Campaigners have started collecting signatures for a people’s initiative to prevent the Swiss government from relaxing rules for exporting arms to conflict-ridden states.
The Federal Chancellery published the initiative text on Tuesday, officially launching the 18-month collection period. The campaigners now have until June 11, 2020 to gather at least 100,000 signatures to try to force a nationwide vote on the issue.
Their initiative, entitled "Against arms exports in countries in civil war"external link, aims to limit the sale of war materials. It follows the government's announcement in June of the easing of export restrictions, which would have allowed Swiss companies to sell weapons to countries as long as the arms were not used in an internal civil war.
The government argued that it wanted to introduce the reform to strengthen the Swiss arms industry. However, it was forced to abandon its plan at the end of October due to strong opposition.
Despite the government’s U-turn, the campaigners are still going ahead with their initiative to prevent future easing of export rules and to return to the status quo prior to 2014.
Back in 2008, the government tightened arms exports rules, but six years later decided to loosen them after pressure from parliament.
Previously, weapons and ammunition could not be exported to countries that systematically violated human rights. From 2014, exports of Swiss weaponry were only banned if there was a risk that the material may be used for serious human rights violations. The new people’s initiative aims to correct this change.