From illicit trafficking in the Sahel, to post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire and innumerable abuses against civilians in the Central African Republic, mercenary activities in Africa are a serious concern and must command greater attention, senior officials told the Security Council today as they debated solutions to an often-invisible scourge.
The strategically located and resource-rich Central African region has become fertile ground for groups operating as “guns for hire” for all kinds of subversive activities, speakers said, especially trafficking in small arms and light weapons, poaching and terrorism. Weak State control over national territory, porous borders and the absence of coordinated measures to counteract their proliferation has only emboldened such groups to operate outside the law.
In opening remarks, Secretary-General António Guterres said countering their illicit behaviour requires bolstering legal regimes. He called on Governments to accede to the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries.
He also advocated greater bilateral, regional and international cooperation on border management, and efforts to understand the political, economic, social and psychological factors that give rise to mercenary activities. “Together, let us strengthen our work across the spectrum of this challenge,” he said.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said the continent’s history is punctuated by coups, armed conflict, interventions and attempts to seize control, with the most recent example in Equatorial Guinea, where an attempted coup involving foreign mercenaries was recently thwarted.
Speaking via video-conference from Addis Ababa, he recommended the establishment of a continental framework for the supervision of private security companies — an initiative on which the African Union is consulting with the United Nations — and better cooperation on intelligence and criminal prosecutions, without which efforts would not be effective.
When the floor was opened, high-level officials from around Africa said inattention to the threat posed by “soldiers of fortune” had led to significant material damage and loss of human life. The President of Equatorial Guinea said there had been five attempts to use this “diabolic form of aggression” to overthrow the legitimate Government and illegally seize its assets.
“These mercenaries attempted to assassinate me and my family in December 2017,” he said, urging the Council to confront mercenarism in the same manner as piracy and terrorism, and to find solutions that will boost Africa’s development — “in other words, really get to the bottom of it.”
On that point, the Russian Federation’s delegate said the overthrow of Libya’s Government destroyed the security of an entire region. He warned against using the same tactic elsewhere, notably in Mali, the Lake Chad Basin and the Great Lakes region.
Rwanda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation meanwhile said mercenaries are part of a worrying increase in transboundary criminal networks, some well financed with sophisticated military equipment and many connected to global terrorist networks. Several groups carry out cyberattacks and industrial espionage within the comfort of their homes. “We cannot and should not be static in our response.”
In that context, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister for Foreign Affairs pressed Governments to accede to the 1977 Organization of African Unity Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa, expressing concern that only 30 African countries had ratified it. Belgium’s delegate similarly emphasized that global instruments will have no impact if they are not applied at the national level.
Several delegates outlined actions to prevent mercenaries from gaining ground, with Chad’s delegate pointing to a “legal arsenal” to prosecute anyone involved in such acts, and a recent memorandum of understanding with Sudan, Niger and Libya to address security challenges arising in southern Libya. Congo’s delegate welcomed the new peace agreement signed in Khartoum between the Central African Republic Government and armed groups, stressing that confidence-building measures taken at regional and subregional levels foster lasting development. Sudan’s delegate, striking a note of caution, said that despite having signed a peace agreement, armed groups have returned and now engage in such crimes as extortion and banditry — a threat that requires fresh international action.
Amid such challenges, some speakers underscored the importance of distinguishing between mercenary groups working to destabilize constitutional order and legitimate providers of military and security services functioning in a clear national framework. The United Kingdom delegate welcomed the work of the Montreux Document Forum and the International Code of Conduct Association, urging States, companies and non-governmental organizations to recognize the Association’s certification of standards in their processes.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Indonesia, China, Poland, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Peru, South Africa, Kuwait, Gabon, Egypt and Djibouti.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 1:33 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that from antiquity to the present day, those fighting for financial reward have been a near constant on the battle field. While 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. Their presence 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,” he said. They abet the illegal and inequitable exploitation of a country’s natural resources, provoking large-scale displacement. Mercenary activities have evolved, and today, they feed off transnational organized crime, terrorism and violent extremism.
Turning to Africa, he drew attention to illicit trafficking by terrorist and mercenaries in the Sahel, notably their alleged involvement in post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire. Mercenaries and other foreign fighters have committed innumerable human rights violations in the Central African Republic, suppressing movements of herders along traditional border routes with Cameroon. In turn, pastoralists have hired armed groups to protect themselves and their livestock. Equatorial Guinea has reported attempts against its own Government, he said, with the Ambassador in 2018 underscoring to the Council the need for “vigilance and control” of groups sowing insecurity.
Meeting this challenge requires action, he said, first by bolstering legal regimes globally and nationally. Only 35 States are parties to the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. Only three current Council members have joined the Convention, he said, calling on those who had not done so to accede to or ratify it without delay. The framework also includes the Organization of African Unity (OAU) 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,” he said, as the international legal definition of a mercenary is narrow and thus poses a challenge to investigations and prosecutions.
Second, he advocated greater bilateral, regional and international cooperation, particularly on border management. Such steps could include mixed border commissions, joint border security monitoring and regular intelligence sharing between national defence forces. Cooperation will also be essential for building the capacity of national justice, security and human rights institutions. A State must be able to exercise a monopoly on the use of force within its territory. The strategic partnership between the United Nations and the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States is vital. The United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa is a further part of the picture, along with the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL).
He said it is also important to examine the political, economic, social and psychological factors that give rise to mercenary activities. The United Nations Working Group on the topic has recommended several steps, notably combating exclusion, improving civic engagement, ensuring good governance, delivering equitable public services and ensuring protection for minorities. Greater efforts to create opportunities for young people and empower women are also critical. “Our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals can help us in all of these areas,” he said, underscoring the Organization’s readiness to work with Governments by deepening its dialogue with regional organizations and national institutions alike. “Together, let us strengthen our work across the spectrum of this challenge,” he said, “from prevention to prosecution, and from mitigating the impacts of mercenary activities to addressing the root causes that give rise to them.”
MOUSSA FAKI MAHAMAT, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, speaking via video-conference from Addis Ababa, said that in the continent’s intensified efforts to promote peace, it is essential to address all sources of instability. “The issue of mercenary activities is certainly among the challenges we have to face,” he said, noting that the continent’s history is punctuated by coups, armed conflict, interventions and attempts to seize control of natural resources. Since the 1960s, in efforts to consolidate independence, some countries were confronted by these activities with deadly consequences — events that threatened their independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. In 1977, the OAU adopted the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa. With its entry into force in 1985, it established continent-wide rules on mercenary activities, and cooperation initiatives across Africa.
And yet, mercenary activities have persisted, he said, pointing to the most recent example in Equatorial Guinea, where an attempted coup involving foreign mercenaries was recently thwarted. Noting that the African Union expressed solidarity with Equatorial Guinea following that attempt, he said porous borders and the transnational nature of the threat have favoured the mobilization of foreign fighters. The proliferation of private security companies — often legal entities dealing with Governments — also required attention. The Second Africa Forum on Security Sector Reform, organized by the African Union Commission in October 2018, recommended revising the 1977 Convention, adapting it to current realities and granting it a mechanism for implementation and follow-up. To address the activities of private companies, the Forum recommended the establishment of a continental framework for supervision, an initiative on which the African Union Commission is consulting with the United Nations.
Next, international instruments must be strengthened, he said, by expediting the signature and ratification of existing accords and ensuring their implementation. He expressed concern that the anti-mercenary Convention has been signed and ratified by only by a limited number of countries. Better cooperation on intelligence and criminal prosecutions was also needed, without which actions would not be effective. Efforts to help States address mercenary activities are also needed, notably governance in the security sector and assistance for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in countries emerging from conflict. Underscoring that the fight against mercenaries must be part of efforts to promote peace on the continent, he said the African Union is engaged on that front as part of the Silencing the Guns by 2020 campaign and he welcomed United Nations assistance in that effort. The bloc will fully play its role in combating mercenary activities and mobilize Member States to that end, he said, calling for cooperation and increased international support.
RICHARD SEZIBERA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Rwanda, said that the issue of mercenaries has a long history in Africa and has presented a grave threat to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States. The OAU anti-mercenary Convention of 1977 was a reaction to this threat. It is important to note the difference between the role played by providers of military and security services functioning within a clear national legal framework and mercenary groups operating clandestinely to provide military support to groups determined to destabilize constitutional order, he stressed.
Mercenaries are part of a worrying increase in transboundary criminal networks, some well financed with sophisticated community and military equipment and many connected to global terrorist networks, he continued. Today, mercenaries that are members of such groups carry out cyberattacks and industrial espionage within the comfort of their homes. “They continue to evolve and innovate,” he said, adding: “We cannot and should not be static in our response.” He called for existing frameworks of the African Union and also the United Nations anti-mercenary Convention to be updated to cope with emerging realities.
TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO, President of Equatorial Guinea, said that Africa is in a very difficult situation as its faces the threat of mercenary activities, poverty, natural disasters and other phenomena. These factors are interconnected and fuel each other. Africa continues to be the least developed continent; mercenaries are among the possible causes of this underdevelopment. Eradicating mercenarism has become part and parcel of Africa’s sovereignty and its control over its natural resources. “Almost all the conflicts in Africa have been affected by these soldiers of fortune,” he stressed. The persistent presence of mercenaries has created immense challenges such as human rights violations, and has led to misery, looting and the overthrow of legally elected Governments. Central Africa has been a particular target as it is rich in natural resources.
“The activities of mercenaries have been devastating,” he stressed, adding that his country became attractive to mercenaries with the discovery of oil there in the 1990s. The activity of mercenaries could lead to the spilling of blood among brethren, he warned, condemning all mercenary activities on the continent. There have been five attempts to invade Equatorial Guinea through the use of this “diabolic form of aggression”, with the ultimate goal to overthrow the legitimate Government and gain control over its resources. “These mercenaries attempted to assassinate me and my family in December 2017,” he said, adding that they continue to act with total impunity in Africa.
He urged the Council to confront mercenarism in the way it confronts piracy and terrorism; update mercenary legislation; analyse the phenomenon in depth and look for lasting solutions that could boost development of Africa — “in other words, really get to the bottom of it”. There is a vacuum in international legislation when it comes to prosecuting mercenaries. He underscored the importance of international and regional conventions against the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries, and all relevant United Nations resolutions. Contractual relationships between legitimate Governments and private, legal military security contractors cannot be equated with the activities of unscrupulous groups that are banned, he added.
MARCEL AMON-TANOH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Côte d’Ivoire, said widespread mercenary activities are characterized by the formation of armed groups ready to “fight for the highest bidder”. Several African countries have consistently been victims of mercenary activities, as defined by the OAU’s anti-mercenary Convention of 1977. Today, such activities are a major concern, particularly in Central Africa, where an appetite for natural resources exists alongside political-social fault-lines and cross-border conflict. Illicit mining and trade in natural resources, aided by weakened State authority, also fosters mercenary activities. Such armed groups prosper in areas uncontrolled by State authorities. He drew attention to the Secretary-General’s reports, which find that armed groups and mercenaries have become involved in the illicit trade and exploitation of natural resources. A 2017 report by the Working Group on the use of mercenaries finds that these actors have benefited from a weakened security situation in Central Africa.
Acts such as the imposition of illegal taxes in the Central African Republic hinder development, fuel conflict and undermine peacebuilding efforts, he said, stressing: “Our response must be a collective one” encompassing national, regional and international dimensions. He welcomed efforts to end such activities and punish the perpetrators, noting the General Assembly’s adoption of the anti-mercenary Convention in 1989, followed by the 2005 establishment of the Working Group by the then-Human Rights Commission. However, he expressed concern about the low interest in the Convention — the main binding treaty on the topic — encouraging all countries that have not done so to sign and ratify that accord. Regionally, the OAU anti-mercenary Convention has been ratified by only 30 African countries and he likewise urged greater participation. He advocated greater cooperation with a view to finding common solutions to securing common borders. Welcoming significant progress in fighting mercenaries, he said the United Nations anti-mercenary Convention made such activities subject to mandatory international jurisdiction, which is important to fighting impunity. The effective implementation of international law is essential, as real progress can only be made through collective efforts.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) shared concerns that stability in Central Africa is undermined by mercenaries that foment conflict. Private companies acting without oversight have played a destabilizing role throughout history. Around the world, such private actors are conducting operations, including in Syria, where private military actors are attempting to seize territory, and in the Central African Republic, where they are attempting to exploit mining resources. The focus must remain on terrorism and violent extremist activity in Africa, where Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and others have increased the lethality of their attacks, he said, citing the 15 January attack in Nairobi. State fragility has left many more people vulnerable to terrorism and violent extremism, making support for transparency and the rule of law essential. Given the growing youth population, it is essential to offer them economic opportunities to thrive and prosper. The adoption of policies that improve the business climate must be encouraged.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said it is no secret that “soldiers of fortune” are a hard-hitting reality in many modern armed conflicts. The use of mercenaries is often directly linked to the interference of the internal affairs of States. On the African continent, foreign mercenaries have played a particularly nefarious role. Even after gaining independence, young African States had to deal with colonial Powers wilfully embracing violations of international law for economic gain. He said he shared the concerns of the Government of Equatorial Guinea, adding that conflicts in Africa often become a breeding ground for illegal activity.
For example, overthrowing Libya’s Government destroyed the security of an entire region, he said, asking: “What did this short-sighted policy in Libya lead to?” Warning against using the same tactic elsewhere, he expressed particular concern for the situations in Mali, the Lake Chad Basin and the Great Lakes region. To eradicate the mercenary phenomenon, it is essential to strengthen State institutions and the security sector, improve socioeconomic conditions, and provide international assistance, but only at the request of the concerned Government. The threats and challenges faced by Central Africa are interconnected. “Destabilizing the situation in one country could affect the security situation in neighbouring countries,” he warned. The African Union’s anti-mercenary Convention of 1977 has led to curbing this phenomenon on the continent.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that mercenaries, involved in illegitimate operations, have exacerbated numerous conflicts in Africa. “These guns for hire, who are driven by monetary gains but at times also ideology, have been used by some States, non-State actors as well as businesses,” he stressed. Expressing deep concern for the danger that the activities of mercenaries constitute to international peace and security, he said that it is important that States have the full capacity and are equipped to ensure rule of law and justice within their borders. Effective State prosecution of mercenary activity sets credible deterrence. Indonesia’s support to Africa has been relentless. Presently, around 1,757 Indonesian troops and police are deployed in United Nations peacekeeping missions on the continent. He urged all countries to exercise high vigilance against the menace posed by mercenaries. Private military and security company personnel worldwide must also be held fully accountable for any illegal actions.
MA ZHAOXU (China) said mercenary activities threaten international peace and security, causing heavy loss of life and property, and affecting economic development of African countries. Such activities interfere in their internal affairs, encroaching on their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and fuelling conflict. Stressing that the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries are clear violations of international law, he advocated abiding by the Charter of the United Nations, implementing relevant General Assembly resolutions and respecting the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference. African countries must be supported in that regard. He called for greater regional cooperation, with the international community coordinating actions to help African countries eliminate the threats posed by mercenary activities. Partnerships between the United Nations and the African Union must be increased. Through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the international community should help African countries by offering training and equipment, in line with national needs. For their part, regional countries can cooperate on border control, information sharing and in addressing the illicit trafficking of small and light weapons. Integrated policies should be put in place, with resources from various fields pooled in efforts to strengthen law enforcement. He also called for international support to help African countries reduce poverty and eliminate the root causes of conflict.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said weak legal systems, poverty, unemployment and lack of good governance and rule of law create environments conducive to mercenary-related activities. Urging regional organizations to continue to promote the rule of law and the principles of security, territorial integrity and peaceful cooperation — as well as the institutional development of States — as the most effective remedies, she warned against simply introducing new legal systems into rapidly changing environments. Existing instruments remain relevant, but their universal applicability and effectiveness require more attention. Recalling that Poland was one of the co-founders of the Montreux Document, she said her delegation remains deeply concerned about the illegal use of private military companies which fail to follow the basic principles of international law. She also voiced concern about decades of internal and international tensions and the rise of fundamentalism and religious extremism fuelled by the proliferation of military groups.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said mercenary activities are fostered by institutional weakness, limitations in the international framework and perverse incentives for personal enrichment. Often, the activities of private security companies threaten human rights, and thus, global peace and security, as they have engaged in executions, sexual slavery, rape, forced disappearance, displacement, the arbitrary destruction of cultural goods and forced enlistment of children as child soldiers. He commended work by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on the use of mercenaries, whose recent report makes recommendations for improving the international legal framework to prevent the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries; strengthening institutions and regulations, notably by devising a legally binding instrument for military and security firms; increasing State cooperation in the prosecution and punishment of mercenary crimes; addressing the diverse causes of conflict, especially poverty, unemployment and natural resource exploitation; and responding to the use of children in armed conflict by focusing on rehabilitation and prevention measures.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) recognized the deeply negative effects that contemporary forms of mercenary activities can have, citing also the link between these activities and barriers to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Kingdom is committed to supporting its African partners in achieving their vision for a more prosperous continent. Its efforts focus on providing support to building the capacity of security and justice institutions, and training for African peacekeepers, as well as aligning development support with measures for Africa’s long-term stability. In addition, the United Kingdom is stimulating investment to build infrastructure and create jobs, supporting Africa’s youth and helping to empower women so that Africa’s development is inclusive. That holistic approach must be applied to the modern mercenary phenomenon, which is not only a source but also a symptom of instability. Mercenary groups thrive amid fragile State authority, weak rule of law and poverty. Some groups have links to small arms and light weapons’ traffickers, whose actions undercut the rules-based order.
In such cases, the Council should bring its full range of tools to bear, including sanctions, he said, stressing that a distinction must also be made between mercenaries and properly regulated private security companies, which provide essential services that support security in complex environments around the world. He welcomed the work of the Montreux Document Forum and the International Code of Conduct Association in that regard, urging States, companies and non-governmental organizations to recognize the Association’s certification of standards in their processes. The United Kingdom is troubled by reports of some private military companies engaging in destabilizing activities in countries, including the Central African Republic, Syria and Venezuela, which are on the Council’s agenda. He cautioned that private sector organizations must not cross the line between legitimate service provision and destabilizing activities, noting that there may be a role for Council subcommittees in determining whether such groups have exacerbated instability.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said mercenaries represent a genuine threat to peace and security in Africa. He touched upon the role of private security companies, stating that while their activities are subject to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers and the Montreux Document, they cannot be permitted to destabilize those countries in which they are deployed. Underscoring the role of prevention, he said mercenaries are not only a source of conflict, but also a symptom of the instability and fragility of certain States. In that regard, he welcomed initiatives by the African Union and subregional organizations to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063, create free-trade zones and combat the proliferation and illegal trade in light weapons. He went on to state that in those countries where mercenary groups are active, foreign fighters must be included in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration strategies. Given the threat involved, only international cooperation between States, regional organizations and the United Nations can result in effective action to address the mercenary phenomenon, he said.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said tackling the challenges of the destabilizing effects and root causes of mercenary activities requires a more nuanced and long-term approach, including by enabling State actors and security forces to effectively provide security for their populations. Other strategies involve stemming the spread of illicit weapons and ammunition, designating sanctions criteria to include mercenary activities and enhancing national and international criminal justice systems to ensure accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses. Highlighting a related debate differentiating the actions of mercenaries and private military and security companies, he underscored a need to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law by promoting transparency, the rule of law and the effective regulation of such commercial service providers. Also needed is a doubling of efforts to secure space in which young people can work peacefully for their own future, reducing the appeal of mercenary groups as an employer for disillusioned youths. Similarly, efforts must focus on addressing the conditions conducive to mercenarism in the Central African region and beyond, he said, adding that the issue of mercenaries serves as an example of the Council’s urgent need to move towards a more thematic, preventive and cross-cutting discussion of threats to international peace and security.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said mercenaries generate instability, which has been a particular problem on the African continent. The scant presence of the State can contribute to the expansion of this phenomenon. Situations of conflict are used by mercenaries to develop their illicit activities. Hence, preventing conflict is critical and requires strengthening local and national institutions and social cohesion. Weak institutions, the prevalence of authoritarian regimes and economic instability are fertile ground for instability. It is critical to address these causes through building and strengthening the capacity institutions that promote rule of law, justice and human rights. Institutions must be inclusive and young people and children must be protected from recruitment. He welcomed the African Union’s initiative “Silencing the Guns by 2020” for its promotion of peace and security throughout the continent. Strengthening border security is also fundamental in curbing financing for mercenaries.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said that it is an undisputed fact that over the years, Africa has been at the receiving end of mercenary activities, which have undermined peace, security and stability on the continent. Several African countries have been targets of ongoing attempts by mercenary groups to overthrow legitimate and democratically-elected Governments. The recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries violates the principle of the United Nations Charter and those of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. He underscored the need for unequivocally implementing all international and continental legislation and instruments, including the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries and the 1977 Organization of African Unity Convention for the elimination of mercenarism in Africa. South Africa’s Parliament passed legislation in 1998 that regulated the rendering of foreign military assistance by its nationals. The Council should encourage all Member States to commit to prevent their nationals and foreigners in their territories from engaging in mercenary activities. He went on to call on the international community to put in place a regulatory framework on the new forms of mercenary acts by private security companies.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that there is no doubt that the phenomenon of using mercenaries in conflict threatens peace and security at the national, regional and international level. It is also linked with terrorism and organized crime. Mercenary activities in certain countries are “totally illegal” and “totally indifferent to international treaties of war”. It is deplorable that certain Governments and non-State actors continue to recruit and use mercenaries to cause chaos and instigate war. Reports issued by non-governmental organizations indicate that poverty is a factor in the recruitment of mercenaries. Spending on the phenomenon has reached $100 billion and is expected to double in the next several years. Moreover, mercenary operations are attracted to areas rich in natural resources. And yet, the international community remains reluctant to address this dangerous scourge, he said, welcoming initiatives to take up the matter in the General Assembly. States must also adopt strict measures against individuals who violate international human rights and humanitarian law. Rule of law and access to opportunity also serve as safeguards to recruitment.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said mercenaries are a destabilizing factor for many of the countries that figure on the Security Council’s agenda. However, the problem is not limited to Africa, he said, describing maritime piracy as a form of mercenary activity. Calling on all Member States to ratify without delay the 1989 International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, he emphasized that international instruments will have no impact if they are not applied at the national level. That includes international humanitarian law, human rights law and instruments emanating from regional organizations, he said, stressing also the need for greater cooperation among States. For its part, the Council has tools, notably targeted sanctions, that can be used to touch the interests of those who command or organize mercenary activities. For Belgium, the way to address the problem is through transparency and international cooperation, he said.
ABDU RAZZAQ GUY KAMBOGO, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Regional Integration of Gabon, said mercenaries are a destabilizing force in Africa, especially Central Africa, as recalled by recent events in Equatorial Guinea and their wider “odious” effects on political stability and economic development. Underscoring Gabon’s respect for relevant international legal instruments and the importance of respecting each country’s sovereignty, he encouraged all Central African States to continue to enhance cooperation with their neighbours, while providing coordinated responses to the challenge of mercenaries, terrorism and violent extremism. Only through frank cooperation will such threats be effectively countered. Gabon, in chairing the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), will continue to work for peacebuilding and stability in the subregion, he said, recalling that Central Africa has “amazing” institutional architecture to spearhead prevention and management efforts, which includes the Council for Peace and Security in Africa and the early warning system. Recalling that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons has promoted poaching, a main funding source for mercenary activities, he said that scourge will not be curbed without sustained international support.
MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt) said greater efforts are needed to combat the destabilizing effects of non-State actors on peace and stability, stressing that his country, as Chair of the African Union, will work tirelessly to eliminate the problem as part of broader efforts to maintain peace and stability on the continent. Egypt has always attached importance to the implementation of Council resolutions outlining sanctions, arms embargos and asset freezes aimed at preventing armed groups’ access to weapons. He underscored the importance of enhancing and promoting national institutions, notably national security forces, to enable States to exercise full control over their territories. He called for greater regional and international cooperation by exchanging information about terrorism and mercenary groups, noting that Egypt, during its Security Council tenure, participated in negotiations on resolution 2368 (2017) on combating terrorism financing, and submitted a draft on preventing terrorist access to weapons, unanimously adopted as resolution 2370 (2017). Emphasizing the importance of technical cooperation in strengthening border control, he said Egypt is ready to help African countries rebuild their nations and end poverty, as part of broader efforts to address the causes of mercenary activities. He called on all countries to sign and implement the 1989 anti-mercenary Convention and the 1977 OAU anti-mercenary Convention, stressing that ending such activities is linked to endeavours under the “Silencing the Guns by 2020” initiative and he looked forward to the Council’s consideration of that topic later in February.
AMBROISINE KPONGO (Central African Republic) noted that the various rebellions that have taken place in her country have included mercenaries. This has further complicated any attempt to find a solution to the conflict. In Africa, natural resources have increasingly become the deep-rooted cause of conflict. Armed conflict becomes increasingly intractable when it is fuelled by the looting of natural resources. Therefore, it is difficult not to establish a link between the proliferation of mercenaries and the wealth of States that have become their targets. The issue of mercenary activities is now the subject of the General Assembly, but the resources allocated to deal with the scourge remain insufficient. If this persists, the proliferation of mercenaries and light arms and small weapons will continue to fuel conflict on the continent, she reiterated.
ALI ALIFEI MOUSTAPHA (Chad) said it has become increasingly difficult to fight the factors of insecurity and instability. The weakening of institutions and the collapse of States has considerably accentuated the threat. This should be a major concern of the international community, he added, stressing that the implementation of legal instruments is a matter of urgency. Chad has adopted a “legal arsenal” to prosecute anyone involved in mercenary acts. The ratification of the OAU anti-mercenary Convention is also part of this initiative. Chad continues to work with its bilateral, regional and international partners. With Sudan, Chad has achieved significant improvements in border security. Chad, Sudan, Niger and Libya have also recently signed a memorandum of understanding to respond to security challenges arising in the south of Libya. The situation there threatens to destabilize countries in the region and offers fertile ground for the establishment of armed groups, including mercenaries. He called on the international community to pay particular attention to fragile regions, namely the Sahel and Great Lakes region.
RAYMOND SEGE BALÉ (Congo) said Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic are recent victims of predatory mercenary activities. Welcoming the new peace agreement signed in Khartoum between the Central African Republic Government and armed groups, he expressed hope that the country can now live in peace and reconciliation and play its part in regional development. Noting that mercenary activities are often examined on the margins of debates on terrorism and maritime piracy, and do not receive the needed attention, he said the uncontrolled movement of illegal groups throughout Central Africa has had a negative impact on confidence. It is well-known that promoting confidence-building measures at regional and subregional levels fosters lasting development. Conversely, it is easy for mercenaries to incite coup d’états, destabilize legitimate institutions, perpetrate terrorist acts, and participate alongside mutineers with the goal of overthrowing legitimate Governments.
Stressing that the issue is a major security concern for most African countries and must command greater attention, he said mercenary activities were the focus of the forty-sixth meeting of the United Nations Standing Advisory Committee on Security Questions in Central Africa, held in Brazzaville, where a declaration was adopted calling on Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) members to take steps to reduce the risks of mercenary infiltration in the subregion. In addition, issues such as maritime piracy, terrorist groups and transnational organized crime must be seen in the context of pastoralism, he said, noting that regional and subregional cooperation must involve improved disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts to prevent former combatants from resuming their service as mercenaries.
In that context, he said the Central African Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and all Parts and Components that can be used for their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly — the “Kinshasa Convention” — expresses States’ commitment to prevent those weapons from multiplying in domestic or border conflicts. However, he pointed out that Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Conventions does not consider mercenary activity a serious crime, whereas the 1989 OAU Convention criminalizes it. While some countries have adapted their legislation and bylaws to reflect their will to ensure better governance, all instruments must be adapted to account for the evolution of mercenary behaviour. It is important that national legislation be aligned with those efforts, along with enhanced regional and subregional cooperation.
SAADA DAHER HASSAN (Djibouti) reiterated her delegation’s principled position and commitment against violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, adding that the phenomenon of mercenarism constitutes a menace to peace, security and stability and is a driver of destabilization in Africa. Emphasizing that the Council and the United Nations should contribute to elaborating responses to eradicating mercenarism, she said Member States should also redouble their political will — including by fighting the recruitment, instruction, engagement and financing of mercenaries. Voicing concern over the rise of terrorist groups, violent extremism and transnational organized crime — especially trafficking in humans and drugs — in several regions of Africa, she said efforts to combat those phenomena should include the elaboration and financing of peacekeeping missions and special political missions.
OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan) said that mercenary groups continue to exploit different conflicts in Africa. They generate income through human and arms trafficking, and other forms of banditry. They exploit weak Governments and institutions in order to survive. Mercenaries remain a grave threat to international peace and security. “We see this in Central Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a great harm to humanity,” he said. Applauding the President of Equatorial Guinea for his call on the international community to fight this phenomenon, he called on the African Union to work harder towards that end. He underscored the link between child recruitment and child abuse, calling for more attention to be paid to this issue during the anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The peace agreement in his country has not curbed mercenary activities, he said, noting that armed groups have returned and now practice serious crimes like extortion and banditry. This threat requires the international community to decisively deal with these groups. Strengthening the capacities and work of expert groups in conducting investigations and joint border-control efforts is essential.