New standards are designed to help security contractors operate safely in areas with weakened rule of law.
In 2007, four American security contractors working for Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe) were part of a firefight in Baghdad that resulted in the death of at least 17 Iraqi civilians. The security personnel claimed it was self defense, but they were later criminally prosecuted for man-slaughter. While the case is on hold pending a lawsuit over tainted evidence, the incident drew international attention to the lack of oversight of contract security personnel working in danger zones.
To address these concerns, the United States government has contracted with ASIS International to develop “a standard to offer guidance to private security service providers so they can provide services in a sensible way and demonstrate that they have management processes in place, while simultaneously abiding by international codes and laws,” explains Marc Siegel, commissioner of the ASIS International Global Standards Initiative.
According to Siegel, the standards will follow a management system approach. The goal is to help companies put a strong management process in place to provide a high quality of service while also preventing undesirable events taking place in places with weakened government and rule of law. The standards will also deal with how the private sector can demonstrate accountability to human rights groups when they are working in locations with fragile human rights and civil rights laws.
The standards are to be used by contractors working in regions where there is weakened governance and rule of law; it is not targeted to private security in stable areas. The standards are worded this way, rather than being specially devised for combat zones, so that they can be used in locations hit by natural disasters.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contacted ASIS in the summer of 2010 after a new law (P.L. 111-383) was enacted requiring the establishment of standards for private security service contractors working in significant military operations. In part, the legislation calls for the development of standard practices, with input from industry representatives, for the performance of private security functions. The benefit of the standards, said Siegel, is that they will be voluntary and devised by industry experts, unlike regulations, which are mandatory and set by the government.
Subsequently, ASIS was awarded a contract by the DoD to develop two standards. The first one, Management System for Quality of Private Security Company Operations—Requirements with Guidance (ASIS PSC.01), will provide requirements and guidance for a management system with auditable criteria for the quality of private security company operations. The standards will set out pertinent legal obligations and best practices related to the operations of private military and security companies in conditions where the rule of law has been undermined by conflict or disaster. The second standard is Conformity Assessment and Auditing Management Systems for Quality of Private Security Company Operations (ASIS PSC.02). It will provide requirements and guidance for auditing the practices set out in ASIS PSC.01. This second standard will be for companies that audit private security contractors. It will provide direction for the management of audit programs, methods for conducting internal or external audits of the management system and private security contractor operations, and ways to determine the competence of auditors.
ASIS PSC.01 is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard, meaning that the standard is developed independently by ASIS and then approved by ANSI. Part of what ANSI governs is the process through which ASIS develops the standard. Under ANSI procedures, after proposals are first drafted, they undergo a committee review period during which committee members may submit comments. Based on these comments, a new draft is produced and the process is repeated. Once all committee members agree on a draft, the standard undergoes a letter ballot and ANSI public review period. If there are substantive comments from the public, a new draft is created and the comment and review period is repeated until a final draft emerges.
ASIS has begun to form the technical committee that will develop the standards. ASIS has issued press releases asking for industry representatives to participate. Interested parties participated in a conference call in late April. By May, 201 people had volunteered to serve on the technical committee, representing public and private organizations such as service providers, nongovernmental entities, and human rights groups.
At this point, a draft of the ASIS PSC.01 standard guidance language was circulated to the committee for their review.
Over the course of five meetings held this summer, more than 1,000 comments were received from committee members.
The working group is now reviewing each comment and incorporating changes into the baseline draft. Once the process is complete, the draft standard is elevated to the technical committee for review. The technical committee will then finalize the draft before it is released to the public.
Under the standard, security company policies must be consistent with the principles of the Montreux Document and of the International Code of Conduct (ICoC). The Montreux Document, which was developed by the Swiss government and the International Red Cross, was finalized in 2008. The document, while not legally binding, includes information on the legal obligations and best practices that private contractors should be aware of when operating in armed conflicts. Signatories to the document pledge to uphold the human rights of the people they encounter in a war zone. The document also sets out the legal ramifications of ignoring these rights, including criminal liability.
Launched in November 2010, the ICoC builds on the foundation of the Montreux Document by asking signatory companies to establish internal monitoring systems to ensure that human rights are respected by private security contractors. Those signing the ICoC also agree to cooperate with national and international authorities in investigations of alleged abuses. Like the Montreux Document, the ICoC is focused on private security and military contractors working in areas of conflict.
The new ASIS standard will help ICoC signatories meet the requirements of the code, according to Mark DeWitt, deputy general counsel and vice president of government and regulatory affairs for Triple Canopy in Reston, Virginia. Triple Canopy provides security and protective services in high-conflict environments and has and helped to develop the ICoC.
DeWitt explains that signatories to the ICoC must implement an auditable standard. “The new ASIS standards are a critical addition,” DeWitt explains. “The code addresses general principles of good behavior and these are difficult to audit. So, the code also requires auditable management standards that will allow companies to be sure they are meeting code requirements. This is where the ASIS standards will come in. They will make the code work.”
In addition, the ASIS standards will help codify what customers expect from security contractors. Governments, envision that the ICoC, and thus the ASIS standards, will become part of government contracts.
DeWitt notes that Blackwater was an ICoC signatory, but since there was no mechanism for ensuring that companies were following the code, it had no real effect in the field. Thus, the public discounted it. “This is a critical point,” notes DeWitt. “The standards will help build public confidence in the entire industry.”