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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. Chris Kwaja Chairperson-Rapporteur
74th session of the General Assembly
Third Committee
Item 73
30 October 2019, New York

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,

I am honoured to address the Third Committee of the General Assembly as the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination. I am pleased to present to you today our report on the gendered dimensions and human rights impacts of private military and security companies.

The report examines these dimensions and impacts from different perspectives. Firstly, a theoretical one in terms of the trend away from States’ monopoly on the use of force and towards the privatisation of security; secondly, the perspective of the local communities affected by the operations of these companies; and thirdly, the situation inside the companies and the experiences of their employees. It is on these latter two that I will focus today, as well as on relevant legal and regulatory frameworks.

Private military and security companies have significant gender footprints in the communities in which they operate. The wide variety of contexts in which these companies operate and the types of service they provide entail different levels of gendered risk to the enjoyment of human rights. These risks are particularly high in situations of armed conflict, post-conflict and transitional situations and in countries in which there are no standards or oversight governing their activities.

Generally, situations where private military and security personnel have regular contact with members of the public carry certain risks. Services that involve the actual or potential use of force carry high risks. There are also risks in situations where there are power imbalances, such as when private security personnel are supervising a prison or checkpoint, or acting as a gatekeeper for access to health care or food in a migrant detention centre. The nature of the services that these companies provide also has an impact on the levels of gendered human rights risks.

A large, militarized and predominantly male private military and security presence, whether contracted by States or non-State actors, can generate feelings of unease, which men, women, boys and girls may experience differently. For example, women have reported that their ability to move around freely, and thereby access workplaces, markets and health-care facilities, was restricted as they sought to avoid a road guarded by private military and security personnel. They also reported repeated sexual harassment, such as being shown pornography, being subjected to sexual remarks or inappropriate touching, or living in fear that they might be subjected to sexual violence. This was alleged as happening at informal or formal checkpoints and in refugee and migrant detention centres.

Women and girls form the majority of victims of sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination by personnel of private military and security companies, with the perpetrators being predominantly men. Women with lower socioeconomic status, from indigenous communities as well as women human rights defenders face particular risks.

The Working Group also examined past major abuses of gender-based discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence. We are concerned that there has been limited accountability and remedies for victims of these abuses. We also believe that underreporting of such allegations is probable given the general underreporting of sexual and gender-based violence regardless of the perpetrator, compounded by little to no systematic monitoring of the actions of private military and security companies by States, civil society, United Nations bodies or other actors.

Mr. President,

The Working Group also looked at the situation inside private military and security companies, and found that much needs to be done to address gender-based inequality and discrimination in this male dominated industry. Increases in numbers of women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming (LGBTI) persons and other underrepresented groups are needed. In order to work progressively towards organizational cultural change, greater diversity in the composition of the personnel must be accompanied by principled, firm and swift actions to address sexual and gender-based violence, structural inequalities and underlying discrimination. The companies need to put in place policies and procedures to address these issues and to systematically integrate approaches that promote substantive equality and gender-mainstreaming throughout their operations.

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,

Issues of gender-based discrimination and sexual- and gender-based violence by private military and security companies and their personnel are more often than not taking place in the absence of human rights-compliant legal and regulatory frameworks to govern their activities. State action is needed in areas of legal reform, regulatory and oversight bodies, and accountability and remedy mechanisms. In all these areas, being gender-neutral is not an option, and rather all measures should be informed by a gender analysis and seek to take a gender-transformative approach. 

Mr President,
Distinguished delegates,

Our findings paint a bleak picture, but they also confirm that there is an urgent need to deepen research and action on this topic in order to further unpack gendered risks and impacts and bring to light the experiences of those affected, particularly private military and security personnel and members of the communities in places where these companies operate. Gender-disaggregated data-gathering as well as gender-sensitive monitoring of alleged abuses are therefore critical next steps.

For the necessary changes to be set in motion, all relevant actors needs to play their part. States, private military and security companies, and State and non-State clients all have a role in pushing forward a gender-transformative agenda within the industry. Multi-stakeholder initiatives and other stakeholders can play an important role in supporting this process.

We sincerely hope that our report will stimulate gender-transformative thinking, debate and practice around the private military and security industry in order to address critical gender-related human rights issues.

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