Gabor Rona (United States of America). Other members are Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Poland) Ms. Patricia Arias (Chile), Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa), and Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen). The delegation on the mission to Ghana included Anton Katz  and Patricia Arias. For more information please access:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Mercenaries/WGMercenaries/Pages/WGMercenariesInde  x.aspx