International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) is a set of principles for private military and 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 oversight of and accountability to the ICoC. Accordingly, the stakeholders involved agreed on ‘Articles of Association’ setting up an oversight mechanism, the International Code of Conduct Association (ICoCA), which has received mixed reviews.

Overview of ICoC[edit]

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 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 grievance procedures.


The first time, a "code of conduct" was mentioned in order to close a regulatory gap was in a scientific article about human rights violations by private service providers in Abu Ghraib. The argument was "...a common normative standard of human rights obligations would provide a gernal legal framework which would shape national legislation and international dispute settlement. [...] the defintion of direct obligations is a first step which could be implemented by states via regulation, by international organizations via monitoring and advice, by NGOs as independt watch-dogs and by business itself with a code of conduct."[9] In 2008, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government developed the Montreux Document on State obligations while contracting 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. In parallel to the Montreux Document a Draft of a Code of Conduct was published as an Occational Position Paper of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.[10] This proposal of norms and commitments attachted States, NGOs and industry ot engage into the development of the ICoC. The ICoC builds 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.[11] There were 58 original signatory companies, and as of June 1, 2013, 659 private security providers were signatories to the ICoC.[12] 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 was 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 was launched in September 2013.[needs update]

Association membership[edit]

The ICoC Association includes 100 private military and security company members.[13] Its membership includes Academi, formerly known as Blackwater.


Since its launch, the ICoC Association has attracted criticism from commentators, scholars, and watchdog organisations. War on Want claims that "ICoC and ICoCA act as fig leaves for the PMSC [private military and security company] industry to legitimise its actions."[14] Specifically, War on Want takes issue with the "dominance of PMSC and military figures in the governance of the ICoCA," the "extremely limited" ability of ICoCA to "independently monitor member companies through field visits," and that ICoCA relies on "the grievance mechanisms of the [PMSC] companies themselves" rather than providing an independent venue for grievances of victims of human rights violations. [14]

Similarly, one scholar notes that PMSCs helped to create ICoCA in part to "rebrand" and "legitimise" the PMSC industry.[15] Another concluded that ICoCA and similar PMSC certification systems "may allow states to evade their own obligations to protect human rights."[16]

ICoCA is still a relative newcomer to the international private military industrial scene. At least one commentator has noted: "It remains to be seen whether the fledgling mechanism [ICoCA] will be able to impose meaningful measures relevant to licensing, registration, vetting, and training of personnel; limitations on the scope of permissible activities; and most importantly, accountability for violators and remedies for victims. Because it is voluntary, and (some say) dominated by industry, there is reason for skepticism."[17] In addition, "the failure of the accountability initiatives to remain current, much less forward-looking, means that the objective determinants of ‘accountability and quality’ may not be fit for purpose as the US and other Western powers begin to engage the services of armed contractors for assistance in new conflicts."[18]


  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. ^ Rosemann, Nils: The Privatization of Human Rights Violations – Business' Impunity or Corporate Responsibility? The Case of Human Rights Abuses and Torture in Iraq, in International Journal of Non-State Actors, Brill, London 2005, pp. 77-100[dead link]
  10. ^ Rosemann, Nils: Code of Conduct for Private Military and Security Companies; DCAF Occational Paper No. 15 (2008)
  11. ^ "ICoC Fact Page" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-17. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
  12. ^ "ICoC List of Signatory Companies" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-01. Retrieved 2012-09-04.
  13. ^ "Membership". ICoCA - International Code of Conduct Association. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Mercenaries Unleashed" (PDF). War on Want. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  15. ^ Mitchell, Sommer (January 2018). "Becoming Legitimate: How PMSCs are Seeking Legitimacy in the International System". University of South Florida. Graduate School.
  16. ^ MacLeod, Sorcha (1 April 2015). "Private Security Companies and Shared Responsibility: The Turn to Multistakeholder Standard-Setting and Monitoring through Self-Regulation-'Plus'". Netherlands International Law Review. 62 (1): 119–140. doi:10.1007/s40802-015-0017-y. ISSN 1741-6191.
  17. ^ Rona, Gabor (18 November 2015). "Foreign Fighters, Mercenaries, and Private Military Companies Under International Law". Just Security.
  18. ^ Ralby, Ian (16 February 2015). "Accountability for Armed Contractors". Transcend Media Service.

External links[edit]