Mercenaries are soldiers who offer their services to Governments and groups in other country for a substantial monetary reward. They operate in three types of situation: international armed conflicts, which include wars of national liberation, internal armed conflicts, and situations in which no armed conflict is taking place. Private security and military assistance companies can interfere with the right of self-determination essentially in two ways: intervening in a State’s internal affairs and placing a financial burden on the Government that hires them, curtailing its capacity to promote development.

Over the past 20 years, the United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights have adopted over a hundred resolutions condemning the activities of mercenaries and those who use them.
The basic mandate of the Working Group is to “identify the characteristics and methods of mercenarism as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.”

The Human Rights Council requested the Working Group to undertake different activities:

a)To elaborate standards, guidelines and basic principles for the protection of human rights, in particular the right of peoples to self-determination, while facing current and emergent threats posed by mercenaries or mercenary-related activities
b)To seek opinions and contributions from Governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations on questions relating to its mandate
c)To monitor mercenaries and mercenary-related activities in all their forms and manifestations in different parts of the world
d)To study and identify sources and causes, emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding mercenaries or mercenary-related activities and their impact on human rights, particularly on the right of peoples to self-determination
e)To monitor and study the effects on the enjoyment of human rights, particularly the right of peoples to self-determination, of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market, and to prepare a draft of international basic principles that encourage respect for human rights by those companies in their activities.

Methods of work


  • The Working Group will conduct country visits when a situation requires such action.

  • The opinions of the Working Group on individual cases or situations will be incorporated in its report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

  • Implementation of the mandate: the mission of the Working Group is guided by the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international instruments. It includes different activities:

  • Look at issues, manifestations and trends of mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and activities of private military and private security companies which have an impact on human rights in general, including the right of peoples to self-determination.

  • Elaborate concrete proposals and advisory opinions on possible new standards, general guidelines or basic principles to encourage further protection of human rights against current and emergent threats from mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and activities of private military and security companies; strengthen the international legal framework for the prevention and sanction of the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries; compile, analyze, publish and disseminate national, regional and international legislation on mercenarism and related activities. It will also look into the possibility of utilizing the Internet for public accessibility of these materials.

  • Identify and prepare studies on emerging issues, manifestations and trends regarding mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and activities of private military and security companies.

  • Examine situations where mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and non-State actors, including private military and private security companies, impede the enjoyment of human rights or interfere with the self-determination of peoples and the constitutional and social order of States, either as part of security measures, or in armed conflict or in any other situation. Situations where children are used as mercenaries or involved in mercenary-related activities constitute a specific category.

  • Seek the opinions of and contributions from, and engage in consultations with Governments, relevant State organs, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as non-State actors, academic institutions and individuals.

c)Submission of communications to the Working Group and consideration of the communications

Individual communications shall be submitted in writing and addressed to the Secretariat, giving the family name, first name and address of the sender and, if desired, and means of contact, as well as any other information making it possible to identify the person, as well as his/her legal status. As far as possible, each case shall be presented separately. In order to facilitate the Group's work, it is hoped that communications will be submitted using the model questionnaire available from the Working Group's secretariat.

Communications may be addressed to the Working Group by a State, State organ, intergovernmental and non-governmental organization (NGO), or the individuals concerned, their families or their representatives, or any other relevant source.
In order to ensure mutual cooperation, the reply of the Government concerned will be transmitted to the source for its further comments. Governments are requested to reply within 60 days after having carried out such inquiries as may be appropriate so as to furnish the Group with the fullest possible information.

Action taken on communications

For those cases where private military or private security companies are involved, the opinions rendered by the Group will be transmitted to the Government concerned with a copy, as appropriate, to the company involved. Three weeks after their transmittal to the Government they shall be sent to the source.

The Working Group takes all appropriate measures to ensure that Governments inform it of the follow-up action taken on the recommendations made, thus enabling it to keep the Council informed of the progress made and of any difficulties encountered in implementing the recommendations, as well as of any failure to take action.

d)Urgent action procedures will be undertakes in the following cases:

  • Where there are sufficiently reliable allegations that human rights violations are being perpetrated by mercenaries, as a result of mercenary-related activity or of activities of private military and security companies;

  • There are particular circumstances that warrant an urgent action, even when no such threat is alleged to exist.

e)Coordination with other human rights mechanisms: the Working Group will collaborate with other United Nations bodies working in the field of human rights.

In order to achieve its mission, the Working Group will undertake country-visits to monitor mercenaries, mercenary-related activities in all their forms and manifestations, as well as to study the effects of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human rights.

Visits are conducted with the official invitation and in cooperation with the Member State of the concerned country; and for assessment and investigation, whether regional, country-specific, or situational, in the concerned country. The Working Group intends to visit countries with different relevance to conflict situations; with a view to provide a comprehensive assessment by the Working Group on the phenomenon of PMSCs operational in violent, low-intensity and post conflict situations.

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