14 March 1997


14 March 1997

Press Release



GENEVA, 13 March (UN Information Service) -- Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur Enrique Bernales Ballesteros called this afternoon for national and international steps to curb the use of mercenaries.

Presenting a report to the Commission as it debated the exercise of the right to self-determination, Mr. Bernales Ballesteros said new legislation should make the "recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries" illegal, as such activities violated human rights, sovereignty and the self-determination of peoples. He added that hundreds of European and African mercenaries were being used by the Zairian government against fighters led by Laurent Kabila in the east of the country, and called for "urgent steps" to remove mercenaries from the region.

Also taking the floor to address the question of self-determination were the representatives of Iraq and Portugal, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization and the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation.

The Commission also continued to hear reports on Israel's occupation of Arab territories, with the representative of Bangladesh expressing concern over Israeli measures which threatened to "pull the Middle East back into a spiral of uncertainty and chaos".

The representatives of Morocco, Azerbaijan, Syria and Armenia exercised their right of reply.

When it reconvenes tomorrow the Commission will start discussions on the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. It will also hear an address from the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia. The High Commissioner for Human Rights will also be present to respond to any comments from regional groups.

Report on Use of Mercenaries

As it continued to consider the exercise of the right to self-determination, the Commission took up a report from its Special Rapporteur on the use of mercenaries, Enrique Bernales Ballesteros (document E/CN.4/1997/24). The report was prepared according to Commission resolutions 1995/5 and 1196/113. These resolutions, among other things, reaffirmed that the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries should be considered of grave concern and urged all States to prevent mercenaries from using any part of their territory to destabilize any sovereign States. States which had yet to accede to or ratify the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries were urged to take early action to do so.

The Special Rapporteur concludes in the document that mercenary activities are a form of violence used in the last 40 years to hamper the exercise the right to self-determination of peoples and to violate human rights. Mercenary activity has been increasing and has been observed in serious criminal activity, including terrorist attacks and drug and arms trafficking.

The stability of constitutionally established governments and international peace and security, along with the enjoyment of human rights and the self-determination of peoples, are seriously impaired by mercenary activities, continues the report. Mercenary activity and careers should be banned and existing international provisions relating to mercenaries to ensure that these criminal acts are discontinued.

The Special Rapporteur recounts that a visit to South Africa gave him an opportunity to ascertain that mercenary activity linked to apartheid no longer exists. However, mercenary activities in Africa are increasingly taking the form of security companies which provide military training and security services in return for money and mining and energy concessions.

Drawing attention to the connection between terrorism and mercenary activities, the Special Rapporteur calls on the Commission to reaffirm its condemnation of these activities and suggest to all States to incorporate practical measures in their national legislation to prohibit the use of their territory for the recruitment, training, assembly, transit, financing and use of mercenaries.

Presenting his report, Special Rapporteur ENRIQUE BERNALES BALLESTEROS said the use of mercenaries in various parts of the world was a persistent problem. Such activity should be prohibited in international and national law, with existing loopholes closed.

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During his visit to South Africa, he had met with the chairman of Executive Outcomes, a legally registered company which illustrated the new form of mercenary activity described in his report, said the Special Rapporteur. This company reflected a new model of company selling security services on international markets.

Mr. BERNALES BALLESTEROS said there were hundreds of European and African mercenaries being used by the Zairean government in the east of the country to fight the Democratic Alliance of Laurent Kabila. The violence unleashed in eastern Zaire was a very serious test for peace, and urgent steps should be taken to remove these mercenaries from the region.


JAMID MAJID (Bangladesh) reiterated his country's support for the realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to return to their homeland and to establish an independent State on their national soil with Jerusalem as its capital. Bangladesh was concerned about the continued violation of human rights in the occupied territories; occupation could only compound any human rights situation. Bangladesh had also voiced its concern over continued building of illegal settlements in the West Bank; it appeared that Israel was trying to change the demographic composition of Jerusalem by building another new settlement. This provocative decision could "throw the region back to a spiral of uncertainty and chaos" and jeopardize whatever progress had been achieved in the Middle East peace process. Bangladesh hoped the Commission would call on Israel to take necessary measures to guarantee the protection of human rights in the occupied territories.

MOHAMMAD AL-DOURI (Iraq) said United Nations resolutions provided for the equality of the rights of nations and guaranteed their self-determination, including their right to take political positions freely and without foreign interference and carry out their economic, social and cultural development. The right to self-determination also guaranteed that no one should take measures to deny a people its rights through the use of force. All the measures taken against Iraq since 1990 completely contradicted these rights as guaranteed by international law. Iraq was the victim of serious violations at the hands of the Western bloc of countries led by the United States. Among those violations were direct military intervention in northern Iraq aimed at dividing the country; the imposition of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, and the continuation of the economic siege of the country. All these issues made clear the extent of the violations of Iraq's right to self-determination. It was the responsibility of the Commission to condemn these violations and call for an end to these illegal actions which threatened the security, unity and sovereignty of Iraq.

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GONÇALO DE SANTA CLARA GOMES (Portugal) said that as the administrating Power of the non-self-governing territory of East Timor, his country has repeatedly drawn attention to the unjust denial of the East Timorese people's right to self-determination since December 1975. The dialogue between the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the Secretary-General had been encouraging, but it was regrettable that the will and the courage to take decisive steps in this matter had fallen short of expectations. Indeed, there was continued non-compliance in East Timor with the right to self-determination and a lack of respect of fundamental human rights. He asked members of the Commission to continue encouraging the ongoing dialogue between the interested parties and among the East Timorese.

AMEENAH ODEH, of the International Commission of Jurists, said she would relay a realistic picture of the tragic situation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which needed the Commission's urgent response. The continued Israeli measures against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem were a blatant violation of international humanitarian laws. Among these measures were the killing of 78 Palestinians by Israel in 1996, torture of detainees leading to the death of 42 persons held in Israeli prisons, and the detention of more than 4,000 Palestinians. Other violations were closure of the territories, settlement activities, the confiscation of Palestinian territories and the "Judaization" of occupied Jerusalem. Israel also restricted freedom of travel for Palestinians, established curfews as a measure of collective punishment and stopped hundreds of Palestinian students from going to university. Her group called on the international community to pressure Israel to stop violating the human rights of Palestinians. Israel should withdraw from all occupied Palestinian territories.

MASOOMA ALI, of the Afro-Asian People's Solidarity Organization, said some advocates of self-determination were trying to distort this very basic human right to permit groups to decide on their own that they were a separate nation. Such ideas had been voiced by nation States when they related to groups residing in countries they considered adversaries or wished to destabilize. Using religion, ethnicity, race or rigid ideologies to create new subgroups and pretending that they had the right to self-determination was not a prescription for betterment. Self-determination was a right for peoples living under colonial and alien domination -- it did not apply to peoples already organized in the form of a State. Minorities needed to be assured of their rights and to be represented in the structures of power and governance, but this should not be achieved at the expense of the established rights of others.

RIYAZ PUNJABI, of the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said that in this era of democracy and human rights, the right to self-determination of peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation needed to be enforced and implemented quite forcefully. However, this right could not be stretched beyond the proportions set out by the United

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Nations and international law. The issue of self-determination needed to be adjusted in pluri-ethnic, pluri-religious and pluri-lingual societies; that right could not be interpreted to the extent of dismemberment of States. The increasing demands of self-determination based on considerations of religion would take mankind back to the age when tribe fought against tribe and armies clashed in the name of religion. The strengths of stable borders and nation States needed to be emphasized.

VERENA GRAF, of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was particularly precarious. The current cease-fire in the region had come after several years of war between Armenians and Azerbaijanis resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of combatants and civilians on both sides. In 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh had declared independence and had since then begun the reconstruction of the country. The Commission should initiate activities which could ensure that the right to self-determination of the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh was respected. In Kosovo, on the other hand, the Albanian population no longer enjoyed the autonomy it had held until 1989. In 1991, Kosovo had declared its independence, forming a Parliament and choosing a President following a free and fair elections in 1992.

Right of Reply NACER BENJELLOUN-TOUIMI (Morocco) said he was responding to statements made by the non-governmental groups France-Libertés and Centre Europe-Tiers Monde (CETIM). Morocco appreciated the role of non-governmental organizations in the protection of human rights, but found the two organizations partial to the other side of the Saharan problem. They said Morocco continued to block the implementation of the United Nations settlement plan for the Sahara. But Morocco was clearly committed to continue this process. The representatives of the two respectable organizations ought to be "a little more objective and impartial". He wondered how CETIM could talk of an international conspiracy and accuse two former Secretaries-General of bias. CETIM's arguments were arrogant and flimsy. How then, after making such biased allegations, could they offer to be mediators?

TOFIK MOUSSAEV (Azerbaijan) said two non-governmental organizations this morning -- the Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples and the Association of Democratic Lawyers -- and one this afternoon -- the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples -- had brought into question the sovereignty and inviolability of the borders of Azerbaijan. The recourse to arms and the so-called "rights" of the Armenian population of the region had been condemned in different fora and by resolutions of the Security Council. The Nagorno-Karabakh region enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, and the Government of Azerbaijan wished to reach a peaceful conclusion. Meanwhile, Armenian troops were currently occupying 20 per cent of the region. This conflict had resulted in the deaths of 15,000 civilians and led to a refugee movement of around one million people.

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NSEIR GHASSAN (Syria) said the representative of the United States had claimed this morning there were three items on the agenda concerning Israel. There was actually only one such item, 4, which spoke of human rights violations in the Israeli-occupied Arab territories. Item 7 referred to the right of peoples to self-determination and applied to all peoples. Item 10 referred to the continuing Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in disregard of United Nations resolutions demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal.

KAREN NAZARIAN (Armenia) said part of the unacceptable current status of Nagorno-Karabakh was that the people there were facing permanent threats of genocide and deportation. At the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Summit in Lisbon, the Armenian delegation had adopted a stand dictated by the attempts at genocide of the Armenian population perpetrated by the Azeri Government.

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For information media. Not an official record.