Switzerland sold arms and ammunition to long-term clients Egypt and Bahrain during the "Arab spring" protests, according to a report by Amnesty International.

"/> Switzerland sold arms and ammunition to long-term clients Egypt and Bahrain during the "Arab spring" protests, according to a report by Amnesty International.

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Swiss ‘sold weapons’ during Arab Spring

Switzerland sold arms and ammunition to long-term clients Egypt and Bahrain during the "Arab spring" protests, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Amnesty International looked into arms deliveries done after 2005 by European countries, Russia and the United States to five countries in the Middle East and North Africa ruled by repressive regime: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The organisation found out that the main suppliers of arms were the US, Britain, Russia, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. However, neutral Switzerland also appears on the list.

The human rights organisation stated that the report indicated that there is no proof to show that these weapons were used against civilian protesters.

Between 2006 and 2010, Switzerland sold war material to Egypt for a total amount of 6.07 million francs ($6.7 million), of which 4.48 million ($5.3 million) were in handguns.

In the case of Bahrain, the Alpine country has sold small caliber weapons to Bahrain for a total of 293,000 francs ($326,000).

The organisation complained however that, unlike France or Spain, Switzerland continued selling weapons to Bahrain even after the popular uprising started.

“It’s money and short-sightedness ahead of the rule of law and respect for human rights,” said Brian Wood, manager of arms control at Amnesty.

Some of the Swiss ammunitions also ended up in the hands of the Libyan revolutionaries, according to a Swiss television report in July. The case, confirmed by Amnesty International, talks about bullets produced by the state-owned company RUAG.

It is thought that the ammunition originates from 2009, when Switzerland sold 1.85 million francs ($2.3 million) worth of ammunition to Qatar. Last year, Swiss weapons-makers made deals with the gulf state worth over half a million francs.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), which handles export agreements, reacted to the report by stopping all weapons exports to Qatar, pending an investigation into how the bullets made their way to Libya.

But this was not enough according to Green party MP and member of a security policy committee of the Swiss parliament, Joseph Lang. He has been calling for a ban on Swiss arms exports to the Middle East and North Africa since the ‘Arab spring’ started.

The Amnesty report renews focus on the debate over Swiss arms exports.

In November 2009, the country voted for the third time against an initiative to ban the sale of Swiss weapons and war material. The proposal, launched by a broad coalition of peace groups and centre-left political parties, was overwhelmingly rejected with 68.2 percent of citizens voting against.

The government recommended a vote against the initiative arguing that thousands of jobs would be lost and that current laws were “restrictive, transparent, tough and not open to frequent abuses”.

Back in 2009, Joseph Lang was already the most active member in parliament to defend the ban.

“The Swiss Constitution has some principles written, such as sending aid to developing countries, fostering human rights and helping peace processes, but then Switzerland sends weapons to the same very places,” he said in a 2010 interview.

“It is not only stupid but also a contradiction,” he added.

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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