UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that reports suggest there has been "a surge in the use of mercenaries," who are not only fighting in wars and illegally exploiting natural resources but are now "feeding off" transnational organized crime, terrorism and violent extremism.
The U.N. chief called for much broader support for regional and international conventions against the use of mercenaries and said those compacts need to be updated. He also called for prosecuting mercenaries and for strengthening efforts at preventing people, especially the young, from being recruited as mercenaries.
Guterres told the Security Council that while "the shadowy nature" of mercenaries makes data hard to come by, their impact is clear in the worsening of conflicts, weakened stability of countries, the undermining of the rule of law and the large numbers of people forced to flee their homes.
He said mercenary activities have "evolved over the years," pointing to "illicit activities and trafficking by terrorist and mercenary groups" operating in Africa's vast Sahel region and the alleged involvement of mercenaries in postelection violence in Ivory Coast in 2010.
Mercenaries and other foreign fighters have also committed "innumerable violations" of human rights and international humanitarian law against civilians in the Central African Republic, and mercenaries have suppressed herders trying to move along traditional routes on the border with Cameroon, Guterres said.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Richard Sezibera, whose country is the current chairman of the African Union, said mercenaries are not only involved in "active combat" but "we now see an increase in cyberattacks and industrial espionage carried out by mercenary groups in the comfort of their own homes."
He added that as "part of the worrying increase in trans-boundary criminal networks, some were financed with sophisticated communications and military equipment, and many (are) connected to global terrorist networks."
"They continue to evolve and innovate," Sezibera said of mercenaries. "We cannot and should not be static in our response."
The U.N. General Assembly adopted the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries in December 1989 and it entered into force in October 2001. But, Guterres said, only 35 countries are parties to it — and he urged all other U.N. member states to ratify it "without delay."
Mousa Faki Mahamat, who heads the African Union Commission, said an AU forum in October recommended that the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa, which was adopted in 1977 and came into effect in 1985, be revised and updated, including measures to ensure implementation and follow-up.
He said the AU is committed to fight "the scourge of mercenary activities" but this also requires international cooperation including the exchange of intelligence.
The Security Council meeting was presided over by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, which holds the body's rotating presidency. He took power in a military coup in 1979 and said his nation has been a victim "of five attempts at mercenary incursions" since oil was discovered in the 1990s, the latest in December 2017.
"Equatorial Guinea would like to alert the Security Council that mercenary groups continue to act with total impunity in Africa," Obiang said.
He urged the U.N., and especially the Security Council, to confront mercenaries just as it does terrorism and piracy "because these three phenomena are equivalent."