October 23, 2018

Letter to the Editor: How About Some Regulation of the Mercenary Industry?

By Gabor Rona

Just Security - Following Sarah Knuckey and Ryan Goodman’s post on U.S. mercenaries in Yemen, I’d like to provide a bit of international legal background to the urgent discussion of whether legal gaps exist in the regulation of mercenaries, and if so, how to fill them.

First, Sarah and Ryan are spot on in saying that U.S. private contractors who kill abroad for hire are murderers, pure and simple. There’s no ambiguity about their culpability under U.S. law. While a state’s military forces have a license under the international law of armed conflict to kill enemy combatants in war, there is no such “privilege of belligerency” for non-state fighters, including private contractors. Moreover, outside of war (alternatively called “armed conflict,” the definition of which is more or less specific in international law), there’s no privilege of belligerency for anyone. Even within war, and even for a combatant/member of a state’s armed forces, targeting civilians is the war crime of murder.

Read Professor Rona's full article in Just Security.