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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

Statement by Mr. Saeed Mokbil, Chairperson-Rapporteur
73rd session of the General Assembly
Third Committee
Item 73
30 October 2018
New York

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here, for the first time, as the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries and to present our report to the 73rd session of the General Assembly.

This year, our report highlights linkages between pertinent findings of the Working Group and Sustainable Development Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions. Goal 16 acknowledges that peace is fundamental to development, while conflict, violence and instability are significant impediments for it. Realizing Goal 16 is particularly important as it is considered an enabling goal for the accomplishment of all the other Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the establishment of the Working Group in 2005, we have conducted numerous country visits and carried out extensive research on mercenarism and mercenary-related activities in its new forms. Drawing on this information, our report elaborates on the adverse impact of this phenomenon on human rights and thereby on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. It also provides recommendations for strengthening the implementation of Goal 16 with a view to contributing to activities related to the 2030 Agenda, including the in-depth review of Goal 16 at next year’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

Mr. President,
In our report, we specifically focus on seven of the 12 targets under Goal 16. Allow me to outline our findings in four of these areas.  

Target 16.1. calls for a significant reduction of all forms of violence. Through its visits, the Working Group observed that mercenaries, private military and security companies, and foreign fighters can significantly destabilize a country by violent means. This can render a State helpless and ineffective, particularly if the violent conflict is prolonged. This severely affects local populations and hinders them from effectively building a peaceful, developed and democratic society. Moreover, the Working Group has documented human rights violations instigated by mercenaries, private military and security companies, and foreign fighters, including summary executions, enforced disappearances and abductions, arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, and slavery, to name a few.

Mercenarism and mercenary-related activities further undermine Target 16.2. to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children. The Working Group found that children were commonly the victims of human rights violations in situations where mercenaries, private military and security companies, and foreign fighters operated, particularly in conflict zones. The human rights violations committed against children included abductions, torture, detention, sexual slavery and forcible recruitment as child soldiers. Our most recent report to the Human Rights Council on a related topic emphasizes the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration responses to this phenomenon, as well as addressing root causes.

Mr. President,
The fight against impunity, including for human rights violations committed by non-State armed actors, is one of the key factors to achieve sustainable development under Target 16.3. on rule of law and equal access to justice for all. Through our visits, we observed the lack of accountability and severe challenges to access to justice for victims due to weak judicial infrastructures, lack of judicial independence, and threats of reprisals against victims, witnesses and judiciary, as well as corruption and the lack of appropriate, clear and precise legislation. Indeed, the pervasive impunity for human rights violations and criminal offences committed by mercenaries, private military and security companies, and foreign fighters is a common challenge accompanying their activities.

Such impunity has persisted, in part, due to weak justice systems embedded within weak State institutions in which the public has little or no confidence, contrary to the objectives of Target 16.6 on effective, accountable and transparent institutions. Even in situations with an existing legal framework covering the actors in question, and foreign fighters, prosecutions and convictions for human rights violations were rare. Holding private military and security companies to account is a particular challenge given regulatory gaps in legislation and the lack of monitoring bodies and accountability mechanisms. Combined, these factors pose a threat to several human rights, including the right of victims’ to an effective remedy. A global study of national regulations of such companies, undertaken by the Working Group between 2012 and 2017, underscored these difficulties. Moreover, although international voluntary regulatory mechanisms offer further avenues that promote lawful behaviour, they are not sufficient.  This led the Group to reiterate a long-standing call for an international legally binding instrument to ensure consistent regulation worldwide and adequate human rights protection.

Mr. President,
In our report, we list a series of recommendations aimed at promoting actions and initiatives that could pave the way for the realization of this critical Goal. I invite you to consult our report for the full list of recommendations.

Allow me to highlight here two key recommendations concerning the rule of law and accountability, which are at the core of Goal 16. Firstly, it is paramount to ensure that those involved in mercenary-related activities and perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable, including, where necessary, by developing and strengthening the capacity of justice and human rights institutions. Secondly, there is a need to establish independent complaints mechanisms and ensure adequate remedies to victims. Such measures are a key component of genuine reconciliation and peace processes. 

Turning specifically to recommendations regarding the activities of private military and security companies, the Working Group has consistently advocated for the adoption of an international legally binding instrument to provide a standard regulatory framework and a single dedicated body to address issues related to this industry, including accountability and effective remedies for victims. I reiterate that call here today. At the same time, there is a need to enact domestic regulatory legislation and procedures in terms of oversight, registration, licensing, and vetting of private military and security companies.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
The presence and activities of mercenaries, private military and security companies, and foreign fighters present serious obstacles to the realization of Goal 16. States and other stakeholders engaged in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals should pay particular attention to the activities of these actors and provide effective measures to address them if Goal 16 is to be fully implemented.

I thank you for your attention and I look forward to an interactive dialogue.