Swiss Senate against tighter controls on arms exports

What happens to Swiss guns shipped abroad? © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Switzerland’s Senate has rejected two motions calling for stricter laws on exporting war materiel.

This content was published on March 11, 2019

On the recommendation of its security policy committee, the senate voted against two proposals on Monday: one calling for parliament rather than the government to decide on permission criteria for arms exports (20 to 17, with 6 abstentions), the other on stricter controls to prevent Swiss arms from landing in war zones (22 to 16, with 5 abstentions).

The committee based its recommendations primarily on the pending popular initiative, Against arms exports in countries in civil warExternal link – saying that it didn’t want to preempt the discussion on the initiative and a possible counter-proposal.

+ Read more about the arms exports initiative here

Proponents of the motions had pointed out that weapons from Switzerland had landed in conflict zones after export to countries such as Thailand, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Those against the motions expressed concern that if passed, they could hinder various economic interests.

The first motion, regarding the criteria under which arms can be exported, had been filed by the centre-right Conservative Democratic Party. The House of Representatives had approved it 97 to 82, with 11 abstentions.

Under parliamentary rules, the motions decided on Monday have failed.   

The motion on stricter controls had been filed by centre-right Radical-Liberal Senator Raphaël Comte, who cited a report by the Federal Audit Office concluding that the current arms export laws are generously interpreted and partly circumvented.

In 2008, the government tightened the rules with an eye on a popular initiative from the Group for a Switzerland Without an ArmyExternal link calling for a ban on arms exports. In 2014, it relaxed them again on behalf of Parliament.

In October 2018, the government abandoned newly-hatched plans to ease Swiss weapons exports following public outcry.

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