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The use of private military contractors in conflict zones often known as mercenaries is an ancient career in which fighters do not engage out of a sense of duty to their country or other ideological reasons, hence referred to as ‘guns for hire’, fighting primarily for monetary or other non-political gain. The earliest recorded use of foreign mercenaries is the 13th century BC where in Ancient Egypt there are records of 11,000 Nubian soldiers used during battle. In more recent history mercenaries were extensively used in colonial Africa as an alternative to standing armies in these regions to quell dissent and rebellions.
It is important to note that in the modern era of warfare that PMCs (Private Military Companies) are used extensively used throughout major militaries the world over to fulfil logistical supply lines; specialist training of regular personnel and, in research and development among many other roles where these companies are able to fill a niche requirement. There is cause for concern the world over as in the 1990s there were 50 regular personnel to each private contractor, now estimated to have swelled to only 10:1 leading to the PMC industry being valued at over $100B in 2003. It is therefore a fair assessment to say that perhaps these PMCs are threatening the power of nation states where frequently these global corporation’s staff number is greater than that of many nations.
These firms are increasingly being employed to project the power of a nation abroad through paramilitary operations and effectively circumventing international law and the Geneva convention which decry the deployment of soldiers into foreign territories as an unlawful invasion, without facing as serious domestic or international repercussions than if regular forces were used. Due to the potential for exploitation of this loophole to get out of hand the UN has attempted to curb the issue through the 1989 UN mercenary convention, outlining the nature of offences that a mercenary and indeed any state who financed mercenary activity could undertake.
Though documents mention penalisation for violation, there are no recommendations on how a violator should be tried and punished. This, it is feared, could lead to private military companies acting with impunity. This is especially true when the corporate nature of PMCs is considered and often serves as an even greater barrier to their being brought to account when violating these international laws as the Hague International Courts of Justice at have no jurisdiction over these corporations.