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War materiel Court orders Swiss authorities to publish arms export data

Demonstrators outside Ruag in Bern

Arms sales remain a hot topic in Switzerland. A demonstration against Swiss arms policy in Bern in June 2018.

(© Keystone / Anthony Anex)

Switzerland’s highest court has ruled that the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) must give a Swiss journalist company data on arms exports. 

The Federal Court rejected an appeal by SECO which had refused to transfer detailed information to a journalist from the WOZ newspaper on companies that had filed arms exports requests in 2014.

In a decision published on Wednesdayexternal link, the court backed an earlier ruling by the Federal Administrative Court on behalf of the WOZ journalist, who had filed a freedom of information request. 

Last March, the Federal Administrative Court had ruled in favour of the journalist, stating that it was public interest to ensure greater transparency and information on arms exports and that the media played an important role in holding the authorities to account in this regard.

SECO had argued that, in accordance with the law on war materiel, only the parliamentary oversight committee should be sent the details on Swiss arms exports. It said that publishing details on arms exports could also displease importing countries. 

However, the Federal Court said publishing such information was not a threat for Switzerland’s interests. If there is no business secret involved, SECO must publish the firms’ names.

Hot topic 

Rules governing arms exports and calls for greater transparency remain a hot topic in Switzerland. In 2008 the government tightened rules on arms exports; in 2014 it relaxed them on behalf of parliament.

In October 2018 the government abandoned plans to ease Swiss weapons exports following a public outcry. 

In December 2018 campaigners started collecting signatures for a people’s initiative to prevent the Swiss government from relaxing rules for exporting arms to conflict-ridden states.

Keystone SDA/sb

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