Federal Council opposes ban on full facial coverings
Bern, 19.01.2021 - The Swiss electorate will vote on 7 March on the popular initiative ‘Yes to a ban on full facial coverings’. The Federal Council and Parliament recommend that voters reject the initiative. Very few people in Switzerland wear a full facial covering. A nationwide ban would undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism and be unhelpful for certain groups of women. Instead, the Federal Council and Parliament favour an indirect counter-proposal, which would require persons to show their face to the authorities if this is necessary for identification purposes.
The popular initiative ‘Yes to a ban on full facial coverings' demands that no one be allowed to cover up their face completely in Switzerland. The rule would apply in all public places such as on the streets and in restaurants. Exceptions would only be permitted in places of worship and at other sacred sites, for health and safety reasons, because of the weather and because of local Swiss custom. There would be no further exceptions, for example for tourists who wish to wear facial coverings.
Upholding cantonal sovereignty
The Federal Council considers the initiative to be unnecessary since there are very few women in Switzerland who cover their face completely. Most women who do so are tourists, and these spend only a brief time in the country.
At present the cantonal authorities are responsible for deciding whether and in what circumstances persons may or may not cover their face completely. The Federal Council believes this approach is the correct one as the cantons best understand the concerns of the local population and should therefore be allowed to regulate the matter accordingly. A ban on full facial coverings could, for example, have a negative impact on tourism in certain regions. And even if a nationwide ban were in place, the cantons would be responsible for enforcement and this could lead to differences in the application of the ban or in issuing fines.
Nor would a nationwide ban on full facial coverings improve security. Parliament has approved other instruments for combating extremism, including tighter criminal law provisions and increased counter-terrorism police measures. Furthermore, a ban would not improve the position of women who wear veils. Other instruments exist for tackling integration issues; banning certain items of clothing is not the right approach.
Federal Council wants uniform rule for identification
The Federal Council acknowledges that facial coverings can lead to difficulties in certain situations, for example when a person must show their face for identification purposes. It therefore supports an indirect counter-proposal that requires persons to show their face if necessary for identification, for example at administrative offices or on public transport. Refusal to do so would result in a fine. The indirect counter-proposal closes a loophole in federal law and improves a specific aspect of security. It also proposes support programmes to promote women's rights'. However, the indirect counter-proposal will only come into force if the popular initiative is rejected.
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