Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

"/> Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

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Switzerland clamps down on mercenary services

Switzerland's Federal Council wants to pass a law banning Swiss-based private armies offering military services to war zones.

The Swiss government said on Tuesday that the move would preserve the country’s neutrality and guarantee its “respected international law”.

“This not only refers to prohibiting the direct participation in hostilities in the context of an armed conflict, but also to prevent private security companies from exercising in a foreign country activities that contravened Swiss interests,” said the Federal Council in a statement on Tuesday  morning.

Moreover, a draft put forward for consultation that will be discussed in parliament before January 31st 2012, would force all companies involved in such businesses to disclose their activities abroad.

According to the draft, these security firms would also be made to adhere to an international code of conduct signed on November 9th 2010 which includes limits on the use of force and an assurance that staff cannot invoke contractual obligations or “superior orders” in a conflict zone to justify crimes, killings, torture, kidnappings, detentions.

If the Federal Council believes these companies go too far, it would be able to forbid their activities, impose administrative sanctions and even punish the responsible people with up three years in prison.  

“The companies will only provide services abroad that are not a problem [for Switzerland],” read the Federal Council’s statement.

In recent years, a total of 20 private security companies have settled in Switzerland. The companies, whose profits are thriving, are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to conduct activities abroad without being disturbed by the Swiss authorities.

The controversy erupted last year when the British company Aegis Group Holding SA set up headquarters in Basel. The presence of one of the world’s largest private military contractors operating in war zones led some politicians to speak up. They said the company’s activities were noit acceptable in a country that cherishes its neutrality and has strict regulations on weapons exports.

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No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home

On Monday, Switzerland imposed the working from home requirement. It includes the army as well.

No marching orders: Swiss soldiers told to do military training at home
barracks are not as posh as one's own home. Photo by AFP

As part of Switzerland’s mandatory military service, new conscripts must undergo 15 to 18 weeks of basic training.

The exercises were supposed to begin on January 18th, but thousands of recruits who were scheduled to report to their assigned barracks got a reprieve of sorts.

To decrease the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the barracks, the army has decided that recruits should do their basic training  at home for the next three weeks.

“It's quite new”, Swiss army spokesperson Daniel Reist told the media, adding that “it is the ideal solution” during the pandemic. 

As a result of this unprecedented measure, some 5,000 of this year's 15,000 recruits will undergo their training from the comfort of their homes.

Reist said that each soldier received the learning module covering subjects such the operation of their service weapon, information on bacteriological and chemical arms, military regulations, and health protection.

“We leave them the choice of when to do their lessons, but they need six hours of telework each day”, Reist said.

Four hours of physical activity a week is also included in the training.

Though left pretty much to their own devices, the recruits won’t be able to slack off as their superiors can monitor when the person logs on and off.

And this theoretical knowledge will be tested when the recruits arrive at the barracks after three weeks home.

READ MORE: Swiss army 'on the front lines' in coronavirus battle 

Nor all the troops will be deployed at the same time, however.

The physical entry into the recruit school will be “staggered, in order to ensure that any conscript who tests positive for Covid-19 is optimally supported and that appropriate isolation and quarantine measures can be taken”, the Federal Department of Defense said in a press release

The first group, consisting of medical personnel who could be called upon to support the troops already mobilised with civilian personnel in Swiss hospitals, begin their service on Monday.

Those who are training from home will be called up on February 8th.

But not everyone is impressed by the new system.

“I can see that we have to make unconventional concessions right now, but I'm skeptical. Military service has a practical and social character which can’t be replaced by e-learning “, said Stefan Holenstein, president of the Swiss Society of Officers.

Despite its neutrality, Switzerland has compulsory military service. After undergoing basic training at the age of 19, Swiss are then required to spend several weeks in the army each year until they have completed at least 245 days of service.

Conscription is for men only but women can volunteer for any post.

READ MORE: Switzerland to get 24/7 fighter jet protection from 2021