Swiss government opposes push for national burqa ban

Geneva (AFP) –


The Swiss government on Wednesday opposed an initiative aimed at creating a nationwide burqa ban, saying it was up to the regions to determine if such a ban was appropriate.

Swiss voters will eventually be called to vote on the initiative "Yes to a ban on face coverings", presented last September by a committee run by a member of the populist rightwing Swiss People's Party.

No date has yet been set for when the Swiss will be called to the polls on the issue, but popular votes on a vast range of topics take place every few months as part of Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

With its announcement Wednesday, the government, or Federal Council, signalled its clear opposition to the so-called burqa ban initiative, and presented a counter measure to compete with it at the polls.

The government "believes it is up to the cantons to determine any possible bans on face coverings in public spaces," it said in a statement.

At the national level, meanwhile, it said it favoured an alternative ban, making it "punishable to force a person to cover their face."

Although the government did not explicitly mention the full-face Islamic veil, it explicitly said the law it was proposing was aimed at showing that Switzerland "does not tolerate coercion of women."

"No woman should be forced to cover her face."

The government's proposal also stipulated that any contact with Swiss authorities should be done "with an uncovered face, to ensure they know who they are dealing with."

The so-called burqa ban initiative, which garnered more than the required 100,000 signatures for a topic to be put to a popular vote, meanwhile goes much further.

It would ban anyone from covering their face in a public space or in a space generally accessible by the public.

The committee behind the initiative was also behind the controversial and ultimately successful 2009 campaign to ban the building of new mosque minarets in Switzerland.

Several Swiss cantons have already voted on regional burqa bans, with a handful, including Zurich, rejecting such a move, and the cantons of Ticino and St. Gallen voting in favour.