Switzerland: Too many conscientious objectors

New regulations make conscientious objection more difficult and less attractive

After Switzerland abolished the examination of conscience for conscientious objectors and streamlined the application procedures in September 2009 (see CO-Update No 49, July-August 2009), the numbers of applications for conscientious objection increased sharply: from just 1948 in 2008 to 7213 in 2009 and 7392 in 2010, according to the official statistics of the Swiss administration for substitute service. However, the Swiss substitute service administration claims that in fact numbers decreased slightly in 2010 when only the period from April 2009 is taken into account, when the then new regulations came into force. This does not take into account that applicants might have waited for the new regulations, knowing that these would make things easier.

As a result of the increased numbers of applications, conservative politicians called for a longer substitute service and more generally for measures to reduce the number of conscientious objectors.

On 10 December 2010, the Swiss parliament passed amendments to the regulations for substitute service from 11 September 1996, with the stated objective to reduce the number of CO applications. The main changes are:

  • Until recently, it was possible to download the CO application form from the website of the relevant administration. However, according to the new article 23 para 1, the application form has to be requested.
  • In addition, the applicant will need to confirm in writing after four weeks that he still wants to pursue his application. In case such a confirmation does not happen, the application will not be dealt with (article 26 para 4).
  • Substitute service, which in Switzerland can be served in several chunks, can only be served in up to two areas of service.
  • Compensation for conscientious objectors in substitute service for food, housing, transport etc is vastly reduced by almost 50%.

In its press release from 1 February 2011, the substitute service administration writes: "The amended regulations, passed at the end of 2010, aim to increase a trend in the reduction of CO applications by introducing a number of restrictions for applicants and people in substitute service".
According to the Swiss verein zivildienst, which supports conscientious objectors, some of the new regulations violate other regulations and human rights standards.

Sources: Vollzugsstelle für den Zivildienst: Zivildienst, Statistik 2008-2010, 1 February 2011; Verordnung über den zivilen Ersatzdienst, 1 February 2011; Vollzugsstelle für den Zivildienst: Ein Fünftel weniger Gesuche, drei Viertel mehr Diensttage, 1 February 2011; verein zivildienst: http://www.zivildienst.ch/typo3/index.php?id=39, accessed 4 May 2011