Published on Tuesday, December 23, 2008 by Inter Press Service
Mercenaries at Large in
by Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA - Mercenaries hired by private military and security companies are playing an increasingly broad range of roles in Latin America, such as guarding mines, borders, prisons, and now humanitarian aid, said the members of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries at a meeting in this Swiss city.
At the same time, some 3,000 Latin Americans, mainly Chileans, Peruvians, Colombians and Hondurans, are serving as mercenaries in conflict zones in
Assistance provided by a commando made up of former Israeli military intelligence experts has also helped the Colombian government deal heavy blows to the left-wing guerrillas, said Amada Benavídes de Pérez from Colombia, one of the five members of the U.N. 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.
The Working Group, created in 2005 by the U.N. Human Rights Commission (subsequently replaced by the U.N. Council on Human Rights), discussed the possibility of drawing up new international legal instruments to regulate the growing activities of private military and security companies, at their meeting last week.
The use of mercenaries contravenes the United Nations International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, which entered into force in 2001.
Colombia is the most critical case of the use of mercenaries in Latin America, said Benavídes, the former dean of the Human Rights Faculty at the Higher School of Public Administration in her country.
Information gathered by a group of Colombian academics from several universities and by non-governmental organisations has produced data from the victims themselves about what is really happening with regard to the use of mercenaries in
Services provided by private military and security companies cover a variety of roles.
First, there are the companies working in-country within the framework of the U.S.-financed and designed Plan
Personnel numbers are at times even greater, perhaps even double that figure, because every 15 days a rotation takes place and a new contingent arrives from the
The curious thing about this operation is that the private contractors enjoy the same diplomatic immunity as the members of the
"We have documented illegal acts and crimes committed by this group of contractors, but Bogotá cannot even investigate them because the bilateral agreement with
There are, therefore, at least 800 people in Colombian territory whom the government has no control over whatsoever, and who are working for Plan
These people, who do not stand out among the population because of their Latin American origins, live at
Benavídes recalled that when politician Ingrid Betancourt was freed in July after more than six years as a captive of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
The press reported at the time that the three U.S. contractors, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, who were captured by the guerrillas in 2003, worked for California Microwave Systems, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman which provided services to the U.S. Department of Defence collecting information on drug crops.
The same sources said that the FARC maintained that Howes, Stansell and Gonsalves were foreign spies working for the
A second type of mercenary presence in
There are risks involved in these activities because they are often carried out on lands belonging to indigenous or other local communities. The private security companies prevent access to these lands, and even access to water, Benavídes said.
The U.N. Working Group on the use of mercenaries has documented similar cases in
The third form of mercenary intervention in
Many of the military successes by government forces against the guerrillas have depended on military intelligence provided by the Israeli mercenaries, Benavídes said.
Fourth and last of the issues involving mercenaries and
Close to 3,000 Latin Americans now in
But it may happen that a Chilean recruitment agency sending mercenaries to
Neither would it come before the Uruguayan justice system, because the contract would not have been signed there but, say, in the
This example illustrates the legal vacuum existing in international law, which the U.N. Working Group is endeavouring to fill with the new, universal instrument they are studying, that is intended to cover the gaps in national legislations.
Colombia is a case in point, because it has regulations for national private security companies, but none at all for foreign companies of the same kind, Benavides told IPS.
An outstanding problem related to mercenaries is how to classify members of the far-right paramilitary groups that have been heavily active in
Benavídes told IPS that strictly speaking, paramilitaries cannot be mercenaries because they are not foreigners. However, she acknowledged that the majority of contractors working for private companies providing security to oil and mining firms are Colombian nationals.
Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs