Private Military and Security Companies

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office written question – answered at on 24 February 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Non-affiliated

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether UK citizens are permitted (1) to act as mercenaries, and (2) to train with foreign militaries; and if so, (a) under what legislative or other framework such activity is permitted, and (b) in what countries they permit such activity.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The UK government notes Article 47 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, of which the UK is a party, which sets out the definition of a mercenary. There is no licensing system or permission process in UK law for a UK citizen who intends to act as a mercenary to follow. UK law focusses on the activities of UK citizens abroad, which may be prosecuted in the UK where UK law makes such provision. For example, under the International Criminal Courts Acts of 2001, UK courts have jurisdiction to prosecute acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by UK nationals either inside or outside of the United Kingdom, and offences of murder committed outside the jurisdiction may be prosecuted in the UK. Additionally, the direct or indirect provision of armed personnel, where it enables or facilitates the conduct of armed hostilities, may constitute an offence under UK sanctions regimes. This legislation enables the UK to prosecute a UK citizen accused of committing such crimes overseas as a mercenary or whilst working for a private security company.

We draw a clear distinction between mercenaries and private security companies (PSCs). We promote high standards for PSCs internationally through voluntary regulation of the sector and played a leading role in the drafting of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (2010), which sets out principles for security providers, and related standards, governance, and oversight mechanisms, and the launch of its oversight mechanism to monitor compliance with the Code, the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA) (2013).

Members of UK Armed Forces regularly undertake training and engage in exercises with a wide range of international partners in that professional capacity, where this best supports the development of UK military capability, contributes to the development of international defence relationships and supports wider government objectives.

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