UN rights experts on use of mercenaries weigh ‘increasing activity’ of foreign fighters

23 July 2015

The United Nations expert group on the use of mercenaries today convened a discussion at UN Headquarters in New York to address the issue of the increasing activity of foreign fighters – particularly towards understanding their motivations – and its impact on human rights.

“The panel [discussion] allowed us to build on the knowledge we have been gaining about this growing and critical concern over the last months, benefitting from the work of other experts, said Elzbieta Karska, who currently heads the Geneva-based expert body, formally known as the

Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.

“We also hope to take away concrete recommendations for countering the negative impact of foreign fighters on human rights,” he added during a press conference she gave with Mr. Gabor Rona, also a member of the Group.

“We are particularly interested in understanding the motivations of foreign fighters and how these may link to mercenaries, related recruitment practices, as well as the human rights implications of foreign fighters and associated laws and policies,” Ms. Karska.

The study by the five-strong expert body has involved so far a mission to Tunisia from 1 to 8 July 2015, two expert meetings, and information gathered through a questionnaire sent to all UN Member States, relevant UN peacekeeping operations and field offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In Tunisia, the experts met with the Ministries of foreign affairs, national defence, interior, justice, women and children, and parliamentary commission, as well as with prosecutors and detainees, and representatives of civil society, associations, and municipal bodies.

Indeed, the number of Tunisian militants flocking to join the hostilities in Syria and Iraq is one of the highest among those traveling to fight alongside extremists in the Middle East’s two most dogged conflicts, the Working Group warned on July 10.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mr. Gabor Rona said that if voluntary mechanisms like the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers – a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to clarify international standards for the private security industry and improve security companies’ oversight and accountability – were “good, but insufficient.”

“What we need is a legally binding international instrument,” he stressed.

The Working Group was established in July 2005 to monitor mercenaries and mercenary-related activities, as well as study and identify sources and causes, emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding such activities and their impact on human rights, particularly on the right of peoples to self-determination.


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