GENEVA, Sept. 15, 2017 – A United Nations expert group has urged States to establish a comprehensive, legally binding instrument to regulate private military and security companies (PMSCs).

The call from the UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries comes after a four-year global study of national laws found they were not strong or consistent enough to deal with the issue.

“Our global study, which covers 60 States from all regions of the world, shows that there are more regulatory gaps than good practices in national laws concerning the industry,” said Gabor Rona, head of the Working Group, in his presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

“This is a growth industry in which the use of force is common, often in conflict situations where State governance is weak and the rule of law is compromised,” he added. “The global study shows that States approach regulation of these private firms in an inconsistent and patchy manner.”

Grave human rights violations have often been committed in past conflicts at the hands of contractors who may not be properly trained and vetted, and do not answer to a military chain of command. The lack of robust regulation leads to impunity for war crimes and other violations of international law, and leaves victims unable to obtain redress.

“Our main concern is not about whether PMSC operations are legal, but with the lack of strong legal frameworks in the industry to safeguard against human rights violations,” said Mr. Rona. “Where such violations take place, it is essential to bring perpetrators to justice and provide effective remedies for victims.”

The Working Group has repeatedly called for an international legally binding instrument to address issues such as the extra-territorial activities of companies, and to require that PMSC personnel be trained in human rights and humanitarian law standards.

“In an industry where companies commonly operate across borders, an international instrument would establish important and uniform obligations for States and PMSCs,” Mr. Rona noted.

The Working Group acknowledged the positive aspects of initiatives such as the Montreux Document and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, but cautioned that the former applied only in times of armed conflict, and the latter was a voluntary initiative that did not feature accountability or enforceable remedies for victims.

Mr. Rona also presented the Working Group’s findings on its visit to the Central African Republic last year (A/HRC/36/47/Add.1), urging vigilance against mercenaries and foreign fighters who had committed human rights violations during and since the armed conflicts of 2003 and 2013.

The group noted that most mercenaries and foreign fighters had come from neighbouring countries through porous borders, and posed an ongoing threat to national stability as they had joined numerous armed groups. Strong regional co-operation was critical to solve the problem, the group said.

The Working Group urged the Government and international partners to prioritize the protection of civilians and bring perpetrators to justice, including mercenaries and foreign fighters who had committed human rights violations on all sides of past conflicts.

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination was established in July 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate was further extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008. The Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world. The Chairperson-Rapporteur is Mr. Gabor Rona (United States of America). Other members are Elżbieta Karska (Poland) Ms. Patricia Arias (Chile), Mr. Anton Katz (South Africa), and Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen).

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.