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Reputation risk

Mercenary companies to face ban

By Urs Geiser

Activists staged a dramatic protest in 2010 when the British security firm Aegis moved in headlquaters to Switzerland (Keystone)

Activists staged a dramatic protest in 2010 when the British security firm Aegis moved in headlquaters to Switzerland


The cabinet wants to outlaw private security firms whose activities take them to war zones, saying they undermine Switzerland’s traditional neutrality and its foreign policy aims, including the respect of humanitarian law.

If they are based in Switzerland, all such companies will have to report any planned activity abroad to the federal authorities, said Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga on Wednesday. Parliament will still have to discuss the bill.

Combat missions, including the training of mercenaries, or activities which lead to human rights violations, will be banned. However, other security operations remain legal.

Sommaruga said Switzerland was at the forefront of countries legislating on this issue, which is an international problem.

“We need a coherent policy which does not stop at the borders of our country,” she told journalists.

She said that when companies took advantage of Switzerland’s good reputation, it was important to know what they were getting up to abroad.

Switzerland has played a leading role in establishing recommendations aimed at boosting the respect of international law and setting good practices for security firms according to Sommaruga.

More than 40 countries have signed the 2008 Montreux Document on private and military security companies.

In 2010 Switzerland also participated in the elaboration of an international code of conduct for private security service companies, now adopted by about 500 companies.


The issue hit the news headlines in 2010, when British Aegis Defence Services, one of the world’s largest private security contractors, effectively moved its headquarters from London to Basel.

At the end of 2010 it was one of about 20 firms based in Switzerland operating, or suspected of operating, in conflict regions, according to official data.

Aegis explained that its move to Switzerland was partly taken because of Switzerland’s geographical location in the middle of Europe, for tax reasons and because of the presence of international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In 2008, the cabinet rejected calls for legal action. It said the risks of a negative impact on the country’s reputation were negligible.


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