Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law

Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law

Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello and Jus post Bellum

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Nigel White and Christian Henderson

This innovative Research Handbook brings together leading international law scholars from around the world to discuss and highlight the contemporary debate regarding issues of conflict prevention and the legality of resorting to the use of armed force through to those arising during an armed conflict and in the phase between conflict and peace.

Chapter 12: Private military companies

Chia Lehnardt

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, public international law, terrorism and security law, politics and public policy, human rights, international politics, terrorism and security


Private military companies have played a major role in conflict and post-conflict situations, most prominently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hired by both governments and non-state actors, such as non-governmental organizations, companies or international organizations, they provide functions traditionally associated with the armed forces of a state, including logistic support, collection of intelligence at both the strategic and tactical levels, the training of troops and, importantly, activities including the potentially lethal use of force: the staffing of checkpoints, protection of personnel and military assets, and sometimes combat functions. Just like state armed forces, private military personnel are susceptible to both violating interests protected by international law and becoming targets of belligerent action. This raises the question of how international law regulates their use, protection and conduct. In general, international law makes a basic distinction between private and state use of force. The principle of non-use of force is addressed at states, as is its exception, the right to self-defence. By contrast, private use of force without any state involvement falls outside the scope of the prohibition on the use of force. Similarly, international humanitarian law generally addresses states when providing that in an international armed conflict all measures must be taken to spare civilians. Although there is no ban on civilians participating directly in hostilities, only combatants who belong to a state’s armed forces can claim treatment as prisoners of war, while other persons participating in hostilities lose their protection while doing so.

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