Mercenary’s Legal Reference

Since we published the How to Become a Mercenary, many of the questions and comments coming in have centered on the legality of being a mercenary, and what kind of punishment a mercenary might face if he/she is caught in action. We’ll try to address these questions here, but please feel free to leave a comment if we got something wrong, or if you have tips about laws and regulations you think should be added to the list (both domestic and international).

What follows are short explanations of what the laws mean to you, and what consequences you’ll face if you violate them.


The UN is responsible for most interntional laws, and there are a few that are interesting to mercenaries, or would-be mercenaries.

The Protocol Additional GC 1977 (APGC77), article 47

This article defines what a mercenary is. All criteria in the article must be met in order for a person to be ruled an “unlawful combatant”, or mercenary.


If you’re captured in combat, you will be treated as a PoW until a competent tribunal rules you a mercenary, or unlawful combatant. At that time, you will lose your PoW privileges, and you will be treated as a common criminal. In a worst case scenario, this means you will be facing execution.

It could be relevant to note that the US has not endorsed this article, and as such you cannot be ruled a mercenary under this definition if you’re captured in combat on US soil… that will probably not be a very likely scenario any time soon, though.


UN Resolution 44/34, or the “Mercenary Convention”

This resolution does, in fact, prohibit the use, training and financing of mercenaries, but there are relatively few signatories/endorsers. For all intents and purposes, it serves only to reinforce the article 47 we mentioned above, and in reality, there are no consequences for the individual mercenary because of this resolution. If you train, finance or use mercs in one of the State Parties, however, you might be in trouble.

Consequences: The resolution makes it possible for the UN to punish countries that break the resolution. The consequences for the individual mercenary will still be the same as for the Article 47.


Common misunderstandings and comments

A search for the word “mercenary” in the UN’s massive publications database yields 243 results, but the rules and regulations we’ve quoted above are the ones currently valid and as such are the ones you need to worry about. We have some bullets for you to think about, however:

  • Relatively few countries abide by the 44/34 resolution, and  the Geneva Convention definition is the one you’ll be keeping in mind.
  • Some critics say that the Geneva convention definition is too narrow, since it doesn’t take PMC’s into account, but we won’t worry about that here.
  • For now, a PMC employee is a lawful combatant, as long as he/she sticks to the mission as set out by the government that issued the contract.
  • If you are taken prisoner in your own country and ruled a mercenary, you will most likely face civil law and a civilian trial, unless a state of war is declared in that country.




French Penal Code L436-1L436-2,L436-3L436-4 and L436-5 forbids French nationals from being mercenaries, and defines the penalties for such activities.

Consequences: The penalties are fines, from 75,000 to 100,000 EUR (USD 98,000 – 130,000) but it’s hardly likely that you’ll face execution, at least.

The French laws do not prevent French nationals from being volunteers in “legitimate” armed forces, which would have been strange when considering their own use of foreign nationals in their FFL (Foreign Legion).


United Kingdon:

While the UK doesn’t have legislation pertaining directly to mercs, they do have laws preventing their nationals from enlisting in foreign armed forces, which may or may not be different things, depending on the situation. The legislation hasn’t been used much, either, even though it has been clarified at times, with the intent of use in specific scenarios.

Wikipedia says it thus:

The United Kingdom passed a Foreign Enlistment Act in 1819, and then the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, making it unlawful for British subjects to join the armed forces of any state warring with another state at peace with Britain. In the Greek War of Independence, British volunteers fought with the Greek rebels, which could have been unlawful; it was unclear whether or not the Greek rebels were a “state” per the Foreign Enlistment Act, but the law was clarified, saying that the rebels were a state. In 1896 a Privy Council report noted that there had been no prosecutions under the Foreign Enlistment Acts and considered them unenforceable.

The British government considered using the Act against British subjects fighting for the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and the FNLA in the Angolan Civil War; nothing happened.

Consequences: In short; nothing much to worry about for UK citizens wanting to be mercenaries, at least from a domestic legislation point of view.


United States of America:

This is a tricky one indeed. The US has laws that seem to both make mercenaries legal and illegal at the same time, while it uses PMCs that are also considered legal, while the “Anti Pinkerton Act” seems to make them illegal. It’s very strange.

Mercenaries have seen wide use in the US, all the way from the war of Independence, and to the formation of the PMCs. The US government has at times used mercenary-like personell against its own citizens (Pinkerton, for example) and militias are to a certain extent legal.

Consequences: It seems that being a US citizen and a mercenary is nothing much to worry about, outside the consequences that you may be facing for breaking international law.



Questions about the legality of being a mercenary are common, and we’ll try to answer some of the most common ones here. Feel free to leave a comment if you have a question or a comment!

Q: Do these laws only apply in combat/if captured in combat?

A: Yes and no. International law will only hit you if you’re captured in combat, but domestic laws can be used against you even if your country is not at war, just like any other criminal statute.



How to add to this page:

Right now, we have laws and regulations for only 3 countries posted here. If you have information that you think is pertinent to the article, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send us an email on and let us know. We’re usually pretty good at replying and adding things, so go for it, soldier (of fortune)!