Private security firms sign up to code reining in violence
Major private security firms, including some operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Tuesday signed up to a US and British-backed code of conduct aimed at preventing abuse and excess violence.
Diplomats and company executives said the international but voluntary code is designed to "fill a gap" by encouraging setting minimum standards that should rein in human rights violations in lawless conflict zones.
"This code has the potential to be a monumental step forward," said Devon Chaffee of campaign group Human Rights First, amid warnings that it would depend on how security firms implemented it on the ground.
The pledge brokered by Switzerland, which has taken 14 months to negotiate, emerged amid concern about the "exponential growth" of private security contractors in conflict areas and their protection role.
About 60 companies, including US firms Triple Canopy, Xe Services -- formerly Blackwater -- and Britain's G4 Security were signing up, while the code had the backing of 35 countries, Swiss officials said.
"This statement will only be credible if it is followed by short, medium and long term change in behaviour," said Swiss state secretary for foreign affairs Peter Maurer.
Afghanistan's government last month extended a deadline for private security firms that employ an estimated 40,000 guards in the country to disband in the strife-torn country.
The move was prompted by dismay among ordinary Afghans who regard them as private militias acting above the law.
Contracted foreign guards not only help protect aid or humanitarian workers, but also government officials and diplomats and company executives.
"We also know that private security services, in particular armed services, carry significant risks," said Guy Pollard, a British diplomat.
Under the code, the companies agreed to minimum standards in recruitment, vetting personnel, training, control mechanisms, compliance with local and international laws and protection of human rights.
It includes a pledge limiting the use of force and an assurance that staff cannot invoke contractual obligations or "superior orders" in a conflict zone to justify crimes, killings, torture, kidnappings or summary executions.
© 2010 AFP