Almost 60 private security companies have signed an international code of conduct in Geneva, pledging to respect human rights and humanitarian law in their operations.
The initiative for the code, which is the first of its kind, was launched jointly by Switzerland and industry associations with the support of main governmental clients, humanitarian organisations and civil society. It took 14 months to create.
"In conflicts, non-state actors like private security-service providers are of increasing importance,” commented Peter Maurer, state secretary in the Swiss foreign ministry.
“Therefore the commitment of private security providers is an important step in order to strengthen human rights and humanitarian law.”
The code is based on the assumption that companies must respect human rights independently from national state law. As a result, it repeats bans on killing, torture, discrimination and human trafficking.
Andrew Clapham, human rights professor in Geneva, said that means employees of such firms may not take part in operations with a military-offence character.
There was a storm of protest in Switzerland in August after it was revealed that Aegis Defence Services, which supplies mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, had set up its headquarters in the northern city of Basel.
Bern is investigating whether federal legislation is needed for private security firms that are based in Switzerland but active in conflict regions. It was unclear whether Aegis had signed the code, which only companies can do.
swissinfo.ch and agencies