Mercenary Activities Undermine Rule of Law, Perpetuate Impunity, Secretary-General Stresses during Security Council Debate

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to a high-level debate of the Security Council on mercenary activities in Africa, in New York today:

Deseo dar las gracias a la Presidencia de Guinea Ecuatorial por haber organizado este debate de alto nivel sobre las actividades de los mercenarios como fuente de inseguridad y desestabilización en África y en particular de acuerdo con la nota de la Presidencia en África Central.  Saludo al Señor Presidente de la República por su presencia en esta sesión.

The use of mercenaries dates back through the ages.  From antiquity to the medieval era to the present day, those who fight for financial reward or other material compensation have been a near constant on the battlefield.  The shadowy nature of the practice makes data hard to come by.  Reports suggest a surge in the use of mercenaries and other foreign fighters.  While the numerical picture may be murky, the impacts of mercenaries today are all too clear.

The presence of mercenaries and other foreign fighters worsens conflict and threatens stability.  Some mercenaries go from war to war, plying their deadly trade with enormous firepower, little accountability and a complete disregard for international humanitarian law.  Mercenary activities undermine the rule of law and perpetuate impunity.  They abet the illegal and inequitable exploitation of a country’s natural resources.  They provoke large-scale displacement and intercommunal tension.  Even Machiavelli, famously tolerant of questionable behaviour, wrote in The Prince that mercenaries are “disunited, undisciplined, ambitious and faithless”.

The nature of mercenary activities has evolved over the years.  Today, they are exploiting and feeding off other ills such as transnational organized crime, terrorism and violent extremism.  In Africa, the focus of today’s discussion, mercenary activities remain a serious concern.  We have seen illicit activities and trafficking by terrorist and mercenary groups operating in the Sahel, as well as the alleged involvement of mercenaries in post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010.

Mercenaries and other foreign fighters have committed innumerable violations of human rights and humanitarian law against civilians in the Central African Republic.  They have also suppressed movements of herders along traditional routes, namely the border with Cameroon.  In retaliation for repeated attacks, pastoralists have hired other armed groups or rebels to protect themselves and their livestock, thereby fuelling the cycle of violence.  And Equatorial Guinea itself has reported serious attempts against its own Government.  Indeed, last year, Ambassador Anatolio Ndong Mba of Equatorial Guinea underscored to this Council the need for “vigilance and control of groups that sow insecurity and instability”.

Meeting these challenges requires action on many fronts.  First, we must bolster the legal regimes, globally and nationally.  Only 35 States are parties to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, adopted by the General Assembly in 1989.  Equatorial Guinea recently acceded to the Convention and will become the thirty-sixth party later this month.  Only three current members of the Security Council have done so.  I call on those States that remain outside the Convention to accede to or ratify it without delay.

The legal framework also includes important African instruments, including the [Organization of African Unity] Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa and the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons.  The United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa and the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Africa will continue to support implementation of these standards, which will help advance the African Union’s “Silencing the Guns by 2020” agenda.  Strengthening the legal regime also means bringing more precision to it.  The international legal definition of a mercenary is very narrow, and therefore poses a challenge to effective investigations and prosecutions.

Second, we need to increase bilateral, regional and international cooperation.  Cooperation on border management will be crucial in stemming the largely unhindered flow of weapons and foreign armed actors throughout Central Africa.  Such steps could include mixed border commissions, joint border security monitoring mechanisms and regular intelligence-sharing between national defence forces.  Cooperation will also be essential for building the capacity of national institutions responsible for justice, security and human rights to carry out these vital functions and to implement the relevant legal instruments.  A State must be able to exercise a monopoly on the use of force within its territory, with armed forces and police capable of protecting people while upholding the rule of law.

The strategic partnership between the United Nations and the African Union, the Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS) and countries in the region is vital.  I thank African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat for his excellent cooperation.  The United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa is a further part of the picture, and INTERPOL [the International Criminal Police Organization] is among the other organizations with an important role to play.

Third, we need to examine the political, economic, social and psychological factors that give rise to mercenary activities.  The United Nations Working Group on mercenaries has recommended a wide range of steps, including combatting exclusion, improving civic engagement, ensuring good governance, delivering equitable public services and ensuring protection for minorities and other vulnerable groups.  Enhanced efforts to create opportunities for young people will be critical for reducing the lure of mercenaries and the threat of radicalization.  We must also do more to empower women and to address the gender dimensions of mercenary activities.

Our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals can help us in all of these areas – yet another reason to accelerate those efforts.  The United Nations stands ready to continue to support Governments in tackling mercenary activities, including through deepening our dialogue with relevant regional organizations and national institutions.  I urge all countries to cooperate with the United Nations Working Group, including those the Group wishes to visit.  Together, let us strengthen our work across the spectrum of this challenge – from prevention to prosecution, and from mitigating the impacts of mercenary activities to addressing the root causes that give rise to them.

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