Switzerland: GSoA launches referendum campaign to abolish conscription

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War Resisters' International's Swiss section GSoA (Group for a Switzerland without Army) has launched a new campaign for a referendum to abolish conscription in Switzerland. The campaign is aimed at changing article 59 of the Swiss constitution, which is the legal basis for conscription in the country. According to the present version of paragraph 1 of the article, "Every Swiss man is required to do military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law." In addition, paragraph 2 states that "military service shall be voluntary for Swiss women." And paragraph 3 introduces the duty to pay a military tax "Any Swiss man who does not do military or alternative service shall be liable to pay a tax. This tax shall be levied by the Confederation and assessed and collected by the Cantons."

GSoA proposes for a changed article 59 reads:
"1. Nonbody can be forced to perform military service.
2. Switzerland has a voluntary civilian service.
3. The Confederation shall legislate for fair compensation for loss of income for those performing a service.
4. Persons who suffer damage to their health or lose their lives while doing a service shall be entitled to appropriate support from the Confederation, whether for themselves or for their next of kin."

While paragraphs 3 and 4 mainly adapt existing paragraphs, 1 and 2 would lead to a major change - and end to conscription in Switzerland. Also, the present paragraph 3, which introduces a military tax, would be completely scrapped - this solving a problem for many who would like to serve, but cannot for health or other reaons, and are then liable to a military tax, which has been declared to violate the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Court in Strasbourg in April 2009.

In Switzerland, all men between the ages of 19 and 25 are liable for basic military training. The length of basic military training is 21 weeks, and 18 weeks in some exceptional circumstances.

Women who volunteer for basic military training have the same obligations as male conscripts once they have been accepted.

After basic military training, all men have reservist duties of up to 21 days up to the age of 34, and up to 50 for officers. Reservist duties consist of 6 or 7 refresher training periods of a maximum of 17 days each. The total length of military service thus amounts to 260 days and up to 600 days for officers. 20-30% of the recruits in basic training are obliged to do officer training, according to article 15 of the Federal Law on the Armed Forces and Military Administration, and article 85 of the service regulations. Reservist duties also include home maintenance of equipment, a rifle and ammunition.

Switzerland recognised the right to conscientious objection only in 1995, and it was included in the 1999 constitution. In 2008, a reform of the law on alternative service abolished the personal interview of conscientious objectors in front of a commission, and streamlined the application procedure. However, substitute service is still punitive in length, with 1.5 times the length of military service. Still, as a consequence of the simplified application procedure, more than 7,000 persons applied for conscientious objection in 2009, compared to 1,946 in 2008.

Sources: GSoA: Lancierung der Initiative "Ja zur Aufhebung der Wehrpflicht", 6 July 2010; GSoA: Initiativtext, July 2010; Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation, 1999; GSoA: Der Gerechtigkeit einen Schritt näher, 6 January 2010

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