Update: 05.08.2015

Law on the control of the activities of Swiss security service providers abroad

The Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad (PSA) and the relevant ordinance will enter into force on 1 September 2015. The Federal Council made this decision on 24 June 2015. As of the beginning of September, mercenary companies will be banned from Switzerland, and private security services will have to report to the Confederation about their activities abroad. The aim of the PSA is to prevent Swiss security services from contributing to human rights violations in other regions of the world.

The new act supports the Federal approach on an international level. Switzerland was one of the driving forces for the establishment of an International Code of Conduct regarding private security services. On 27 September 2013, the Swiss parliament voted in favour of the PSA.

Between obligation and prohibition

The new act does not allow security services based in Switzerland to «actively participate in hostilities abroad» or provide services «which are used as part of severe human rights violations». This means that a security service provider operating from within Switzerland is no longer allowed to run a prison abroad if torture is used there as an interrogation technique.

In addition, the PSA compels companies who provide security services abroad to register their activities with the Confederation (FDFA) in advance, so that the authorities can decide within two weeks «whether or not the activities of the company provide reason enough to start formal investigations». Such investigations help to control the security services' activities and help enforce the new act.

Mandatory membership in the International Code of Conduct

The new act also states that security services who wish to continue operating out of Switzerland must join the International Code of Conduct for private security services dated 9 October 2010. This Code of Conduct launched by Swiss authorities regulates the use of violence and imprisonment, as well as banning torture, sexual exploitation, trafficking in human beings and forced labour. It also includes a ban on discrimination.

By joining the Code, the legislator expects members to accept the statutes of the Organisation on the International Code of Conduct. Founded in Geneva in September 2013, the Organisation gives the Code more status and sets up a lasting control mechanism to see that the Code is respected.

In this respect, the new act is a forerunner. It is also the sign of a coherent policy since Switzerland worked hard on an international level to establish an international code. The PSA could serve as a model for the regulation of other fields, such as the commodities sector, the negative impacts of which on human rights abroad are well known.

A softened act

The current act does not have all the powers it should have had in its definite version. While the Council of States accepted the Federal bill in June 2013, the National Council debated it heavily and made significant changes. The main issues were which services should be included in the obligation to report. Although the National Council tried hard to weaken the act in the first reading. The Council of States remained firm and eventually prevailed. A majority of the National Council supported a distinction between mercenary companies and surveillance companies.

The final version of the act states that personal protection and the real estate protection are subject to registration but «in a complex environment». The organisation Corporate Justice is disappointed with the National Council weaker wording, in particular because the act now only applies to companies acting in «complex environments», an imprecise term with easily abused loopholes. Hopefully the vague wording will be corrected by a clear ordinance.

The Federal Council did not want to take action initially

As late as 2008, the Federal Council was against any kind of duty to report or register security services active in areas of conflict. This position changed in later months because of developments on the international security services market. Today numerous companies active in this area are based in Switzerland.

Political motions started in 2010when the media reported that Aegis, an internationally active security company, was registered in the Canton of Basel Landschaft commercial register. Aegis employs mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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