Private security firms involved in new forms of mercenary activity – UN experts

6 November 2007

A team of independent United Nations experts said today that a number of private security companies operating in conflict zones are engaging in new forms of mercenary activity, warning that States employing them could be liable for human rights violations committed by their personnel.

A team of independent United Nations experts said today that a number of private security companies operating in conflict zones are engaging in new forms of mercenary activity, warning that States employing them could be liable for human rights violations committed by their personnel.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries noted a significant increase in the number of private security companies operating in conflict-ridden areas, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a press release issued in Geneva.

The Group stated that, though heavily armed, the personnel employed by the companies are neither civilians nor combatants. “They represent a new form of mercenarism, similar to ‘irregular combatants,’ which itself is an unclear concept.”

States employing these services may be responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights committed by the personnel of such companies, the Group warned. This is especially true if the companies are empowered to exercise elements of governmental authority or are acting under governmental direction or control.

Considering how difficult it is for war-torn States to regulate private security companies, the Group said it believed that a significant part of that responsibility falls on States from where these companies export services. In that regard, it urged exporting States to avoid granting immunity to these companies and their personnel.

The Group voiced concern that the recruitment of former military personnel and ex-policemen as “security guards” in zones of armed conflict such as Iraq seems to be continuing.

It is also concerned that only 30 States have ratified the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, as well as by the lack of regulation at the regional and national levels regarding private military and security companies which operate without oversight and accountability.

Established in 2005, the Working Group is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities, headed by its Chairperson-Rapporteur, José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain). The other members of the Group are Najat al-Hajjaji (Libya), Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Alexander Nikitin (Russia) and Shaista Shameem (Fiji).

The Group will present its latest report to the General Assembly tomorrow.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.