|Faiza Patel, head of the UN expert group, said states need to cooperate to eliminate the use of mercenaries [EPA]
A UN expert group warned of an alarming resurgence in the use of mercenaries and a major expansion in military and security companies operating without regulation or accountability.
The five-member working group on the use of mercenaries said in a report to the UN General Assembly that mercenary forces in Libya and Ivory Coast reportedly were involved in committing serious human rights violations - as were some contractors for military and security companies working in Iraq and elsewhere.
Faiza Patel, who heads the working group, told a news conference on Tuesday that states should cooperate to eliminate the use of mercenaries and regulate the activities of military and security companies.
"Recent events in Africa clearly demonstrate that problems posed by mercenaries are still a live issue," she said, adding that these hired foreign fighters are being used in new and novel ways.
Patel said there is considerable evidence that former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo used some 4,500 Liberian mercenaries to avoid leaving office after losing a 2010 election.
In Libya, she said, there were widespread reports that foreign fighters allegedly recruited from neighbouring African countries and Eastern Europe by Muammar Gaddafi's government were used to crack down on demonstrations earlier this year.
"Mercenaries continue to be recruited and active in several parts of the world," the report said. "Mercenary activities often constitute threats to national and even regional peace and security. They also have a serious impact on the right of peoples to self-determination and the enjoyment of human rights."
The working group urged states to arrest and prosecute mercenaries alleged to have committed serious rights violations.
Between 30 and 40 countries are parties to the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, and the group urged all other nations to ratify the treaty.
As for military and security companies, Patel said their ever-expanding activities in an increasing number of countries around the world raise challenges because security is a state responsibility and outsourcing it to private contractors "creates risk for human rights."
Patel, a Pakistani lawyer working at the Brennan Center for Justice and New York University Law School, said it's difficult to gauge the extent of the private military and security industry worldwide, with estimates ranging from $20 bn to $100 bn annually.
In addition to governments, she said, non-governmental organizations, private companies and the United Nations also use their services.
Patel said the solution is a legally binding international convention that makes clear what activities can and cannot be undertaken by these companies.