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Published: November 7, 2016

Greater Accountability and Respect for Human Rights: A Contract Guidance Tool for Private Security Services

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The ‘Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces’ (DCAF) was established in 2000 as an international foundation whose mission is to assist the international community in pursuing good governance and reform of the security sector (SSR). DCAF’s work is underpinned by the acknowledgement that security, development and the rule of law are essential preconditions for sustainable peace.


As a humanitarian non-governmental organisation (NGO), do you hire or are you considering hiring a private security company (PSC) to ensure the security of your operations? How do you select the adequate PSC? Do you implement guidelines for the hiring of private security services? Does the contract include respect for human rights? With the increased use of private contractors to protect personnel and property in complex environments, NGOs face challenges in ensuring the protection of human rights.

In order to help NGOs overcome these challenges, the ‘Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces’ (DCAF) is developing a Contract Guidance Tool, which will provide support to implement processes that integrate the protection of human rights when contracting private security services for their operations.

Growth of the private security industry

Since the early 1990s, the global private security industry has been expanding significantly in response to increasingly complex security environments, ranging from conflict or post-conflict situations to growing terrorism threats and humanitarian crises. Today it is not rare to have states with a higher ratio of private security personnel to police. PSCs have adapted their services and operations to this context; nevertheless, some PSCs have also attracted increasing international attention due to misconduct, human rights abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law.

Humanitarian NGOs increasingly hire private security services, especially when operating in conflict or post-conflict environments, to provide security to their personnel, premises and operations. Yet, organisations often lack policies governing their use of private security services. There is also little shared information and experience to support formulating adequate guidelines and a lack of awareness of the possible legal and reputational implications.

To overcome these challenges, the practical Contract Guidance Tool DCAF is developing aims to support humanitarian non-governmental organisations, as well as states, international organisations and other clients to include human rights-based considerations in their contracting of PSCs. We invite you to participate in our open and inclusive consultation process. Your experiences and inputs will provide guidance in building consolidated knowledge on existing good practices.

The importance of establishing contracting guidelines for non-governmental organisations

Clients of PSCs include an increasingly wide range of actors: states and private clients, but also international organisations, including humanitarian NGOs. The role of the client is important because commercial incentives and restrictions can induce private security providers to adhere to relevant human rights regulations. At the same time, PSCs can have a significant impact on the reputation and operations of NGOs. As a result, there is a need for more practical and unified guidance as well as for functional tools to assist in overcoming key challenges when hiring private security services.

The Contract Guidance Tool will provide a bridge between research on good practices and the practical needs of actors with roles in procurement and contracting processes. By translating knowledge and research into a usable format, the Contract Guidance Tool will provide implementation support for those actors writing contracts with PSCs.

Help us develop a practical tool for hiring private security companies

The primary objective of the Contract Guidance Tool will be to provide simple, concise and practical guidance for clients on structuring their contracts and contracting procedures for private security services, drawing on international norms and standards. Furthermore, this Contract Guidance Tool will support NGOs as clients to include human rights-based considerations when drafting contracts for private security services.

Our goal is to consult your organisation on examples in contracting PSCs. Your participation will contribute to creating a Contract Guidance Tool responsive to the concrete needs of NGOs who are hiring private security services. Get involved, share your experiences, challenges and good practices: contact DCAF directly at ppps@dcaf.ch or download the questionnaire.


DCAF’s Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) Division supports multi-stakeholder approaches that foster and strengthen innovative partnerships between states, parliaments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector. Through its Private Security Governance Programme, the PPPs Division supports international, regional and national efforts to regulate the private security industry. In particular, DCAF is a strategic implementing partner for the Montreux Document on pertinent international legal obligations and good practices for states related to operations of private military and security companies during armed conflict and for the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC). Both processes are complementary.


Sources and Further Reading:


Engaging Private Security Providers: A Guideline for Non-Governmental Organisations, GISF, 30 December 2011, https://gisfprod.wpengine.com/resource/engaging-private-security-providers-a-guideline-for-non-governmental-organisations/

The Montreux Document On Private Military and Security Companies, 17 September 2008, http://www.mdforum.ch/en/montreux-document

Humanitarian Non-Governmental Organizations and International Private Security Companies, Christopher Spearin, DCAF, 2006, http://www.dcaf.ch/Publications/Humanitarian-Non-Governmental-Organizations-and-International-Private-Security-Companies

Private Security Governance Database, PPPs DCAF, http://www.ppps.dcaf.ch/en/private-security-governance-database

Private Security Monitor, University of Denver, http://psm.du.edu/articles_reports_statistics/news_reports.html

Who we are, Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), http://www.dcaf.ch/