During its fifteenth session, held between 13 September and 1 October 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/15/L.31, which, among other things, reaffirmed that the use of mercenaries and their recruitment, financing, protection and training are causes for grave concern to all States and violate the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Among other things, the resolution also requested all States to exercise the utmost vigilance against any kind of recruitment, training, hiring or financing of mercenaries by private companies offering international military consultancy and security services, and to impose a specific ban on such companies intervening in armed conflicts or actions to destabilise constitutional regimes.
Resolution A/HRC/15/L.31 was adopted by a vote of 31 in favour, 13 against, and 2 abstentions. African States in favour of resolution A/HRC/15/L.31 included Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia. Of interest among of the five permanent, member states of the UN Security Council, France, the United Kingdom and the United States voted against this resolution. Both the United Kingdom and the United States have very strong links to Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs). These PMSCs are actively involved in the global market forces. Most of the PMSCs are contracted by the UK and the US worldwide, particularly conflict and post-conflict situations where they are rendering a wide range of security, military and related services.
In resolution A/HRC/15/L.31, the Human Rights Council condemned mercenary activities taking place in developing countries, particularly in areas of conflict, and the threat they pose to the integrity of and respect for the constitutional order of these countries and the exercise of the right to self-determination. As many conflicts are found in Africa, this resolution is very important for Africa. South Africa, on behalf of the Africa Group, was a co-sponsor of this resolution. South Africa has been notorious for breeding mercenaries in the past decade and for supplying ex-military forces to PMSCs the world over. 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 noted that some of these PMSCs were actively recruiting mercenaries to undertake security, military and related responsibilities in conflict situations, which was yet another cause for concern.
Of significance, resolution A/HRC/15/L.31 was adopted at time that the Working Group had made significant progress in developing a working text for a possible draft convention on PMSCs, which is currently being considered by States. To date, the Working Group has cooperated with a number of States during their visits, where it monitors mercenary and mercenary related activities in all their forms and manifestations, among other things. The most recent visit of the Working Group was to Equatorial Guinea from 16 to 20 August 2010, where there had been some 12 reported coup attempts involving mercenaries since 1979.
During the visit to Equatorial Guinea, which was its maiden country visit in Africa, the Working Group discussed the menace posed by mercenaries with the Government of Equatorial Guinea. The Working Group also considered the attempted coup of 2004 in Equatorial Guinea as a clear example of the link between the phenomenon of mercenaries and PMSCs as a means of violating the sovereignty of the State. It also noted that some of the mercenaries who were former PMSC personnel were still employed by a PMSC known as Meteoric Tactical Systems, which provided security to diplomats of Western Embassies in Baghdad, among which to the Ambassador of Switzerland.
The next country visit of the Working Group in Africa wll be to South Africa, where for the last two decades there have been serious concerns around mercenaries and the recruitment of South Africans to work in PMSCs involved in and out of the African continent. This visit will also come at a time that South Africa is still attempting to set up a legislative framework in the form of The Prohibition of Mercenary Activities and Regulation of Certain Activities in Country of Armed Conflict Act No. 27 of 2006 (the Act). Despite the fact that this Act was assented to by former President Thabo Mbeki on 12 November 2007, it is still not yet in operation pending a Proclamation in the Gazette by the President determining the date upon which the Act will come into operation. The South African government will be required to explain to the Working Group why a 2006 Act that was assented to in 2007 is still not in operation almost three years later.
During its visits to South Africa before the end of this year, it is hoped that the South African Government will also be in a position to share with the Working Group its role, if at all, in the release of Nick du Toit, theSouth African leader of the mercenaries who was sentenced to 34 years in jail for the 2004 attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. Du Toit was pardoned with three other South Africans by the Equatorial Guinea government on humanitarian grounds. South Africa's stance on the issue of mercenaries is very critical, as it has become clear that it has become a breeding ground for mercenary activities. In 2009, South African mercenaries were reportedly recruited to reinstate deposed Malagasy President Marc Ravalomanana. As to what action the South African government undertook to address the alleged involvement of its citizens in the coup plot remains shrouded in secrecy.
Through resolution A/HRC/15/L.31, the mandate of the Working Group has been extended for a period of three years, wherein it shall, among other things, continue to monitor mercenaries and mercenary-related activities in all their forms and manifestations, including PMSCs in different parts of the world, including instances where governments provide protection to individuals involved in mercenary activities. It is hoped that with the visit of the Working Group to South Africa, its critical mandate of elaborating a legally binding instrument on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the impact of the activities of PMSCs will be effectively popularised.
Written by: Sabelo Gumedze, Senior Researcher, Security Sector Governance Programme, ISS Pretoria