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Switzerland: Military Conscription

(Oct. 5, 2011) On October 3, 2011, the Federal Commission for Childhood and Youth Issues (Eidgenössische Kommission für Kinder- und Jugendfragen (last visited Oct. 4, 2011)) published a report entitled A Service for the Public Welfare (Ein Dienst für das Gemeinwohl) (Oct. 2011)) in which it recommended replacing military conscription with a system that would allow young men to choose between compulsory military service and compulsory civil service. The Commission has the mandate of advising the Swiss government on any issues relating to the welfare of children and young people.

The Commission based its recommendation on the reduction in the size of the Swiss army in recent years; fewer draftees are now required than are available, and further reductions in the size of the army are planned. One-third of the conscripts who are called upon to serve are declared to be unfit for duty, and many others are not required to complete their military service. (Id.)

The draft is enshrined in article 59 of the Federal Constitution (Bundesverfassung der Schweizer Eidgenossenschaft (Apr. 18, 1999), SYSTEMATISCHE SAMMLUNG DES BUNDESRECHTS (SR) 101, English translation (last visited Oct. 5, 2011)). It imposes the duty to serve in the military on every Swiss male, but allows conscientious objectors to enlist in a compulsory civil service instead. Women are not subject to compulsory military service, but they may enlist voluntarily.

The basic military service is about 21 weeks long; additional training, however, is required throughout adulthood. Most commonly it amounts to six training periods of 19 days each (Verordnung über die Militärdienstpflicht (Compulsory Service Regulation) (Nov. 19, 2003), as amended, SR 512.21). The basic military service obligation, therefore, amounts to about 260 days. The basic civil service obligation, on the other hand, amounts to about 390 days, thus living up to the statutory requirement that it must be one and one half times as long as the basic military service (Bundesgesetz über den zivilen Ersatzdienst (Federal Act on a Substitute Civil Service), art. 8 (Oct. 6, 1995, as amended), SR 824.0).

The Commission recommended reform of military conscription after opinion polls revealed that young men in Switzerland are quite willing to serve their country but many of them find civil service more meaningful than military service (Freie Wahl zwischen Zivil- und Militärdienst?, NEUE ZÜRCHER ZEITUNG (Oct. 3, 2011)). Currently, young people who are engaged in substitute civil service work in social services, health services, cultural matters, nature conservation, agriculture and forestry, developmental and humanitarian aid, and assistance in natural catastrophes and other emergencies (Bundesgesetz über den zivilen Ersatzdienst (Federal Act on a Substitute Civil Service), art. 4 (Oct. 6, 1995, as amended), SR 824.0).