Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination


Methods of work

At its 38th session, the Working Group discussed and updated its working methods. Some key elements are found below.

A. Functioning of the Working Group

Chairperson-Rapporteur

At the November session, the members of the Working Group appoint the Chairperson-Rapporteur for one year taking due account of the need for rotation among the geographical regions. 

Working Group sessions

The Working Group meets three times per year, twice in Geneva and once in New York.

Generally, the sessions are held in closed meetings during which the Group covers a wide range of issues, including, inter alia, thematic work, communications and specific country engagement. During its sessions, the Working Group systematically engages with Member States, civil society, UN entities and other stakeholders.

Code of Conductfor Special Procedures Mandate-holders

The Working Group conducts its activities in line with the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-holders. Its work is guided by the Manual of Operations of the Special Procedures.  

B. The mandate of the Working Group

The mandate of the Working Group covers mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and private military and security companies, as determined by the Human Rights Council, most recently by way of resolution 42/9. The main axes of the resolution are:

  • participation in other subsidiary bodies of the Human Rights Council considering issues related to the use of mercenaries, mercenary-related activities, and private military and security companies;
  • strengthening of the international legal framework for the prevention and sanction of the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries;
  • study, monitor and identify new sources and causes, emerging issues, manifestations and trends with regard to mercenaries and mercenary-related activities in different parts of the world and their impact on human rights.

In the discharge of its mandate, the Working Group is guided by the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties and standards, and international humanitarian law instruments. Its members will consult with Member States and regional and international organizations, civil society, private sector actors and all other relevant stakeholders in order to gather information and seek their opinions and contributions.

C. Country Visits

The Working Group conducts two country visits per year following an invitation from the Government concerned. Three members of the Working Group will generally participate in each country mission. Following well-established practice, the Chairperson-Rapporteur will usually lead the delegation, and will communicate the composition of the visiting delegation to the Government concerned prior to the visit.

The Working Group places great importance on visiting countries and regions to assess the impact of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies on the enjoyment of human rights in the respective country. In seeking such visits, the Working Group takes into consideration the need for regional balance, the scope of its mandate and the themes of its annual reports.

Country visits are conducted in the spirit of constructive dialogue with States and all relevant stakeholders at the national level, including regional and other sub-national levels of government. The Working Group also aims to identify, exchange and promote good practices and lessons learned on the effective implementation of relevant codes of conducts and other mandate-related documents.

The Working Group submits reports on the findings of its visits to the September session of the Human Rights Council. These reports address concrete and constructive recommendations to the concerned Government and other relevant actors to address areas that may benefit from improvement.

D. Communications on alleged human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law

Within the framework of its mandate, the Working Group may receive information on alleged human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. A State, State organ, inter-governmental and/or non-governmental organization, or the individuals concerned, their families or their representatives, or any other relevant source may submit a communication to the Working Group. Individuals, groups or entities submitting information are invited to include as complete information as possible and to submit their information through an online form. For details on how to submit a communication to the Working Group, please consult https://spsubmission.ohchr.org/ and https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/SP/SPP_PresentationFlyer.pdf.

Based on this information and where deemed appropriate, the Working Group intervenes directly with Governments and other relevant actors, such as private military and security companies and their State and non-State clients. In such cases, the Working Group sends a letter to the concerned State and other concerned actors, as relevant, to draw their attention to the facts of the allegations made and the applicable international human rights norms and standards and relevant international humanitarian law.

In these letters, the Working Group raises allegations they have received regarding:

  • past violations and abuses – which can be the object of a letter of allegation;
  • ongoing or potential violations and abuses – which can be the object of a letter of allegation or an urgent appeal;
  • concerns relating to bills, legislation, policies or practices that do not comply with international human rights law and standards – that are raised in an 'other' letter.

In the case of Governments, the letter shall be transmitted through the Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva with a request for a reply within 60 days. Where relevant, the Working Group will send communications jointly with other special procedure mandates of the Human Rights Council.

Communications by the Working Group and other special procedures mandates are compiled in Communications Reports to the Human Rights Council. These reports contain summaries of the communications sent since the last reporting period, as well as links to the text of all communications sent and replies received reports.

E. Annual reports

The Working Group publishes two thematic reports annually containing concrete recommendations aimed at States and other relevant stakeholders. These reports are presented to the September session of the Human Rights Council and to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in October/November respectively.

F. Other activities

The Working Group convenes expert consultations, engages in advocacy and raises public awareness, and provides advice for technical cooperation. Its members also contribute to the development of international human rights standards and application of international humanitarian law principles in relation to mercenaries, mercenary-related activities and private military and security companies, such as the work of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework, without prejudging the nature thereof, relating to the activities of private military and security companies.

For any questions regarding the mandate, please contact mercenaries@ohchr.org.