World, Europe

'Oppose facial covering ban,' Swiss gov't urges voters

Voters will decide on ban in national referendum on March 7

Peter Kenny   | 19.01.2021
'Oppose facial covering ban,' Swiss gov't urges voters


The Swiss electorate will vote March 7 on a popular initiative which supports "a ban on full facial coverings," but the nation's Federal Council and parliament said Tuesday they are recommending voters to reject the initiative.

The Federal Council, a coalition Cabinet of the main parties in Switzerland, noted in a statement along with parliamentarians that very few people in the country wear full facial coverings.

"A nationwide ban would undermine the sovereignty of the cantons, damage tourism, and be unhelpful for certain groups of women," said the council in a statement on its website.

Switzerland's system of direct democracy allows for any proposal to change the constitution after facing a popular vote if supporters raise more than 100,000 signatures.

It was shown in 2009 when voters in the Alpine nation supported a ban on the construction of new minarets.

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) said it is launching a crowdfunding campaign to counter the proposed national niqab ban.

The Federal Council and parliament said they favor an "indirect counter-proposal" which would require people to show their face to the authorities if required for identification purposes.

The popular initiative to ban full facial coverings demands that no one in the country can cover up their face entirely.

The rule would apply in all public places, including the streets and restaurants.

Exceptions would only be permitted in places of worship and at other sacred sites for health and safety reasons, such as weather and local Swiss custom.

There would be no further exceptions, for example, for tourists.

The initiative was put forward by a group that includes members of the right-wing Swiss People's Party, which opposes new immigration and supported the 2009 move to ban minarets, approved by almost 60% of voters.

"The Federal Council considers the initiative to be unnecessary since there are very few women in Switzerland who cover their face completely."

The Islamic council said: "Whether, on a political, media or social level, Islamophobia as an expression of rejection, hostility or even hatred towards Muslims is on the rise in Europe.

"This general attitude is increasingly reflected in systemic discrimination which manifests in certain legislation of Islamophobic character."

The ICCS noted that the Council of Europe had accused the Austrian government of fueling Islamophobic resentment with its rhetoric, and France's crackdown on its Muslim citizens attracted international attention.

"Although it was the constitutional minaret ban back in 2009 which shed light on the dissemination of anti-Muslim hostility in Switzerland, there are several right-wing parties that have beforehand attempted to pass general prohibitions of niqab/burqa in public spaces since 2006," added the ICCS.

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