Report on the phenomenon of foreign fighters and the possible linkages to mercenarism

19 August 2015
Working Group on the use of mercenaries
To the 70th session of the General Assembly in 2015


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.

This report is the result of a yearlong study by the Working Group on the phenomenon of foreign fighters. The study involved two closed expert group meetings (3 December 2014 and 5 March 2015 respectively), a panel (23 July 2015, see below), a country visit to Tunisia and the gathering of information obtained through a questionnaire to all Member States, relevant peacekeeping operations and field offices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On 23 July 2015, the Working Group organized a panel event on foreign fighters.

  • Flyer of the event: Flyer - Panel Event on Foreign Fighters
  • Concept note: Draft Concept Note for Panel Event on Foreign Fighters (New York, 23 July 2015)
  • Summary

    In this report, the Working Group revisits the concept of mercenarism in order to explore how its mandate corresponds to evolving phenomena that may be considered as contemporary forms of mercenarism or mercenary-related activities. The phenomenon of foreign fighters presents such an opportunity. It further prompts an assessment of the impact of the presence of these actors on human rights, in particular the right to self-determination.

    The report provides an overview of the similarities and differences between foreign fighters and mercenaries; and assesses the contemporary phenomenon of foreign fighters, including who they are, what motivates them and how they are recruited. Although the focus is on foreign fighters in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq, the report also takes stock of the presence of foreign fighters in other contemporary conflicts.

    The report also examines the measures taken in response to the foreign fighter phenomenon at the national and international levels, and their possible impact on human rights. The report also explores the need for less vague definitions when speaking of the difference between foreign fighters and mercenaries and makes recommendations for addressing the human rights impact of the foreign fighter phenomenon.

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