The status of private military security companies in United Nations peacekeeping operations under the international law of armed conflict

Jonathan Crowe, Anna John

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Private military security companies (‘PMSCs’) are present in almost all United Nations peacekeeping operations. The utilisation of PMSCs by international organisations raises distinct and complex legal issues. This article discusses the status of PMSCs under the international law of armed conflict, focusing particularly on their involvement in UN peacekeeping activities. We argue that assessing the position of PMSCs requires a sharper understanding of the legal status of civilians who may play an active role in hostilities. The role of PMSCs in UN operations, in particular, places pressure on the widespread view that civilians who participate in hostilities thereby violate the law of warfare. The article then reviews the options for holding PMSCs accountable for violations of international law. We argue that this issue is best addressed by treating international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law as an interlocking body of norms and mechanisms applicable in armed conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-44
Number of pages29
JournalMelbourne Journal of International Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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