UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - There has been an “alarming resurgence” in the use of mercenaries in the past year, according to U.N. experts who cited events in Libya and Ivory Coast and called for action to halt the trend.
A five-person U.N. panel on mercenaries, in a report to the General Assembly, also renewed its call for increased regulation of what it called the “ever-expanding activities” of private military and security companies.
“In the last year, we have seen an alarming resurgence of the use of mercenaries in armed conflict — often in new and novel ways,” the group’s chair, Faiza Patel, said.
“In both (Ivory Coast) and Libya, the (panel) is deeply concerned about alleged mercenary involvement in serious human rights violations, such as summary executions, enforced disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions.”
The panel “encourages states to cooperate in order to ensure that mercenaries are arrested and tried,” Patel said in an address Monday to the General Assembly’s human rights committee.
She cited reports that former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo hired some 4,500 Liberian mercenaries in a failed attempt to beat off the forces of rival Alassane Ouattara, who according to U.N. figures beat him in an election a year ago. Gbagbo was ousted in April.
In Libya, she noted that the U.N. Human Rights Council had concluded foreigners from neighboring African countries and possibly Eastern Europe had taken part in the country’s civil war and committed rights abuses, especially fighters for ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Patel told reporters Tuesday her group would visit both Libya and Ivory Coast within the next few months.
Use of mercenaries is outlawed by a 1989 U.N. convention, but only 32 countries are party to it. In a written report to the General Assembly, the U.N. panel urged countries that had not joined to do so “as a matter of urgency.”
The group also urged countries to address the problem of private military and security firms, an industry Patel said could be worth anything from $20 billion to $100 billion per year and is being increasingly used by governments, companies and even the United Nations.
The issue was dramatized by the 2007 killing of at least 14 civilians in Iraq, which has been blamed on security guards of the U.S. firm Blackwater, since renamed Xe Services. The guards say they fired in self-defence in the incident.
“The potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability,” Patel said.
The U.N. panel has drafted a proposed convention that would define what activities such companies could carry out, obligate states to set up national registration and licensing schemes, and set up an international monitoring mechanism.
U.N. member states are currently studying the draft. An intergovernmental working group set up by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council is due to hold its next meeting in January, Patel said.
“There’s a fair amount of agreement that you do need regulation of these companies, that the kinds of activities that they’re doing are such that they do pose risks to human rights,” she told journalists.
But whereas some countries wanted tough international regulation, others favoured simply a code of conduct and national legislation, Patel said.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman