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Switzerland: ‘Initiatives to regulate private military and security companies internationally must be matched domestically’

17 May 2019

French | German

BERN (17 May 2019) – Switzerland has an excellent record in establishing and supporting international and national regulatory initiatives for private military and security companies operating abroad. Now, UN experts said, urgent attention needs to be paid to the regulation of companies providing private security within the country.

“By adopting the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad and applying international standards to Swiss-based companies operating abroad, Switzerland has shown real commitment to modelling good human rights practices in the private security sphere,” said Sorcha MacLeod, a member of The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination.

Compliance with international law is a core objective of the Act and one of its key provisions is to ensure that the delivery of security abroad by Swiss-based companies does not result in serious human rights violations.

“Some challenges in the implementation of the Act remain though. For example, the Act does not contain a monitoring mechanism and therefore there are limited means for detecting company compliance which has the potential to put human rights at risk,” MacLeod, one of three Working Group members who visited the country for five days, said in a statement.

In contrast to internationally oriented instruments, the Working Group is concerned to find significant inconsistencies in the regulation of domestically operating private security providers.

“Moving forward, there is no room for complacency especially when it comes to regulation of private security providers operating within Switzerland. Private contractors are performing some security tasks traditionally fulfilled by public authorities, for example transporting prisoners or securing asylum centres where they are in direct contact with people in vulnerable situations”, said Lilian Bobea, a member of the Working Group.

The Working Group recognises that cantonal autonomy and decentralisation are fundamental parts of the Swiss political and legal landscape.

“The cantonal regulations on private security providers should be harmonised, possibly through Federal legislation. At a minimum, it is vital that such legislation maintains existing standards, in particular those reflected in the ‘Concordat on Private Security Companies’, which is an inter-cantonal agreement adopted by the Romandie Cantons,” Bobea said.

Given Switzerland’s leadership in three prominent international initiatives,[2] 2019 offers a unique opportunity for Swiss strategic leadership to push for further raising standards.

“With Switzerland being the current Chair of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and hosting important extractive and commodities trading companies, it should take the lead in concretising these principles into an operational security reality that makes a difference in the lives of those communities living near or affected by extractive operations around the world,” said the Working Group’s Jelena Aparac.

The delegation held meetings in Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Neuchatel with representatives from relevant governmental authorities at the federal and cantonal levels, non-governmental organisations, the private military and security industry and other stakeholders. It also visited a federal asylum centre in the canton of Bern.

The Working Group will present its findings and recommendations in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020.


[1] Chair/co-Chair of the Montreux Document Forum, International Code of Conduct Association and the Voluntary Principles on Security

The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination was established in July 2005 by the then Commission on Human Rights. Its mandate was further extended by the Human Rights Council in 2008. The Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world. The Chairperson-Rapporteur is Mr. Saeed Mokbil (Yemen). Other members are Ms. Sorcha MacLeod (United Kingdom), Ms. Lilian Bobea (Dominican Republic), Ms. Jelena Aparac (Croatia), and Mr. Chris Kwaja (Nigeria). 

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.  They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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[2] Chair/co-Chair of the Montreux Document Forum, International Code of Conduct Association and the Voluntary Principles on Security