Companies that wish to provide, from Switzerland, private security services abroad must first declare the activity to the competent federal authority, a regulation brought in by the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad (PSSA), which entered into force on 1 September 2015. The unit in charge of implementing the PSSA is the Export Controls and Private Security Services Section (ECPS), attached to the Directorate of Political Affairs at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).
In 2019, the ECPS received 478 declarations. These mainly fell into three groups of activities: protecting persons and guarding goods and properties in complex environments, private intelligence services, and support for armed or security forces. In its fourth report, the ECPS found that more than half of the declarations concerned activities in North Africa and the Middle East, Europe or Central Asia.
The ECPS initiated 26 review procedures. In 23 instances, the company was allowed to carry out the declared activity. In one case, the declaration was withdrawn by the company. Two cases were still pending at the end of the period under review. The authority prohibited two of the activities declared in 2018.
No private security services involving direct participation in hostilities or which could result in serious human rights violations were reported to the authority. All such activities are prohibited under the PSSA.
Continuing to provide information and raise awareness among potentially affected companies was one of the competent authority's main activities, in addition to handling declarations by private security companies subject to the PSSA. The competent authority extended its information and awareness-raising activities to additional companies, and helped to raise companies' awareness of their obligations under the PSSA.
More consistent prohibition and authorisation criteria
An interdepartmental working group (IDWG) was established on 21 February 2019 to assess similarities and differences between the authorisation and prohibition criteria laid down in the PSSA, the War Materiel Act (WMA) and the Goods Control Act (GCA), determine the scope for action and propose solutions to ensure more consistent application of the different legislative frameworks. The solutions proposed by the PSSA/WMA/GCA interdepartmental working group focused on the possibility of amending the PSSA and its implementing ordinance and on adapting and harmonising their interpretation.
Several parliamentary procedural requests relating to the criteria for implementing the PSSA were tabled and debated by the competent parliamentary committees during the year under review. In light of the work of the interdepartmental working group and the parliamentary procedural requests and debates concerning the interpretation and implementation of the PSSA, certain aspects of the act will be further clarified in 2020.
Standards for private security companies
At the international level, the competent authority took part in dialogue on standards for private security companies and on oversight mechanisms relating to their activities. The report highlighted the visit to Switzerland from 13 to 17 May 2019 by the United Nations working group 'on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination'. The purpose of this group's visit was to gather information on Swiss legislation and the measures taken by Switzerland in this area.
The competent authority gives a positive assessment of its activities in 2019 in the report. The importance of the oversight mechanism for private security services abroad introduced by the PSSA is gaining wider acceptance and recognition internationally.
The report is available on the FDFA website.
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