Instability a risk in use of mercenaries – UN expert

Many suspected mercenaries found in Libya are now in jail. Picture: Getty

Many suspected mercenaries found in Libya are now in jail. Picture: Getty

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THE growing use of mercenaries around the globe threatens more humanitarian crises as both security and human rights are further undermines, a United Nations expert has warned.

Anton Katz, an expert on private forces, cited the use of thousands of mercenaries by the embattled regime of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi during the 2011 uprising to overthrow him as an example of the destabilising use of guns for hire.

In his report to the UN General Assembly, Mr Katz said: “Recent events in several parts of the world clearly demonstrate that mercenaries remain a threat not only to security, but also to human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination. We continue to call on states to co-operate in eliminating this phenomenon.”

His report cited a case where a number of suspected Liberian mercenaries have been charged with murder, rape and arson during an apparent attempt to destabilise the Ivory Coast.

The use of mercenaries ties in with the flourishing demand for private military forces and security companies, which are taking over many roles that were the preserve of national police or armed forces. Mr Katz estimated that global spending on private forces was growing by 7.4 per cent a year, and could reach $244 billion by 2016.

His report said a number of suspected mercenaries, some from Eastern Europe and Africa, brought in to Libya by Gaddafi in 2011 to try to crush the uprising were now in detention. About 7,000 to 8,000 are still detained in Libya, and UN experts have reported that some appear to have been tortured.

More recently, rebels in Syria have in the past month published pictures of captured ID documents which indicate private security contractors from Russia are fighting in the country on the side of president Bashar al-Assad’s government.

In the past year, Cuba, France and Montenegro have reported cases of mercenaries convicted in their courts, the report said.

America remains the world’s biggest user of private security contractors spending, the report claims, $138bn a year on them. This figure has remained impervious to cuts to the nation’s defence budget. In Afghanistan in March, there were 18,000 private security personnel, compared with 65,700 US troops.

The surge of money into the sector has fuelled what has often been described as the “privatisation of war”, and prompted growing concerns over the role and accountability of private contractors. Not subject to the rules applying to members of a nation’s armed forces, they often fall into a murky legal area, which has at times made it difficult to hold them responsible for their actions.

In 2007, employees of the now rebranded US private military company Blackwater shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad – but none of the staff involved went on trial in Iraq.

Mr Katz said of the difficulties in holding private military and security staff responsible for their actions: “These limitations are worsened by the trans­national nature of the firms, and the difficulties in ensuring accountability for any human rights violations.”

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