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Mercenary Activities (Prohibition) Bill

The Green Party will be supporting this bill.

I think it is about time that this Government took action in this way, because there has been a very serious problem with mercenaries around the world for many years, particularly in Africa, where the operations of mercenaries have caused political crises and undermined the ability of the peoples of those countries to determine their own future in a proper manner. We can go back to the early 1960s when the mercenaries were very involved in the Congo, leading to the overthrow of the Lumumba Government and, for many years, to great chaos and death, particularly in eastern Congo, which has not really recovered since. There is ongoing violence in the eastern Congo today, and I think that the actions of the mercenaries 40 years ago contributed to that situation.

There are a number of mercenary organisations around the world, one of the two best known, perhaps, being Executive Outcomes, based on South African military officers who served the apartheid regime in South Africa for many years and then engaged in mercenary activities as the apartheid regime went down. Another firm, Sandline, is notorious for its activities, firstly in Africa. It is led by a chap called Tim Spicer. I have just been reading an article on him, and he does not like the term "mercenary"; he prefers the term "contract soldier". I think that would also fit the definition of "mercenary" in this bill - somebody whose primary purpose is private gain. I think that would fit contract soldiers. Not only did Sandline develop its operations in Africa and cause havoc and distress there in its pursuit of money, using its military capability; it then moved into our region in the 1990s, into Papua New Guinea. Its activities there caused a military coup when the army got upset about the Government of the day hiring Sandline to move into Bougainville to take charge there and smash militarily its independence movement.

We all know that the proper solution to that problem in Bougainville was a peaceful one. New Zealand to its great credit initiated the peace process there and we did this by bringing all the parties for a start to Burnham military Camp, getting them sitting down and talking to each other, and out of that evolved a very successful peace process. The very people that Sandline International has brought in to smash, like Joseph Kabui, are now the leaders in Bougainville in a very peaceful situation. It is great credit to New Zealand that it went down that track, as opposed to the mercenary track that others were promoting.

We have had problems in New Zealand with mercenaries that perhaps this bill would cover. I remember back to 1989, when there were advertisements in the New Zealand newspapers - the Christchurch Press is an example, I think it was in July 1989 - by the Papua New Guinea Government for New Zealand helicopter pilots to fly helicopters on service in Bougainville for the Papua New Guinea army. I complained at the time, but there was no avenue for following that complaint. In fact, New Zealand pilots were hired, much to the discredit of New Zealand, because there were rumours about very bad things done in those helicopters, including throwing people out of those helicopters while they were on operational missions - that is, people who had been captured in Bougainville. New Zealand was associated with even though there is no definite proof that a New Zealand pilot was flying the helicopter at the time that someone was thrown out of the window, but there were helicopters flown by New Zealanders in Bougainville for Papua New Guinea for money at that time. They would be defined as mercenaries under this bill, and rightly so.

Also, we have a case of a chap called Alan Robie who was working for a group here in Auckland called Group Four Security Ltd, back in the late 1990s, and he was recruiting for Sandline International. That was a very bad thing. Again, at the time I complained to the Minister who has presented this bill, but there was no redress at the time that a New Zealander in Auckland was involved in recruiting for Sandline.

This bill will help deal with that particular problem, too. The definition in the bill is a very appropriate one, that is that one has to have the primary purpose being for private gain, but there are some companies around the world that do fit into a bit of a grey area in this respect and some of them are American companies, which may have something to do with why some particular Governments that the other speakers referred to have not gone along with this international approach of putting a ban on mercenaries. We have companies like the Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI) that have been involved in what we might call training, but it is a bit more than training, in places like Croatia.

This MPRI group was very much involved in training Croatian soldiers prior to enduring the Krajina campaign back in the 1990s where the Croatian Government, in those areas that had a lot of Serb civilians in them, launched a big operation, and hundreds of civilians were killed and some 170,000 people driven from their homes. There has been a lot of concern about that particular operation ever since. An article in the Nation magazine indicates that there is a sort of grey area here between what is training and what is participating in a war. As Phil Goff pointed out, the definition in this Bill is that one has to actually participate in a war. This article says that in a sense, whether Military Professional Resources Inc directed the campaign is secondary: "Once you provide training there is no way to control the way the skills you have taught are used." said Loren Thompson, a military specialist at the conservative Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. Given Croatia's record he thought that the training that Military Professional Resources Inc did in that case was particularly useful and could have helped prosecute that slaughter of many innocent people and the evacuation of 170,000 people from their homes.

Technically, while training is not covered under this bill, and there is an exemption, as Phil Goff pointed out, for agencies that are involved just in security operations, there is a bit of a grey area there that in practice we might find difficult to work out where the start and finish point is, in terms of whether a person or group are mercenary in their practice. That is something that we will work together and in the international community on.

It is good that New Zealand in this bill is being a good international citizen, working with others around the world to get rid of the scourge of mercenaries - of people who, for money, go around killing other people.

[The Bill was read a first time, and referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee.]

Location

First Reading, Parliament
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