Today, the contracting and use of private security providers by humanitarian NGOs raise crucial questions in the sector. While these companies offer a wide range of services that are particularly useful in fragile and complex environments, they can also bring additional risks to NGOs. The Global Interagency Security Forum (GISF), in collaboration with ICoCA, is launching a survey on the topic, the results of which will feed into the development of a training guide for humanitarian organisations on PSP contracting. GISF will be sharing the survey with their members and ICoCA welcomes and invites its Members and Affiliates to share the survey with their clients working across the humanitarian sector.

You can find the survey here.

Deadline for submissions: July 30th 2021


Private security and humanitarian NGOs: what are the risks?

Crucially, the presence of private security providers in fragile contexts is not unrelated with the existence of a market generated by the activities of aid agencies, and in particular, those of humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Humanitarian NGOs contract PSPs in order to mitigate the risks that come with operating in conflict, post-conflict and fragile states. PSPs can provide a variety of security services that many humanitarian agencies lack in-house. These services can range from security and awareness trainings, risks and threat analyses, the enhancement of physical protection of premises, to the provision of armed or unarmed guards.

The presence of PSPs and the way NGOs contract and use them raises important questions. Contracting PSPs can bring additional risks for organisations working in fragile and complex environments, which should be acknowledged and fully considered in security policies.

For instance, the potential risks linked to the contracting of guards are often mentioned as one of the main concerns arising from these practices. As security guards are often the first interlocutors visitors meet at the gates of compounds or the ones directly in contact with the local population, they play a major role in defining an organisation’s reputation and actual acceptance by the communities. If this relationship deteriorates, or even worse, if a PSP is accused of having committed human rights or humanitarian law violations, the security and work the contracting agency can be negatively impacted. This can also have consequences for the security of a whole area, as well as that of the neighbouring organisations. Armed guards or rapid response squads may be considered as new armed actors in a conflict, thereby creating additional fragility and danger.

In other words, the contracting and use of PSPs can potentially interfere with the humanitarian principles upheld by humanitarian NGOs, further complicating the security context in which they evolve, and ultimately endangering their operations.


Mitigating risks when contracting and using PSPs: sharing best-practices.

It is therefore crucial for humanitarian workers to make sure these risks are mitigated as soon as they contemplate the option of contracting a PSP. Module 14 of GISF’s Security To Go Risk Management Toolkit, Contracting Private Security Providers, published in collaboration with the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA), offers essential guidance on the topic. It insists on the importance of having clear policies regulating the contracting and use of PSPs, and underlines the interest NGOs can have in selecting a company according to internationally recognized standards. Due diligence in the procurement and selection processes, the presence of a monitoring framework and protocols regulating the training, briefing and work environment of PSPs personnel are all reliable means to reduce the risks NGOs take in contracting PSPs.

GISF/ICoCA Training Guide Collaboration

GISF, in collaboration with ICoCA, is now building on this Module to create an interactive training guide on private security contracting. The first step of this project is to further understand the current state of affairs with regard to the practices, procedures and policies of humanitarian NGOs, on which there is still very limited data available. This also presents an opportunity to better grasp the challenges members face when contracting and using PSPs, how they address them, and best-practices that should be promoted.  Alongside with the survey, to make the interactive training guide as useful as possible, more extensive inputs on the topic are also welcomed. If you are able to take part in a short interview in the coming weeks, please contact Juliette Jourde*, who is leading the project. Juliette will be more than happy to answer any questions and to arrange meetings.

Email:  Phone: +41 22 727 07 58.

*Before joining ICoCA, Juliette interned at ACTED in Paris, at the Organization of the American States in Bogotá and at the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Buenos Aires. She recently graduated from Sciences Po, Paris, with a Masters in International Security. This internship has been made possible thanks to Young Professional Fund supported by GISF and ICoCA.