The Swiss government has come out against a proposed ‘burka ban’ that is due to come to a referendum. It instead favours “a targeted response” to problems that can be caused by such facial coverings.
In a statementexternal link, the Federal Council said on Wednesday that individual cantons should continue to decide on the matter, which nevertheless will go to a nationwide vote after enough public support was gathered for a people’s initiative last year.
Neither the date nor the exact wording of this vote have yet been announced.
Measures against the wearing of Islamic veils have already been taken in Belgium, neighbouring France, Denmark and Spain, with the Netherlands also passing its own ban this week.
“The Federal Council is aware that covering the face can be problematic. Its indirect counter-proposal puts forward specifically targeted individual action at the statutory level in those areas in which it holds regulatory powers itself,” the statement said.
“The initiative would make it impossible to take into account the individual cantons' differing sensitivities, in particular removing their ability to determine for themselves how they wish to treat tourists from Arab states who wear facial coverings,” it added.
However, the government also specified that under its counter-proposal, it would remain “unacceptable” and “a punishable offence” to force a woman to cover her face. Such coercive acts could lead to up to three years in jail.
The government had already set out its view against a burka ban last December. Wednesday’s announcement sees its proposals being put forward for consultation.
The face-covering ban will come to a binding referendum after a group last year collected the more than 100,000 signatures required to put the proposal to a national vote. The group, called "Yes to a ban on full facial coverings", includes some of those who spearheaded the 2009 Swiss ban on constructing new minarets.
Italian-speaking Ticino is the only canton which has introduced a total face-covering ban in public places, while cantons Zurich and Solothurn have rejected one.
The Switzerland-wide initiative foresees parliament deciding on penalties. Although the measure would also forbid protesters from concealing their faces during demonstrations, the focus has been on burkas. The initiators are calling for specific legal provisions.
In January, a newspaper poll indicated that 76% of Swiss voters would approve of a nationwide ban on face-coverings.