…There are 450,000 private security personnel and 33,000 police officers
The United Nations Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries has warned Ghana of the potential security threat that the very high number of private security personnel in comparison to the number of police personnel poses to the country.
The delegation of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries which conducted an official visit to Ghana, from December 8 to 15 2017 found that there are 400 registered private security companies in the country with a total number of 450,000 personnel.
Speaking to journalists at a press briefing after the visit Friday December 15, Ms Patricia Arias, a member of the delegation said, the Group was informed that in Ghana there are 400 registered private security companies with 450,000 personnel as compared to 33,000 police personnel.
“No real figure of private security companies operating illegally, but there are many in existence,” she said.
Private security companies in Ghana are regulated under the Police Service Regulation of 1992 and administered by the Ministry of the Interior.
“The Working Group is concerned with the sheer number of private security personnel in comparison with the number of police personnel. It is also concerned with the number of private security companies operating throughout the country illegally,” she said.
According to Ms Arias, there is lack of an effective system to oversee these companies.
“There is the need to systematically vet company personnel to ensure they have proper training, including training in human rights. The likelihood that private security personnel carrying out unmonitored operations are the problems raised with government, it is possible the number of private security people in the country is higher than what has been reported. There is need to regulate their activities,” she said.
The Group pointed out that the lack of digitised systems to keep track of private security personnel operations and data need to be addressed.
The Group notes that of all the private companies operating in the country, only two have signed up to the international Code of Conduct Association which obliges private security companies to abide by good practices including human rights principles.
“The presence of partially foreign owned companies in Ghana are also common,” she said, and the Group encourages Ghana to ensure that they are also in good standing and do not involve individuals with criminal backgrounds or have committed human rights violations.
“The Working Group knows there is real need to establish an independent oversight body or mechanism to oversee the industry and to ensure that their operations are according to law and that they do not engage in criminal activities or human rights violations,” she said.
Ghana: an oasis of peace
Acknowledging Ghana as an oasis of peace for citizens in the region who seek refuge, she said the peace and stability in the country makes Ghana the choice for refugees, adding that intermarriages among Ghanaians has also contributed to the peace.
The Group also noted that human rights defenders in Ghana do not face deadly reprisals.
“The Group was informed that during the preparation of the report of the Ghana universal periodic review to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this year, the government and civil society organisations collaborated for the first time to write the report.
Media freely and independently reports on human rights issues without suppression from government, and the judiciary is also generally known to be independent,” she said, and commended the country highly for that.
Mercenaries in Ghana
According to Ms. Arias, the Group was informed that Ghana has ratified the African Union Convention on Mercenaries, but has not yet ratified the International Convention on Mercenaries and called on the country to do so.
The Group commended Ghana for being one of the few non-western countries to sign onto the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights which requires companies to operate within a framework which respects human rights.
She said, many companies around the world in the extractive industries have also signed this Principle.
The Group said it was informed of the following challenges: That mercenaries and foreign fighters are currently not an issue in Ghana, it however, referred to the past when mercenaries had impacted the country.
“On a visit to Cote d’Ivoire in 2014, the Working Group was informed that alleged mercenaries have fled and sought refuge in Ghana, and some alleged mercenaries in the conflict of 2002 and 2010 have fled to Ghana and were causing instability in Cote d’Ivoire.
The Group was informed that the mercenaries have been dispelled from Ghana and currently there were no significant mercenary activities in Ghana, however, with its porous borders, we cautioned that mercenaries and foreign army actors can easily enter Ghana and cause instability and this needs to be monitored closely,” she said.
Ghanaians joining ISIS
On foreign fighters, the Group was informed that there were around three cases of Ghanaians who have travelled to join ISIS, she said.
According to the Group, a government representative has expressed concern that with the Internet some individuals can become vulnerable to radical groups, and that can potentially lead to outbreak of violence.
The Group noted that some civil society organisations are working at the community level to address the issue.
Armed non-state actors and illegal miners
Ms Arias said many of the people that the Group met on this visit consistently raised the issue of galamsey.
“Illegal miners have become a problem. Some are armed. Foreigners are engaged in galamsey and they are armed. Mostly Chinese nationals, but there are other nationals such as Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Germany, the UK, USA and Ukraine,” she said.
This situation led to the creation of Operation Vanguard, a joint police and military operation. The Group urged that the security personnel involved in the operation should be trained in security and human rights.
Vigilante groups and private body guards
The UN Working Group said it found that the use of private body guards by political representatives has also become a challenge, particularly when these individuals are armed.
“According to Ghanaian law no private security personnel can be armed and this will also extend to those working as body guards. But reports suggest this is not the case.
These parallel groups or individuals continue to be a threat to security and the strong political will to deal with these activities, particularly the vigilante groups is critical,” she said.
She said the Group was consistently informed about how vigilante groups can mobilize and overcome the police, citing the incident in Kumasi where a vigilante group interrupted a court sitting while police personnel were on duty and freed suspects on trial.
Proliferation of illegal arms
Ms. Arias said the Group was informed that there are 1.3 million illegal arms present in Ghana and this, she said, presents a serious security threat in the country
“With the existence of vigilante groups, high number of illegal security personnel and armed galamsey operators who may not be under the monitoring of the government, the need to eliminate the proliferation of illegal arms should be prioritised. With porous borders and conflicts in neighbouring countries, illegal arms in the hands of criminal elements can cause serious security problems for Ghana.
The Group was informed that the smuggling of arms into Ghana through its porous borders is also a matter for concern,” she said.
The Group made some preliminary recommendations to the government, urging it to strengthen the regulation of private security companies, establish an independent oversight body and provide proper training in human rights to security personnel.
The Group also recommended the strengthening of public security to control vigilante groups, ensure full implementation of the National ID system and adopt the Right to Information bill to help in human rights.
It also urged an increase in efforts with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and neighbours to strengthen their borders.
The Group will submit a final report to the UN Human Rights Council.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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