Continued progress in operationalizing responsible private security: ICoCA holds annual meeting

With a new tagline on its promotional materials, “bringing together industry, civil society and governments to promote responsible private security services and respect for human rights,” the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA) held its Annual General Assembly in Geneva last week. Human Analytics, an observer to the ICoCA, attended and as we have done in past years (2015; 2016) wanted to share updates from the meeting with readers of our blog.

Jamie Williamson, the new Executive Director of the ICoCA who now heads the nine-person Secretariat, kicked off the meeting with a review of the past year. Membership in the three pillars of the ICoCA is steady or growing. In the government pillar, seven governments continue to participate. As part of its concerted communication, outreach, and development strategy, the ICoCA is having bilateral conversations and working through international forums, like the Montreux Document Forum, to increase state participation. One welcome development was the European Parliament’s passage of a resolution this year recommending that the European Commission issue guidelines to use ICoCA-certified private security companies (PSCs) for EU contracts and urge member states to use participation in the ICoCA as a consideration in their public procurement decisions. The industry pillar currently has 101 members headquartered in 35 countries. Budget numbers, beyond revealing that the Association is on sound financial footing, indicate that the make-up of the industry pillar may be changing. More recently the strongest increases in membership have come from outside the US and UK, and membership dues from small and medium sized PSCs reflect a growing share of the Association’s revenues. The civil society organization (CSO) pillar also has become more geographically diverse. As a result of the ICoCA’s field-based review mission to Nigeria in August, which also supported the Association’s ongoing efforts to establish and maintain civil society “monitoring networks” in various regions of the world, four new African CSOs applied for ICoCA membership.

If one thing became clear from the meeting, the ICoCA is continuing to systematically operationalize its key procedures – certification, monitoring, and complaints – which enable it to exercise oversight of its member PSCs’ implementation of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). With the changing composition of its member PSCs, one ongoing concern has been facilitating the access of small and medium sized PSCs to ICoCA-certification, while at the same time maintaining high standards in line with the ICoC’s human rights and humanitarian law requirements. This is a discussion that continues to occupy the Board and Secretariat, but in the interim an important resolution was passed that would allow for a two-year Transitional Membership beginning in April 2018, thereby allowing PSCs more time to work towards attaining certification while actively participating in the monitoring and complaints processes of the Association. PSCs seeking a transitional status must agree to meet certain substantive and procedural benchmarks, yet to be developed, during that period to evidence their concerted efforts to obtain certification. Currently, ICoCA-certification requires that land-based security providers first evidence a third-party certification to security operations management system standards, either ANSI/ASIS PSC.1 or ISO 18788. Seventeen member PSCs have applied for ICoCA-certification and nine have received it. Discussion at the meeting revolved in part around the costs associated with implementing and auditing to the management standards, and whether they may pose a barrier to ICoCA-certification for some PSCs.

Steps taken to develop the monitoring and complaints functions of the ICoCA in the past year are central to its efforts to evolve its oversight capacities. As noted, a field mission to Nigeria, in which six member PSCs participated, was an important step in further developing the Association’s remote monitoring capacities. It allowed engagement of member PSCs in their operating environments, assisted with the development of SOPs for field-based reviews, and helped to refine performance and compliance indicators. This mission focused in particular on practices of subcontracting, training, and selection and vetting of personnel. The latter has also been the focus of a pilot to develop operationally-oriented questions to facilitate PSCs in meeting their Company Self-Assessment reporting requirements. An on-line platform was created to allow companies to submit this information securely. Developing SOPs for receiving and processing complaints was another key effort this past year. Currently, a guidance for PSCs is being finalized, with the support of DCAF (Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces), to aid companies in establishing fair and accessible grievance procedures. It is expected to be launched at the end of November.

The at times technical and time-consuming work of developing policies, SOPs, guidance, on-line tools and the like indicate that the ICoCA is maturing and moving into a new phase as a multi-stakeholder initiative. In looking to the year ahead, the ICoCA must ensure that what may be the beginning of a trend becomes institutionalized, namely growing its membership in a way that reflects the global nature of the industry and its impacted populations. To do this effectively the Association will need to continue its concerted strategic outreach program and must recognize the dynamic nature of the industry and ensure that all the relevant stakeholders are brought to the table to include key private sector clients of the industry. Perhaps most essentially, as some member PSCs now have a few years of experience under their belts in implementing the Code, this is an opportune time to share best practices and identify where challenges in meeting human rights requirements remain and opportunities for collaboration, to include with observers and other stakeholders, exist to develop human-rights-based implementation tools.

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