February 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 January 2019
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Impact of Mercenary Groups on Regional Peace and Stability

Expected Council Action                                                                                                              

In early February, there will be a high-level debate on “Mercenary activities as a source of insecurity and destabilization in Africa”. It is anticipated that the Central African sub-region will be a focus of the discussion. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea is expected to preside. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, are expected to brief. No formal outcome is anticipated.

Background and Developments

The international legal and normative foundation against mercenary activities includes the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries and the 1977 Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa.   The 1989 convention—which has 36 state parties and entered into force in 2001— affirms that the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries are “offences of grave concern to all States” and maintains the need to “develop and enhance international cooperation among States for the prevention, prosecution and punishment of such offences”. The 1977 convention states that the activities of mercenaries pose a “grave threat…to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and harmonious development of Member States of the Organization of African Unity” (the predecessor organisation of the AU), that they constitute “a crime against peace and security in Africa”, and that mercenaries shall be punished “by the severest penalties” of state parties “including capital punishment”. Thirty-two of the AU’s 55 states have ratified the 1977 Convention, which entered into force in 1985.

In 1987, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the predecessor of the Human Rights Council (HRC) created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. In 2005, the commission ended this mandate and created the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of people to self-determination, composed of five independent experts. The HRC has renewed the mandate several times. The working group is mandated by the HRC to work toward strengthening the international legal framework for the prevention and sanction of the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries; to study and identify the sources and causes of mercenary activities; and to monitor these activities and those of private military and security companies. According to OHCHR, the working group “transmits communications to Governments and other actors with regard to specific allegations of human rights violations” pertaining to mercenaries and private military and security companies; conducts country visits and reports on these visits to the Human Rights Council; and produces annual reports for the General Assembly and Human Rights Council on relevant thematic issues.

In its most recent report to the General Assembly, the working group described its activities in the context of Sustainable Development Goal 16, which focuses on the promotion of peaceful societies, justice and good governance. The report noted the “debilitating impact of non-State actors such as mercenaries, foreign fighters and PMSC [private military and security contractors] on the overall sustainable development agenda”.

The report, which focused considerable attention on the impact of mercenaries in Africa, said that “porous borders and movement of foreign fighters and mercenaries…contribute to the ongoing conflict” in the Central African Republic, where armed groups have nearly made the “State helpless to provide the needed support and security for its people” and where armed foreigners have entered the country to traffic in weapons. With regard to Côte d’Ivoire, it described how some young people, including children, who were recruited to fight in the conflicts in 2002 and 2011 “were reported to have become mercenaries subsequently on the basis of their extensive training and involvement in warfare”.

Key Issues and Options

A key issue for the Council is how mercenary activities have a negative impact on international peace and security and undermine national sovereignty in a way that weakens the capacity of states to protect their people. In this regard, the debate could provide an opportunity to explore what role the Council can play in conjunction with member states, regional and sub-regional organisations, and UN entities such as the working group on the use of mercenaries to tackle the security challenges associated with mercenarism.

Another issue is how to galvanise attention and action around this issue, similar to what has been done by the UN, including the Security Council, with regard to countering global terrorism. An option is for the Council to consider this issue on a more regular basis, perhaps in an annual meeting. Another alternative would be to hold an Arria-formula meeting with members of the working group on the use of mercenaries and other experts to explore the impact of mercenaries in specific country and regional cases on the Council’s agenda, and how the Council can address this problem more effectively in relevant outcomes. The Council could also consider the negative impact of mercenaries, where relevant, when it determines the designation criteria for targeted sanctions. 

Council Dynamics

A number of Council members recognise the threat posed by mercenaries to international peace and security. However, only three current Council members (Belgium, Equatorial Guinea, and Peru) are parties to the 1989 International Convention; Equatorial Guinea acceded to the treaty on 21 January 2019. The Convention reflects the view that foreign mercenaries can have a negative impact on conflict situations. One concern of some members has traditionally been that their own nationals accused of mercenary activities could face legal proceedings in other countries.  For example, when Belgium acceded to the International Convention, one of the reservations it made was that “No provision of the Convention should be interpreted as implying, for Belgium, an obligation to extradite Belgian nationals.”

The threat posed by mercenaries is of particular importance to the government of Equatorial Guinea, which is making the debate a signature event of its Council presidency. In December 2017, just before it entered the Council, the country reported that mercenaries from the Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan had attempted to overthrow the government. In an 11 January 2018 Council meeting on the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, the country’s ambassador, Anatolio Ndong Mba, referred to the incident, noting the importance of “vigilance and control of groups that sow insecurity and instability in several countries, on the part of the international community and the United Nations”. 

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UN Documents on Mercenary Groups

Security Council Meeting Record
11 January 2018S/PV.8156 This was a briefing by Special Representative and head of UNOWAS Mohamed Ibn Chambas on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the region.
General Assembly Documents
6 August 2018A/73/303 This was a report of the Working Group on Mercenaries in the context of Sustainable Development Goal 16.
29 September 2015A/HRC/RES/33/4 This was a Human Rights Council resolution that renewed the mandate of the Working Group on Mercenaries.