Private military and security companies

In the early 2000s, the growing use of private military and security companies (PMSCs) in armed conflicts raised concerns about the possible consequences for the protection of civilians.

Conscious of the humanitarian challenges this presented, Switzerland and the ICRC launched a joint initiative which led to the adoption of the Montreux Document in 2008. The Montreux Document defines how international law applies to the activities of PMSCs when operating in armed conflicts. It reaffirms states' international legal obligations and provides examples of good practices to promote compliance with international law. In so doing, it demonstrates that – contrary to the opinion of some in the 2000s – there is no gap in international law.

The increasing role of PMSCs

Despite a decline in the use of PMSCs for services directly linked with combat activities, such private contractors continue to be present in situations of armed conflict. Challenges may also arise through the intervention of private firms in post-conflict or similar situations. Such activities include, for example, guarding buildings, protecting persons, escorting humanitarian aid convoys, training and advising armed forces, operating complex weapons systems and intelligence-gathering. Their services can even extend to direct participation in hostilities.

A major challenge

Given the traditional concept of the state monopoly on the use of force, the question arises as to which functions can be outsourced to private companies or organisations. Compliance with international humanitarian law and respect for human rights by PMSCs is another concern as supervision and control over their activities remains fragmentary. When crimes are committed, the enterprises or their personnel are in many cases not held accountable for their acts in an appropriate manner. Often their knowledge of international humanitarian law and human rights law ist insufficient.

Switzerland as initiator of the Montreux Document

On 2 December 2005, the Federal Council adopted a report on private military and security companies. It instructed the FDFA to launch an international initiative to promote respect for international humanitarian law and human rights by PMSCs operating in conflict zones. The release of the so-called “Montreux Document”, achieved jointly with the ICRC, is the first outcome. On a parallel basis, the FDFA encourages PMSCs to follow up on the Montreux Document, in particular, by signing the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. At national level, the FDFA applies the good practices of the Montreux Document within the framework of the Federal Act on Private Security Services Provided Abroad. 

Last update 14.04.2023


FDFA Section International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Justice

Kochergasse 10
3003 Bern 


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