International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers

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The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) is a set of principles for private security providers, created through a multi-stakeholder initiative convened by the Swiss government. This process involved and continuously involves representatives from private security companies, states, and civil society organizations. The code reinforces and articulates the obligations of private security providers particularly with regard to international humanitarian law and human rights law. The ICoC also sets the foundation for developing an institutional framework to provide meaningful and independent oversight of and accountability to the ICoC. Accordingly, the stakeholders involved agreed on ‘Articles of Association’ setting up an effective oversight mechanism.

The ICoC is a non-state mechanism and is therefore intended to be supplementary to state legal oversight of private security providers. It has been designed to apply in complex security environments, meaning any areas experiencing or recovering from unrest or instability, whether due to natural disasters or armed conflicts, where the rule of law has been substantially undermined, and in which the capacity of the state authority to handle the situation is diminished, limited, or non-existent.[1] Other non-state attempts to regulate of private security, however, have often been criticized as ineffective.[2][3] In contrast, the ICoC has been accepted by a significant number of companies, and is supported by states and civil society organizations: As of June 1, 2013, 659 private security providers were signatories to the ICoC. In addition, the United Nations require membership to the ICoC as a mandatory requirement for the hiring of private security providers by the UN agencies.[4] Similarly, the draft Swiss legislation on private security providers requires membership to the ICoC as a precondition for permission to operate in Switzerland a private security company offering services abroad, and only member companies of the ICoC can be hired by Swiss public authorities.[5] Recently, also the US Department of State indicated "[a]s long as the ICoC process moves forward as expected and the association attracts significant industry participation, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) anticipates incorporating membership in the ICoC Association as a requirement in the bidding process for the successor contract to the Worldwide Protective Services (WPS) program."[6]

The Oversight Mechanism[edit]

In February 2013 representatives from signatory companies, civil society and governments successfully negotiated the Charter for the Oversight Mechanism of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (called ‘Articles of Association’).[7] The Geneva-based oversight mechanism will be an independent non-profit association under Swiss law. The overarching purpose of this Association is to promote the responsible provision of private security services and respect for human rights and national and international law by exercising independent governance and oversight of the ICoC.[8] The main organs of the oversight association are a General Assembly and a Board of Directors. While all members – private security companies, civil society organizations, and states (the three ‘pillars’) – form part of the General Assembly, the Board of Directors consists of twelve elected members. The Board of Directors is the executive decision-making body of the Association. Members of each ‘pillar’ are equally represented in the Board of Directors. The main tasks and competencies of the Association are (a) certification of companies under the Code attesting that a company’s systems and policies meet the Code’s principles and the standards derived from the Code, (b) human-rights-oriented monitoring of company performance and of the impact of security operations, and (c) maintaining a process to support member companies in discharging their commitments to address claims alleging violations of the Code by establishing fair and accessible grievance procedures that offer effective remedies.


In 2008, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government developed the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies, which reaffirms the obligations of States regarding PMSCs during armed conflicts, and additionally recommends seventy good practices for States regarding the use and oversight of PMSCs. The ICoC was developed based on these recommendations to supplement the Montreux Document by articulating the obligations of private actors. The ICoC was drafted and in a conference that concluded in September 2010 and was facilitated by the Swiss government, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. The conference involved representatives from Private Security Providers, industry associations, governments, such as the US and UK, and non-governmental organizations.[9] There were 58 original signatory companies, and as of June 1, 2013, 659 private security providers were signatories to the ICoC.[10] In accordance with the ICoC, in November 2011 members from the three stakeholder communities chose representatives for a temporary steering committee. The committee consists of three participants and one possible auxiliary member from each of three stakeholder groups: governments, companies, and civil society organizations. The main task of the steering committee is to develop documents and arrangements for the governance and oversight mechanism as previewed in the ICoC. The steering committee succeeded in this task and in February 2013 the ‘Articles of Association’ of the International Code of Conduct for Private Military and Security Company’s Association were adopted. The Association itself will be launched in September 2013.[needs update]


  1. ^ ICoC
  2. ^ Reneé De Nevers, The Effectiveness of Self-Regulation by Private Military and Security Industry, 30 J. Pub. Pol'y 219 (2010)
  3. ^ Surabhi Ranganathan, Between Complicity and Irrelevance? Industry Associations and the Challenge of Regulating Private Security Contractors, 41 Geo. J. Int'l L. 303 (2010)
  4. ^ UNDSS: Guidelines on the Use of Armed Security Services from Private Security Companies
  5. ^ Draft: Bundesgesetz über die im Ausland erbrachten privaten Sicherheitsdienstleistungen
  6. ^ State Department to Incorporate International Code of Conduct into Worldwide Protective Services Contracts
  7. ^ Press release by the Swiss government
  8. ^ Article 2 of the Articles of Association
  9. ^ ICoC Fact Page
  10. ^ ICoC List of Signatory Companies

External links[edit]