8456th Security Council Meeting: Threats to International Peace and Security

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04-Feb-2019 03:25:06
Better control of borders, private security firms key to stopping ‘guns for hire’, speakers say at Security Council debate on mercenary activities in Africa at 8456th meeting.

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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.

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