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Comoros must address past mercenaries’ impact on present

Comoros must address past mercenaries’ impact on present human rights situation – UN experts

GENEVA/MORONI (16 May 2014) - Ending a nine-day official visit to Comoros today, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries called upon the Government to prioritize effective governance and respect for human rights in order to move forward from a past tainted by mercenarism.

“Over the past three decades, Comoros’ painful and complex history has been marked by more than 20 coups or attempted coups d’etat involving mercenaries,” said the Chairperson of the Working Group, Patricia Arias, at the end of the visit which took place from 8 to 16 May at the invitation of the Government.

“Although many Comorians seem to view mercenarism as a phenomenon of the past, during our visit, we noted that today’s social, political and economic struggles are intrinsically linked to the upheavals caused by this past instability,” she added.

Multiple coups were instigated when Comoros became independent from France in 1975. A long period of instability ensued, worsened by separatist divisions. Many of those who met the delegation of the Working Group expressed the view that mercenarism and separatism were used to destabilize the country, particularly in the early days of independence. The contentious issue of Mayotte was also repeatedly raised as an important factor in the country’s difficult past.

The UN experts noted that a number of issues, including weak state institutions and a severe lack of resources, result - directly or indirectly - from this past mercenarism and have a clear impact on the enjoyment of economic, social, civil and political rights by Comorian people.

The issue of impunity is also of concern, noted the experts. “Despite the heavy involvement of mercenaries in Comoros’ turbulent history, we were informed that not a single one has been convicted to date,” stated the experts. The Working Group also noted that difficulties in obtaining information from the countries of origin of mercenaries contributed to the lack of accountability.

Many Comorians met by the Working Group stated that the relative stability experienced by the country since 2001, and particularly since 2009, is due to the Government’s decision to amend the Constitution and allow for the rotation of the presidency among Comoros’ different islands. The rotation rule has been seen to counter the problem of separatism and threats of attempted coup d’états.
Despite these positives developments, the Working Group stressed the need to strengthen State institutions, including the judicial system.

“Comoros should adopt preventive strategies against mercenarism by strengthening the country’s legal framework, and by developing institutional capacity. Government officials need to be trained and evaluated,” said Gabor Rona, a member of the Working Group.

“What the country needs now is to adopt a strong legislative framework, improve the functioning of governmental entities and enhance respect for human rights. This combined strategy will help prevent mercenarism and other grave offences that may threaten the stability of the state,” he said.

In line with its mandate, the Working Group also looked into the issue of private security companies in the country. Noting that there is no legislation to regulate the establishment and operation of such companies, the UN experts urged the Government to take prompt action to fill in this legislative gap.

They also urged the Government to ratify the UN Convention on mercenaries as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A complete report on the Working Group’s visit to Comoros including specific recommendations to the Government will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014. The recommendations will be aimed at assisting the Government to better protect human rights, particularly the right of its people to self-determination.

ENDS

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