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Ghana needs tougher action on mercenaries and private security to safeguard stability, UN group finds

A UN expert group on mercenaries has urged Ghana to introduce tougher measures to regulate the private security industry, warning that the spread of vigilante groups and armed individuals threatens the country’s peace and stability.

“Ghana is often referred to as an ‘oasis of peace’ in the region and has so far escaped the scourge of mercenarism and foreign armed groups, even becoming a place of refuge for many who have fled armed conflicts and instability in their home countries,” said Anton Katz, one member of the delegation of the UN Working Group on Mercenaries, who took part in an official mission to Ghana from 8-15 December.

“We commend Ghana for achieving this peace and stability. It is crucial that it continues, and addressing current security threats can help achieve this,” he said.

Mr. Katz and fellow delegation member Patricia Arias highlighted many positive practices which form the cornerstone of Ghana’s peace and stability, but raised concerns about the huge number of private security companies and the spread of vigilante groups and armed individuals, including those collaborating with foreigners in illegal mining, known as “galamsey.

An estimated 1.3 million illegal weapons and reported arms smuggling into the country had worsened these security threats, they added.

“We have seen many times how countries like Ghana, with rich natural resources and porous borders, can fall prey to mercenarism and mercenary-related activities when the security situation is undermined by violence - often at the hands of armed groups,” said Ms. Arias.

“Combating these threats effectively now can prevent potential tensions and conflicts that may open the door to mercenary activities.”

The experts expressed concern at the number of illegal private security firms operating in the country, despite an existing law to regulate them. Government figures suggest there are some 400 groups employing around 450,000 people, in a country where the police force numbers around 33,000, they noted.

The delegation highlighted issues including a lack of data and the arming of some personnel, saying an independent oversight body or mechanism was crucial to protect against potential human rights abuses.

“The ratio between police and private security personnel, even if the latter are unarmed, is among the most worrying I’ve seen in any country,” said Ms. Arias.

“We are also concerned that many private security personnel do not undergo proper training and often do not satisfy the requisite standards of education. Human rights training does not normally appear to be a common requirement.”

The experts called for strong measures to rein in vigilante groups or so-called “foot soldiers”, who affiliated themselves with various political parties and posed a real threat to national security. These groups were becoming difficult to manage, particularly during election periods, and had sometimes acted in violent mobs, even disrupting a court case and freeing the defendants, the delegation said.

The Working Group said the galamsey or illegal miners included foreigners from neighbouring countries and other regions including Asia and Europe. Some were reportedly armed and were damaging the environment while also being embroiled in dangerous confrontations with local communities and law enforcement agents.

The Government’s recent Operation Vanguard was seen as a potentially effective solution, but the experts stressed the importance of ensuring that all police and military personnel incorporated human rights standards in their operations.

The Working Group praised Ghana’s “exemplary” record in adopting laws that promoted, respected and protected human rights, and urged their full implementation.

The delegation held meetings in Accra and Takoradi with the national authorities, civil society organizations, academics, companies from the extractive industry and private security companies.

The Working Group will present a full report on its visit to the Human Rights Council in 2018.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
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