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Published: July 7, 2021

Contracting Private Security Providers – a double-edged sword

By: Juliette Jourde

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Humanitarian NGOs’ contracting of private security providers continues to raise crucial questions for the humanitarian sector. While these companies offer a wide range of services that are particularly useful in fragile and complex environments, they can also bring additional risks to NGOs. In this blog, Juliette Jourde explains why GISF and ICoCA are launching a survey to investigate the challenges NGOs face when contracting private security providers and identify what best practices could be promoted in the sector.

Private security: a growing industry

During the last decade, we have seen a rise in the number and significance of private security providers (PSPs). Present in every continent and responding to the needs of a very diverse range of clients, companies such as G4S, Control Risks or GardaWorld play an increasingly important role in providing security, including on behalf of public authorities. Private security workers now exceed the number of public police officers in more than forty countries over the world, according to an estimate of the Guardian in 2017.

Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) led a joint initiative to regulate this growing sector through the Montreux Document (2008). Today, 57 states support the Document, which recalls the obligations of both states and PSPs under international human rights law and humanitarian law and provides guidance on selecting, contracting, and monitoring PSPs. Building on this, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers was created in 2010 to define industry rules and standards, including on the use of force, the detention and apprehension of persons and the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. However, there is still much to be done to improve the sector’s regulation, especially in fragile and complex environments where many PSPs operate.

Private security and humanitarian NGOs: what are the risks?

The presence of PSPs in such complex contexts has been historically linked to the large contracts awarded by the US during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which allowed for PSPs’ significant growth and expansion to other regions. More recently, PSPs have also started to be contracted by aid agencies, and in particular, by humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Humanitarian NGOs may consider contracting PSPs to mitigate risks, as these companies can provide security services that they may lack in-house. Those services can range from security and awareness training, risks and threat analyses, the enhancement of physical protection of premises to the provision of armed or unarmed guards.

While PSPs can help secure personnel, beneficiaries, convoys or premises, their very presence and the way NGOs contract them can create additional risks for organisations. These should be acknowledged and considered in security policies.

The potential risks linked to the contracting of guards are often mentioned as one of the main concerns. As guards often are the first interlocutors who visitors meet at an organisation’s compound gates and are directly in contact with the local population, they play a major role in defining an organisation’s reputation and acceptance by communities. If this relationship deteriorates, or even worse, if a PSP is accused of committing human rights or humanitarian law violations, the contracting organisation’s security and work can be negatively impacted.

Similarly, contracting PSPs can have consequences for the security of an entire area, including that of neighbouring organisations. Armed guard squads may be considered new armed actors in a conflict, thereby creating additional fragility and danger. This is at odds with the humanitarian and do no harm principles, and the contracting NGO may find itself in a situation where it contributes to further violence.

Mitigating risks when contracting and using PSPs: sharing best-practices

Humanitarian workers must ensure these risks are mitigated as soon as they consider contracting a PSP. Module 14 of GISF’s Security To Go Risk Management Toolkit, Contracting Private Security Providers, which was published in collaboration with the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA), offers essential guidance on the topic. It insists on the importance of having clear policies regulating the contracting and use of PSPs and underlines the interest NGOs can have in selecting a company according to internationally recognised standards. Due diligence in the procurement and selection processes, the presence of a monitoring framework and protocols regulating the training, briefing and work environment of PSPs personnel are reliable means to reduce the risks NGOs take in contracting PSPs.

Humanitarian NGOs and PSPs: a new survey to explore remaining gaps 

GISF, in collaboration with ICoCA, is now building on this module to create an interactive training guide on private security contracting. However, since there is limited data on the challenges NGOs face when contracting PSPs, how they address them, and what best practices exist, we first need to better understand NGOs practices, procedures and policies vis-à-vis PSPs.

GISF and ICoCA have developed a survey to gather this information,  inviting HQ, regional and country-level staff from GISF member organisations to share their experiences. We also welcome more extensive inputs on the topic to make the interactive training guide as useful as possible. If you can take part in a short interview in the coming weeks, please contact Juliette Jourde.

Your participation is crucial for designing a relevant tool that tackles the challenges faced by organisations contracting PSPs. Sharing experiences and best practices on the issue allows humanitarian NGOs to improve their risk management capacities regarding PSPs collectively and ensure that PSPs support NGOs’ operations and security and not pose additional risks.

About the Author:

As ICoCA / GISF Intern, Juliette Jourde supports bilateral outreach activities with GISF members on responsible private security contracting in the humanitarian sector. Before joining ICoCA, Juliette Jourde interned at ACTED in Paris, at the Organization of the American States in Bogotá and the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Buenos Aires. Juliette Jourde holds a bachelor in Political Sciences from Sciences Po Paris and a Master in International Security from the same school.

Email: j.jourde@icoca.ch

Phone: +41 22 727 07 58.


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