Federal Council rejects constitutional facial coverings ban, accepts provisions in law
Bern, 20.12.2017 - The Federal Council rejects the popular initiative "Yes to a ban on full facial coverings". It takes the view that, as is currently the case, the cantons should decide for themselves whether or not to ban facial coverings in public places. Where a covered face is problematic, and federal-level regulation is appropriate, the Federal Council is proposing targeted action at the legislative level. Any forced facial covering would be punished by special statutory provisions. The Federal Council has also drawn a line where contact with the authorities is concerned: In the interests of trust and confidence, faces must be uncovered so that the authorities know with whom they are dealing. In its meeting on 20 December 2017, the Federal Council instructed the Federal Department of Justice and Police FDJP to draw up the corresponding consultation draft by the end of June 2018.
The popular initiative "Yes to a ban on full facial coverings" was submitted on 15 September 2017 with 105 553 valid signatures. It demands that nobody should be permitted to cover their face any more anywhere in Switzerland, in all public places and anywhere that is accessible to the public. Exceptions would be permitted on the grounds of security, health, the climate and native custom. The initiators are calling for specific provisions in law.
Respecting the tried-and-tested federalist approach
The Federal Council rejects the popular initiative because it would result in a blanket solution for all cantons. In Switzerland, regulations governing public spaces are traditionally a cantonal matter. As is currently the case, the Federal Council believes that the cantons should be able to decide whether or not they wish to ban full facial coverings. In particular, the Federal Council takes the view that the cantons should continue to determine for themselves how they treat tourists from Arab states who wear facial covering. The cantons' differing sensitivities in this regard are also reflected in a number of cantonal decisions concerning a ban on full facial coverings. The cantons of Zurich, Solothurn, Schwyz, Basel-Stadt and Glarus have rejected such a ban, while the Ticino and the St. Gallen cantonal parliament advocate prohibiting face-coverings.
Face must be uncovered when dealing with the authorities
The Federal Council is nonetheless aware that covering the face can be problematic. It therefore wishes to make an indirect counter-proposal, which suggests specific statutory-level regulations targeting areas over which it is able to exercise independent governance. For example, the Federal Council expressly wishes it to be a punishable offence to force someone to cover their face. Such an express provision in the Swiss Criminal Code underscores the Federal Council's position that it will not accept the use of force against women. No woman may be coerced into covering her face. Furthermore, in future anyone dealing with federal authorities, or with authorities which administer federal law, must do so with their face uncovered. This includes, for example, contact with migration and labour market authorities. Any breach of these new statutory provisions would be punishable.
Address for enquiries
Luzius Mader, Deputy Director, Federal Office of Justice FOJ, T +41 58 462 41 02