SWITZERLAND: The Federal Council rejects the popular ‘Yes to a ban on full facial coverings’ initiative because, as is currently the case, the cantons should decide for themselves whether or not to ban facial coverings in public places. It is making an indirect counter-proposal to the initiative – a targeted response to the problems that it is aware facial coverings can pose.
For example, the face must be uncovered in dealings with certain authorities. Furthermore, any forced facial covering will expressly be made a punishable offence. The Federal Council referred its proposals forward for consultation at its meeting on 27 June 2018.
The popular ‘Yes to a ban on full facial coverings' initiative was submitted on 15 September 2017 with 105 553 valid signatures. It demands that nobody should be permitted to cover their face any more anywhere in Switzerland, in all public places and anywhere that is accessible to the public. Exceptions would be permitted exclusively on the grounds of security, health, the climate and native custom. The initiators are calling for specific provisions in law.
The initiative aims to incorporate a universal ban in the Federal Constitution, thereby resulting in a blanket ruling for all cantons. This is something that the Federal Council rejects. In Switzerland, regulations governing public spaces are traditionally a cantonal matter. In the future, the cantons should continue to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to ban facial coverings. The Canton of Ticino introduced such a ban in 2013, while other cantons such as Zurich and Solothurn have rejected one. The initiative would make it impossible to take into account the individual cantons' differing sensitivities, in particular removing their ability to determine for themselves how they wish to treat tourists from Arab states who wear facial coverings.
Clear rules for identification purposes
The Federal Council is aware that covering the face can be problematic. Its indirect counter-proposal puts forward specifically targeted individual action at the statutory level in those areas in which it holds regulatory powers itself. It is unacceptable to the Federal Council for a woman to be forced to cover her face. It therefore wishes it to be stated expressly that this is a punishable offence. The offence of coercion, as defined in the Swiss Criminal Code, will be extended, with forcing a woman to cover her face punishable with a custodial sentence of up to three years, or a monetary penalty. Expressly including the offence in the Criminal Code makes it clear that such conduct will not be tolerated.
In addition, the Federal Council sets out clearly the conditions under which the face must be uncovered in dealings with the authorities, and what sanctions would result in the event of refusal to do so. This should make the situation absolutely clear and avoid tension. Furthermore, the rules will have a preventive effect and enable a standard practice to become established in the areas concerned.
Specifically, the law requires that private individuals must show their face where this is necessary for identification purposes. Express provision in law is already made for some such situations, such as in the areas of security, migration and social security. Other areas currently lack any specific rules, however. The new law should create the necessary clarity here, for example where passenger transport is concerned. Anyone refusing to comply when repeatedly asked to uncover their face will be fined.