Report on the evolution of the phenomena of mercenaries and foreign fighters
Working Group on the use of mercenaries
To the 71st session of the General Assembly in 2016
Twice a year, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries issues calls for inputs to inform thematic studies to be presented at the Human Rights Council in its September session and at the General Assembly in October.
The Working Group has studied the issue of foreign fighters since 2014, including through public panels and meetings of experts, reports and country visits (e.g. Tunisia, see
A/HRC/33/43/Add.1; Belgium, see
A/HRC/33/43/Add.2; Ukraine, see
A/HRC/33/43/Add.3; and the European Union, see
In a previous report to the General Assembly (A/70/330), the Working Group examined possible linkages between mercenaries and foreign fighters and their impact on human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination.
On 14 April 2016, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries organized a panel event in Geneva focusing on foreign fighters and new forms of mercenarism. As indicated in the
concept note and the
agenda, the panel aimed at discussing several questions, including:
- How has mercenarism evolved?
- What conditions give rise to changes in mercenarism?
- What core criteria allow us to identify mercenaries?
- Do these criteria, notably motivation, apply to today’s foreign fighters?
- What does the classification of mercenarism mean for accountability?
- What does the classification of mercenarism mean for access to remedy for victims or related human rights violations?
Video of the Panel Event
Working Group on the use of mercenaries - Panel Event: Foreign Fighters
In this report, the Working Group extends that analysis from a historical perspective, tracing the evolution of the phenomena of mercenarism and foreign fighters and thus allowing for a closer examination of similarities and differences in the motivations, recruitment and regulation of both types of actors.
The report covers: (a) the definitions of mercenaries and foreign fighters; (b) the status of mercenaries and foreign fighters in international law; (c) the domestic legal regulation of foreign fighters; (d) the historical evolution of mercenaries and foreign fighters; (e) historical lessons; (f) possible avenues of accountability and remedy for victims of human rights violations; (g) the implications for self-determination; and (h) proposed conclusions and recommendations on how to address the issue of foreign fighters.
The impacts on human rights and the implications for accountability and remedy are also assessed and compared. In so doing, the Working Group seeks to highlight the common nature of the two sets of actors and to develop new thinking on accountability for violations by foreign fighters that draws upon the experience and regulation of mercenaries and other mercenary-related activity.