Apr 02, 2022



 By: Saul Hofileña Jr.


MERCENARIES fight for money not for freedom, not for love of country nor for anything that makes death worthwhile or magical. Mercenaries fight for nothing more than personal gain. Coming from the Latin word mercenaries, a mercenary is someone who will do anything for money.

There was the Lafayette Escadrille that joined the French Air Service almost a year before America entered WW1. There was also the Flying Tigers that fought for China against the Japanese before America entered WW2. However, their role as mercenaries is controversial since it appears that they had the secret backing of their home government, the United States of America.

Today, there is a proliferation of mercenaries; an example is the South African-based Executive Outcomes, a "contractor" that fought in Angola and Sierra Leone. Blackwater, also a "contractor" of men at arms, was also involved in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Ukraine has formed an International Brigade to fight for its territorial defense, consisting of volunteers of various nationalities similar to the International Brigade that fought alongside Republicans during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In the context of the Geneva Conventions, are the people enlisting in Ukraine's International Brigade mercenaries? I would say that those fighting on the side of Ukraine, even if they were promised citizenship after the war, cannot be categorized as mercenaries. They are not being paid to fight because Ukraine does not have money to pay them. They joined the fray for ideals not currency. They are even being asked to bring their own bulletproof vests, uniforms and combat boots.

Why should there be a distinction between mercenaries and regular soldiers? It all boils down to their status as combatants.

Read: Putin's war in Ukraine and the lessons of history 

When a person who is not entitled to prisoner of war (POW) status is captured, he may be tried for murder, espionage, or arson under the municipal law of the offended State. He may be treated as a common criminal and confined in a common jail, and if the crime he committed is punishable by death, he may be shot or hanged from the tallest tree. No protection nor privileges available to POWs under the Geneva Conventions may be given to mercenaries.

Article 47 of Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions of June 8, 1977, speaks of mercenaries:

1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.

2. A mercenary is any person who was recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict and take a direct part in the hostilities. He is motivated by the desire for private gain and is promised material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed forces for which he will fight.

Read: US to Russia: Call off Ukraine attack

3. He is not a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of a territory controlled by a Party to the conflict and is not a member of its armed forces 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.

Soldiers who are recognized by the State in the conflict and are integrated as part of its armed forces, although such soldiers are foreigners, are not to be treated as mercenaries. Members of the French Foreign Legion, composed mostly of foreigners recruited to fight France's wars, are not mercenaries since they are recognized by France, are led by French officers, and may be given French citizenship after service of five years. The same holds true for the Gurkhas of Nepal. Armed with their issued firearms and their fearsome kukris, the Gurkhas are recognized by the United Kingdom as part of their fighting forces and are, therefore, not mercenaries.

In 2020, British newspapers carried news of a man who died in his bed in Durban, South Africa, at the age of 100. After legitimate service with the British Army in the Second World War, the centenarian became an accountant and later a soldier of fortune. He was "Mad Mike" Hoare, a notorious mercenary who was responsible for the death of more than 5,000 Congolese and who once said that "killing communists is like killing vermin, killing African nationalists is like killing animals."

The raising of armies to fight against tyranny is laudable, but if an army is raised to fight for personal gain, the entire equation is changed. They become dangerous not only to their enemies, but also to their allies because their loyalty is for sale.

Read: Will Russia bring Syrian fighters to Ukraine?

The greatest tragedy of a mercenary is not that he kills, for all wars are entitled to its fair amount of killing, but he does not have any other purpose to go to war but to earn his pay.

 (The Manila Times, April 2, 2022)