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Foreign wars Mercenary services outlawed by parliament

Mercenary services came to the fore in recent years in Iraq

(Keystone)

Private security contractors based in Switzerland will no longer be allowed to provide mercenaries and will have to report to the federal authorities any services they plan to supply beyond the country’s borders.

New legislation, which was approved Monday by parliament, will be applied to all firms that provide security services outside of Switzerland. Any direct participation in an armed conflict is also banned.

The Senate followed the other parliamentary chamber, House of Representatives, which had discussed the bill twice in the two preceding weeks of the autumn session.

The ban covers recruitment, training and supplying personnel in Switzerland and abroad. Activities that undermine Switzerland’s traditional neutrality and its foreign policy aims, including the respect of humanitarian law are also outlawed.

A firm would for example not be allowed to manage a prison in a country known for its human rights violations. Other problematic activities include intelligence gathering or freeing hostages.

However, protecting humanitarian convoys or providing security during sports events remain legal.

Pioneering role

All planned activities outside of Switzerland will have to be reported to the foreign ministry. If there were to be any indication of operational or logistical support to armed forces or security services, the ministry will be allowed to intervene.

Under the new legislation, the authorities can inspect a company’s offices or facilities, consult documentation and seize equipment. Breaking the law could lead up to three years in jail.

When the legislation was presented earlier this year, Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said Switzerland was at the forefront of countries legislating on this issue.

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

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

Aegis

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 the country’s geographical location in the middle of Europe, for tax reasons and because of the presence of international organisations, including the Geneva-based 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.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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