Mercenaries, in simple words, are soldiers who do not serve a particular nation, but instead, lend their services to whatever nation, group or agency that hires them, in exchange for a fee. They are trained in combat and strategizing, reconnaissance and sabotage. But to say that they are motivated only by money is a very hollow assumption. They often agree to serve as foreign infiltrators because they share the same political or ideological thoughts as those of the nation state or armed force which commandeers their services. But trying to give them a precise definition is very tricky, since their method of operation itself is unorthodox. However, attempts have been made nevertheless, such as at the 1976 and 1977 sessions of the Conference on International Humanitarian Law, where a few defining characteristics of mercenaries were enunciated upon by the Working Group and Committee III, for the purpose of defining them under Article 47, Protocol 1:
A mercenary is any person who:
- Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
- Does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
- Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
- Is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
- Is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
- Has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
Mercenaries are not individuals who are part of any of the recognized armed forces of a country, and as such, are not entitled to the protection of their basic human rights in case of capture by the enemy. This lack of responsibility towards mercenaries is what makes them an alluring option for nation states and armed forces – to carry out their dirty work in regions where they cannot exercise any lawful, justified force. Determining when the use of force is necessary is a contentious issue, as has been found in cases of said nature.
Using mercenaries constitutes the employ of trained soldiers who cannot be linked to any country, as they don’t officially exist. Their actions can be denied, their existences forgotten, and that’s why, in the era of asymmetric warfare, they are a force to be reckoned with. Asymmetric warfare is warfare between belligerents (hostile entities, enemies) whose military powers differ significantly. In other words, there is a considerable difference as to the resources possessed by the two belligerents which make them depart from the traditional norms of warfare techniques.
(To be continued in Part 2.)
 H. C. Burmester, The Recruitment and Use of Mercenaries in Armed Conflicts, The American Journal of International Law 37, 37 (Jan., 1978).
Ibid., at p. 39.
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