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Swiss government proposes ban on mercenary firms

By Frederic Merat
Associated Press / October 12, 2011

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BERN, Switzerland—Switzerland wants to banish mercenary firms and tighten the rules for private security companies based in the country in a bid to safeguard its tradition of neutrality, the government said Wednesday.

A draft bill submitted to parliament would ban Swiss-based companies from direct participation in armed conflicts abroad, and from recruiting or training mercenaries in Switzerland.

The proposal, which lawmakers have until the end of January to consider, also requires private security companies to report their activities to Swiss authorities, and to abide by an international code of conduct.

The code was agreed last year by governments and industry representatives at a meeting in Geneva. It requires companies to respect human rights and the rule of law in conflict zones, to refrain from taking part in military offensives, and to restrict the use of lethal force to instances where the contractor or a third person's life is being protected.

The government said it estimates some 20 private security companies currently operate in Switzerland.

The bill was prompted by the decision of Aegis, one of the world's biggest private security contractors, to set up a Swiss holding company in 2010. Such holding companies are explicitly included in the proposal, meaning Aegis would have to report its activities to Swiss authorities if the bill is passed.

The British company said it was aware of the proposal and supported regulation of the private security industry.

"Aegis has no further comment on the draft Swiss legislation nor on its eventual implications for the industry in Switzerland," said spokeswoman Sara Pearson.

The bill foresees a penalty of up to three years imprisonment for individuals found to have broken Swiss law.


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