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Switzerland criticised by European court

All able-bodied Swiss males between the ages of 20 and 36 must serve 260 days of military service Keystone

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has condemned Switzerland for discriminating against a partially disabled army conscript.

This content was published on April 30, 2009 - 15:15

The man was willing to do his military service but was rejected because he suffered from Type I diabetes. As the Swiss doctors considered him less than "40 per cent disabled", he had to pay SFr700 ($615) in lieu.

The Federal Court in Lausanne backed the army's decision, so the man, now 30, went to Strasbourg.

Judges there came to the unanimous view on Thursday that Switzerland had violated the man's right to a private life as well as discrimination laws set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

They failed to see why the Swiss army couldn't find the man an alternative position that corresponded to his disability.

The court also pointed out that there was no basis in Swiss law to demand that people with a disability of less than 40 per cent – and who might have limited funds – be forced to pay instead of doing military service.

The Swiss authorities were ordered to give the man €3,650 (SFr5,500).

The army told swissinfo on Thursday that this was a political matter, pointing out that the army laws had been voted for by the Swiss people and were written into the constitution.

Military fitness

Switzerland's Nosologia Militaris, a set of medical guidelines for weeding out unsuitable conscripts and recruits, differentiates between compulsory and recommended unfitness and also between military and civilian protection service.

People with Type I diabetes for example remain "compulsorily unfit" for military service but only "recommended unfit" for civilian protection service.

All able-bodied Swiss men are called up to do military service. If you are declared fit for military service – as on average two-thirds of conscripts are – the only way out is to opt on ethical grounds for civilian community service. This lasts 50 per cent longer than military service.

If you are declared unfit for military service, you can still be declared fit for civilian protection service – as on average 17 per cent are.

Those declared unfit for both military service and civilian protection service – on average 17 per cent – have to hand over three per cent of their taxable income, with a minimum sum of SFr200.

Military and civilian protection service is optional for women and Swiss living abroad.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

According to the federal constitution, the army's task is to prevent war and contribute to the maintenance of peace. It supports civilian authorities when there are serious threats to internal security and during crises.

Since the end of the Cold War, the army has also participated in humanitarian and peace missions.

During the Cold War, the Swiss army numbered 600,000 men who could be called up at short notice. In 1995 the army was reduced to 400,000 and today it stands at 220,000: 120,000 active soldiers, 20,000 recruits and 80,000 reservists.

The recruitment acceptance rate was 66 per cent in 2007. Cantons Obwalden and Nidwalden had the highest fitness rates – of 85 and 82 per cent respectively – whereas cantons Basel City and Zurich just creep over the 50 per cent mark.

The Swiss army has an annual budget of just under SFr4 billion ($3.5 billion).

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