01
JUL
2015

Swiss Law on Private Security Companies Contributes to Protection of Human Rights

On June 24, the Swiss government published a detailed decree relating to the Swiss law on Private Security Companies (PSCs) and announced that it will go into effect on September 1, 2015. The Swiss government, through its Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), has taken the lead in fostering international consensus on regulation for PSCs through its two-part Swiss Initiative. Phase one, carried out in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross, was an effort to create a non-binding declaration directed at states that contract with PSCs and are home to them, as well as the territorial states where they operate. The resulting Montreux Document, released in September 2008, recalls the existing international humanitarian and human rights law obligations of states with regards to the activities of private military and security companies during armed conflict, and elaborates good practices to assist states in meeting those obligations. Phase two of the Swiss Initiative focused on developing an international code of conduct and accompanying governance and oversight mechanism for the private security industry. Released in November 2010, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) details human rights-based principles for the responsible provision of security services in complex environments. The multi-stakeholder governed International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA), launched in September 2013, ensures implementation of, and accountability to, the ICoC.

The Swiss Federal Council’s decree details provisions to bring the 2013 law into full effect, and reflects the national manifestation of its international efforts. The law was passed to help ensure Swiss security and neutrality as well as respect for human rights. It applies to companies based in Switzerland providing security services overseas or who support the provision of those services, as well as Swiss government agencies contracting private security overseas and holding companies headquartered in Switzerland with control over PSCs operating overseas.

Key provisions of the law include the following:

  • PSCs headquartered in Switzerland may not participate in offensive operations during armed conflict.
  • PSCs must be members of the ICoCA.
  • Services that could result in severe human rights abuses are forbidden. For example, prison services cannot be provided in countries where it is known that torture occurs regularly at those facilities.
  • PSCs that wish to provide security services in complex environments, to include the protection of people, property, goods, as well as check point and prison services, must register with the Political Directorate of the FDFA. The FDFA will decide within a 14 day span whether the services are routine and acceptable, require additional investigation, or should be forbidden because they run counter to the intent of the law. Expedited registration is possible for services provided in an emergency situation.
  • Among the information required at time of registration is the types of services to be provided and clients, operating environments, weapons to be used, number of personnel and personal information of armed personnel, screening of personnel, expected risks, and trainings, including on human rights and humanitarian law.
  • The Federal Council has set minimal contractual requirements for PSCs working with Swiss government agencies, including reporting on the status of service provision, the identity of personnel, who can be replaced if they threaten delivery of contractually required services, notification of the contracting agency of any situation that may affect fulfillment of the contract, and notification of any incidents involving use of force. A sample contract containing these minimal requirements is available.

 

The enforcement of the law foresees measures such as empowering the FDFA to carry out, under certain conditions, unannounced inspections of the offices of PSCs, to include examination of their files. Failure to comply with the law can result in prison sentences of up to three years and fines.

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