The Government of Switzerland – Leading the Promotion of Responsible Security Around the World

We talked to Rémy Friedmann, Senior Advisor at the desk for human security and business in the Human Security Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Chair of the Board of Directors of ICoCA about why Switzerland is leading efforts to raise standards in the security sector to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law.

Why is Switzerland taking the leading role in promoting responsible private security around the world?

Switzerland’s involvement in helping to improve international standards and accountability for Private Security Companies stems from its long humanitarian tradition and commitment to promote the respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in any context worldwide.

The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies of 2008 and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (the Code), launched in 2010, are a good example of what Switzerland tries to promote with its Foreign Policy. A Foreign policy which puts Human Rights and international humanitarian law among its main priorities, but also a Foreign policy, which in terms of concrete achievements remains always pragmatic and result-oriented.

When launching these initiatives, we were keenly aware that the use of Private Security Companies (PSCs) is a politically very sensitive issue. As a result, we spent considerable time and effort to explain our goal was not political but of a strictly humanitarian nature. It proved to be particularly important to explain that we did not intend in any way, shape or form to either legitimise or condemn this particular business.


What are some the key actions the Swiss government has taken in promoting responsible security?

In 2006, Switzerland, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross, launched a diplomatic initiative that resulted two years later in the finalization and adoption of the ‘Montreux Document’ on existing legal obligations of States in relation to the activities of private military and security companies. This process showed that States do not operate in a legal void with respect to human rights and international humanitarian law when they contract Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs).

The Montreux Document was then translated into a set of principles and standards based on international human rights and international humanitarian law for the private security industry, the Code, in 2010, developed through a multi-stakeholder process, involving the industry, civil society and governments. It unfolded in the context of the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework of business and human rights, by which the private security sector decided to take up its responsibility to respect human rights. For this, we counted on the support and expertise of the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces (DCAF).

After the Code was launched, companies, governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) worked together towards the establishment of a governance and oversight mechanism, which was provided for in the Code. This mechanism, the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA), was launched in 2013. It is vested with various authorities and responsibilities, including certification of member companies’ compliance with the Code, assessment of performance and monitoring of their work in the field, reporting and a complaints process to address alleged violations of the Code.

In 2015, a Swiss law, the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad, entered into force.

Its aim is to contribute to safeguarding the internal and external security of Switzerland, the realisation of Switzerland’s foreign policy objectives, the preservation of Swiss neutrality and the respect of international law, in particular, human rights and international humanitarian law. The law applies to companies that provide private security services abroad. These have a duty to declare their intended activities. The law prohibits PSCs based in Switzerland to take direct participation in hostilities abroad and to provide services that are in connection or can be utilized in the commission of serious human rights violations. It also establishes an obligation for companies based on Swiss territory and providing their services abroad to adhere to the ICoCA. Additionally, the protection of Swiss embassies by PSCs in so-called ‘complex environments’ will only be possible if these have adhered to the Code.


What role does the Swiss government consider ICoCA should play and why is certification important?

ICoCA should ensure that PSCs that have committed to meet the provisions of the Code have the systems and policies in place to be able to do that, and that they respect them in practice. Therefore we consider that ICoCA, with its three-pronged approach of certification, monitoring and complaints process, provides the best assurance to all stakeholders that member companies meet high human rights- and international humanitarian law- based standards.


ICoCA certification may not be easy to achieve for some companies who are currently members of ICoCA or who would like to join, what would you say to them?

I would tell them to undertake the necessary steps to adhere to ICoCA. As the initiative grows, certification through ICoCA recognized standards becomes more easily available and the investment will pay off. They could also engage with their clients in order to work with them in order to raise their capacity to meet those standards. At the same time, ICoCA has developed and is promoting guidance for PSCs based on the Code in order to help them for example to develop grievance mechanisms or address issues such as sexual exploitation and violence. These and other supports can help to develop company policies meeting standard requirements.


Seven governments are currently members of the ICoCA, how can more states be encouraged to the table and what would you say to countries who don’t consider this to be their issue, for example governments that may not procure private security services?

By participating in ICoCA, governments will have a seat at the table in a unique multi-stakeholder initiative that is already having an impact. Even if they don’t directly procure private security services, governments are confronted with a growing industry that has a global footprint.

If they do procure private security services, participating in ICoCA will allow them to exert their state duty to protect human rights by promoting more efficient and effective due diligence, facilitating the development of good practices, and ensuring accountability of PSCs.

It will also be consistent with governments’ engagement to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) and their respective National Action Plans, as the Code is explicitly based on the ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ framework of the UNGP. It is also consistent with their engagement in the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, an initiative aimed at ensuring the respect for human rights in the security set-up of the extractive sector, which Switzerland is chairing in 2019-2020. By joining ICoCA, governments would be able to participate in the governance of an initiative that addresses, prevents and mitigates human rights risks related to the provision of private security. These risks are very real and concrete in fragile settings – urban or rural – in different parts of the world, be it in connection with the delivery of humanitarian aid, development, military activities, exploitation of natural resources or other economic activities. If not addressed properly and in a preventative way, these risks may also have an impact on a governments’ reputation. Working with civil society and responsible industry actors through ICoCA demonstrates commitment to the progress of universal Human Rights.