What's In Blue

Posted Fri 1 Feb 2019

Debate on Mercenary Activity as a Source of Insecurity and Destabilization in Africa

On Monday (4 February), there will be a high-level debate in the Security Council on “Mercenary activities as a source of insecurity and destabilization in Africa”. The Central African sub-region will be a focus of the discussion. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea will preside. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, are expected to brief. No formal outcome is anticipated.

Equatorial Guinea has prepared a concept note for the meeting, which states that mercenary groups and their illicit activities “represent a serious threat to the independence, sovereignty, security, territorial integrity, constitutional order, stability and peaceful development of many vulnerable nations”. In particular, the note refers to the “rising threat” of mercenary activities to countries in the central African sub-region (as well as beyond), and maintains that the lack of an effective international response to such activities could destabilise the sub-region and lead to more long-term conflicts. It says that the debate will provide an opportunity to hear different views on how mercenarism undermines international peace and security, and how current forums to address this issue (such as the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries) can be strengthened.

Equatorial Guinea further proposes a series of questions in the concept note that could help guide the discussion. Among others, these include:

  • How can the Security Council and the UN limit the capacity of mercenaries to erode the sovereignty of nations?
  • Are the legal instruments to address mercenary activity still relevant to the current nature of this situation?
  • What steps can states take to prevent their nationals from taking part in the “organization, the execution or the financing of illegal and/or illegitimate activities aimed at destabilizing or overthrowing governments”?
  • How does potential intervention by mercenaries divert effort and resources of vulnerable governments from social, political and development activities?

A number of member states recognise the threat of mercenaries to international peace and security. At Monday’s debate, some may argue that countries need to be more responsible for the activities of their nationals who participate in mercenary activities abroad. There may also be some discussion of the importance of building the security and legal capacities of states to deal more effectively with the challenges posed by mercenaries.

The relationship between mercenaries and peace and security 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”.

It further appears that the topic of this debate is closely linked to the high-level open debate that Equatorial Guinea is hosting later in the month on the AU initiative on Silencing the Guns in Africa, which is intended to focus on the challenges of creating a conflict-free Africa. Both initiatives are broadly focused on enhancing peace and security by mitigating violent conflict and promoting human rights in Africa.

Mercenarism is an issue commonly dealt with in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, but not the Security Council. Some UN member states find the work of the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries controversial, in large part because it also explores the activities of private military and security companies that they believe play a constructive role and that, they say, is beyond the scope of the Group’s mandate. In this regard, Equatorial Guinea’s concept note asserts that “[D]uly established contractual relations, in line with current international legality between legitimate governments and private security or defense companies legally established and recognized in their respective countries are not the subject of discussion that this Concept Note covers.” Nevertheless, concerns about conflating the activities of private military companies and those of mercenaries could be raised by some in Monday’s meeting.

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