Skip to main content

Statements Special Procedures

Statement of the Chair of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries to the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly

28 October 2021

Delivered by

Jelena Aparac, Chair of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries

Mr. President, Distinguished Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with great honor that I address this Assembly, in my capacity 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.

Before presenting the findings of the Working group’s latest thematic report, please allow me to inform you on some of the activities undertaken by the Working Group.

The Working group has continued to dynamically engage with different stakeholders, including states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, non-State actors, academic institutions and individuals, in order to strengthen the implementation of our mandate.

We have also transmitted a number of communications to States and concerned actors, on behalf of individuals and groups at risk of human rights violations arising from the activities of mercenaries and private military and security companies.

The Working Group has also convened for two online expert consultations for the thematic reports of this year presented to the Human Rights Council in its 48th session in September 2021, and to the General Assembly today. We wish to thank all the participants for their valuable contributions that have allowed to inform our thematic studies and feed into these reports.

Today, I am honored to present our annual thematic report to the Assembly that highlights the human rights impacts of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors and private military and security companies engaging in cyberactivities.

Mr. President,

Please allow me to summarise the main conclusions of the report:

The report explores how mercenaries and private actors make profit from developing, maintaining and operating cyber capabilities, which might be used in the conduct of hostilities and in non-conflict settings to violate human rights, including the right of peoples to self-determination, and in some instances international humanitarian law.
The Working Group has repeatedly highlighted the transformation of contemporary armed conflicts and the evolution of new forms of warfare. In our report presented last year to the UNGA, we identified ‘cybermercenaries’ as a contemporary category of actors engaged in mercenary-related activities. 

The rapid advancement of digital technologies has profoundly transformed international relations, as a result cyberspace increasingly represents a major geostrategic arena.

State and non-State actors with a variety of private entities mobilize and harness cyber capabilities in the pursuit of proxy agendas or interests. Private actors are engaged by States and non-State actors to conduct offensive or defensive operations, to protect their own networks and infrastructure, as well as to carry out cyber operations to weaken their adversary. Individuals carrying out cyberattacks can cause damage remotely and across various jurisdictions.

Cyber-services are also provided outside of the context of armed conflict including for the purposes of intelligence gathering and surveillance but also domestic law enforcement and the maintenance of security. It is important to note a vast range of products and services are being provided and are available for purchase on the open market, which must be taken into account when considering the regulation of cyberservices.

The market for offensive cybercapabilities is growing rapidly, and is subject to little regulation, offering an opportunity to make a significant profit. As a result, many conventional private military and security companies are developing cybersecurity divisions. Whatever their provenance, cybersecurity providers, like more traditional private military and security companies, work hand in hand with national Governments and become extensions of State power and could thus be considered mercenary-like proxies.

The Working Group examined a variety of actors and manifestations ranging from  military and security services provided in cyberspace which can generate mercenary-related activities.

Among the categories of relevant cyber-actors, the Working group has identified: Cyberunits or cybercommands integrated into the official armed forces, actors outside of official armed forces, business entities, advanced persistent threat (APT) groups, Cybermilitias and cybercriminals, to name a few.

Sates, either by commission or omission, obscure their involvement in malicious cyber-operations, seeking to gain strategic influence by evading their responsibilities under international law, including for violations and abuses committed by non-State actors recruited for this purpose.

Still, recruiting private actors to provide military and security services in cyberspace does not relieve States from their obligations under international law.

This concern is further exacerbated by the potential of cyber-operations significantly undermining human rights.

In fact, it is undeniable that cyber-activities have the ability to cause violations of variety of rights: such as the right to life, economic and social rights, freedom of expression, privacy, and the right to self-determination. Furthermore, specific groups are affected in a differentiated manner by these activities namely women, human rights defenders, migrants, opposition leaders, journalists, and LGBTI and gender non‑conforming persons.

Mr. President,

Going forward, and in order to prevent and mitigate the negative human rights impacts caused by mercenary, mercenary-related actors and  PMSC in cyberspace, states should refrain from recruiting, using, financing and training cyber mercenaries. They should prohibit such conduct in domestic law and effectively regulate PMSC.
For this purpose we call upon states to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework on PMSC including when they provide cyber-services and operate in the context of cyberwarfare and insist on the need for a legally binding instrument that governs cyberspace.

Mr. President, Distinguished Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for your attention and look forward to a fruitful dialogue.

Thank you.