Taking a cue from protesters’ playbook in Britain and other countries, some Swiss want to prohibit US President Donald Trump from visiting Switzerland.
The petition drive launched by a Zurich-based non-governmental organisation called Campax aims to present Swiss authorities with 10,000 signatures. It is a reaction to Trump’s controversial immigration order, which a US federal appeals court is examining for its legality.
The order signed by Trump on January 27 temporarily bars refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Campax’s petition urges the Swiss cabinet – the top seven ministers who take a turn each year as president – to declare Trump “persona non grata” in Switzerland.
“The selective inclusion of foreigners from predominantly Islamic countries by the Trump government is an unacceptable act against human dignity and religious freedom,” the campaign, which has already neared its goal for the number of signatures, declares on its websiteexternal link.
The cabinet has not commented on the petition drive, but Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter criticized the travel ban as a policy turn going “clearly in the wrong direction”.
The president and co-founder of Campax, Andreas Freimüller, also hopes to deliver the petition to the US Embassy in Switzerland at Bern. He emphasises the symbolic value of the petition in an interview published on Tuesday in the Zurich newspaper Tages Anzeiger.
“We want people to not just stare all day at the US reading tweets from Trump, but to know that they also can act,” Freimüller was quoted as saying.
“In many countries there are already petitions like ours,” he continued. “If many countries send out such messages, the Trump government will also notice the opposition. It does not matter to us how many signatures come together. It is about sending a strong signal.”
A British petition calling on the UK government to cancel Trump's planned state visit has been signed by 1.8 million people so far and will be debated in parliament later this month.
It is highly improbable that Switzerland would bar an American president from paying an official visit, should he wish to do so. However, the Swiss foreign ministry has, in rare instances, imposed such a measure on lesser figures.
A government declaration of “persona non grata” is a diplomatic tool used around the world to prevent a foreigner – usually a diplomat or government official – from entering or remaining in the country. The term comes from Latin, and means a person who is not appreciated.
In 2012, for example, Bern declared the Paris-based Syrian ambassador to Switzerland persona non grata as governments around the world expelled Syrian ambassadors in the wake of a May 25 massacre in Houla, Syria. France expelled the same ambassador in response to the killings.
The United Nations’ top human rights body voted to condemn Syria over the slaughter of more than 100 civilians in a cluster of villages known as Houla. In its statementexternal link, the Swiss foreign ministry said it had communicated the decision – taken in protest to Syria’s “systematic violation” of UN Security Council resolutions and failure to implement a UN-brokered peace plan – in a diplomatic note to the Syrian foreign ministry.
Going back in history, the United States declared a vice consul assigned to the Cuban interests section of the Swiss embassy in Washington as persona non grata, after the US accused him of being an intermediary for a spy. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established the present boundaries of Turkey, led to the creation of a list of 150 former Ottoman Empire officials and others in Turkey who were declared persona non grata in that country.