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 on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (referred to as the Working Group on the use of mercenaries) is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

IJRC Board of Directors Chair, Gabor Rona, is a current member of the Working Group.

The Working Group monitors the current and emerging trends of mercenaries and mercenary-related activities that impact human rights, including the right of peoples to self-determination. The Working Group also develops and presents proposals regarding standards aimed at filling gaps in the protection of human rights, compiles information on relevant domestic legislation, and seeks opinions and contributions from governments and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations on the issue of mercenaries and human rights.


Five independent experts make up the Working Group. The Working Group holds three sessions per year, with each session lasting five working days. The mandate of the Working Group lasts for a period of three years.

The UN Commission on Human Rights established the Working Group in 2005 with Resolution 2005/2. The Human Rights Council extended the mandate in 2008 with Resolution 7/21, in 2010 with Resolution 15/12, and in 2013 with Resolution 24/13.

In fulfilling its mandate, the Working Group undertakes country visits, communicates with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, and submits activity reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.

Country Visits

One important function of the Working Group is to conduct country visits, which it does on the basis of an invitation from the country concerned. Country visits provide the Working Group an opportunity to monitor mercenaries and their activities. The Working Group studies the impact of the activities of private companies offering military assistance, consultancy, and security services on the international market on the enjoyment of human rights. The Working Group also visits countries facing different degrees of hostilities, ranging from violent conflict to low-intensity or post-conflict situations. This approach allows the Working Group to form a comprehensive assessment of the operation of mercenaries in conflict situations.

The Working Group generally undertakes one to two visits per year, to States that have extended an invitation. View the list of previous country visits and the Working Group’s subsequent reports here.

More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.

Receiving Information & Complaints

The Working Group receives information and complaints about alleged violations of human rights in relation to the activities of mercenaries. Importantly, the Working Group does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation; rather, the Working Group raises the issue of concern with the relevant State.

The Working Group may contact the government concerned to invite comment on the allegation, seek clarification, remind the government of its international obligations, or request information on steps being taken by the government to redress the situation. Generally called “communications,” these exchanges with the government can take a variety of forms of varying degrees of significance. Specifically, the Working Group contacts a government through either an allegation letter or an urgent appeal, also called an urgent action.

The Working Group keeps confidential all communications to and from the government until it includes them in its reports to the Human Rights Council. The communications sent by the Working Group and other special procedures are also compiled in periodic reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at each of its regular sessions.

In all communications, the Working Group is careful not to draw any conclusions about the facts of the case. Instead, the Working Group simply presses for the government to ensure that human rights are not violated.

Allegation Letters

Generally, the Working Group sends an allegation letter in circumstances where the alleged violation has already occurred, or is not so pressing as to warrant sending an urgent appeal. An allegation letter generally contains a request for the government to clarify the substance of the allegation and to forward any information related to the allegation to the Working Group.

Urgent Appeals

The urgent appeals, or urgent action, procedure is reserved for cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that human rights violations are being perpetrated by mercenaries, as a result of mercenary-related activities, or of activities of private military and security companies. If it appears that the allegation letters procedure is unlikely to address the situation in a timely enough manner, the Working Group will send an urgent action to the government concerned.

Reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council

The Working Group reports annually to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are available on the Working Group’s Annual Reports webpage.


Complaints submitted to the Working Group should provide the information requested on its submission form, and include the following details:

  • identity of the alleged victim(s);
  • identity of the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation;
  • details of the incident perpetrated by mercenaries, private military and security companies, their employees, or pursuant to mercenary-related activities;
  • information concerning mercenaries, activities related to mercenaries, and/or private military or security activities;
  • any steps taken, including domestic  and international remedies, by the alleged victim(s) or their family member(s) or representatives to obtain redress; and
  • the identity of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, which will be kept confidential.

Complaints can be submitted by:

  • Mail:

Working Group on the use of mercenaries
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10

  • Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

To contact the Working Group with regard to another matter (not a complaint), use the above mailing address or the following email address: [email protected].