Back in December Antoni Da Campo, a strict vegan and member of animal rights organization PEA who lives in the Swiss canton of Valais, passed the medical tests required by the army for those undertaking military service, which is obligatory for all able-bodied men in Switzerland.
However he was told he was “doubly unfit” for service because the army could accommodate neither his vegan diet nor his unwillingness to wear leather boots.
Last week he failed in his appeal against the decision at a court in Lausanne.
Speaking to The Local, Da Campo said: “They declared me doubly unacceptable, meaning that I can't do civil service either. It's for that reason that I find their decision discriminatory and arbitrary”.
“I know several vegans who are in the army and there is no problem but apparently it wasn’t possible [for me],” he said.
Although he refused to wear leather boots, Da Campo said he was willing to pay for synthetic boots himself, but that wasn’t enough to sway the army.
Losing the appeal “doesn’t surprise me really because I was ready for any scenario,” he said. “I was prepared psychologically that they would refuse me.”
Given the decision vetoes him for both military and civil service, he would be liable to pay the exemption tax that anyone declared unfit to serve must pay until the age of 30.
“My desire to do military service is very strong,” he told The Local.
“I think that it could bring me a lot of good things on the social level, certainly physically and psychologically. It would be a new experience on every level, so I was very motivated to do it. Unfortunately because of my personal convictions they have judged me unacceptable.”
But Da Campo may not have reached the end of the road.
“The decision is not yet definitive,” he said. “If I want to – which I haven’t yet decided – I can appeal to the federal administrative court.”
“Given that the judgement of the appeal court violates my right to hold personal beliefs, under article 15 of the federal constitution and article nine of the human rights act, that allows me to take my cause to the highest court”.
Article 15 of the Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of beliefs and conscience.
“Every person has the right to choose freely their religion or their philosophical convictions and to profess them alone or in community with others,” it reads.
Speaking to newspaper Le Matin, Fabien Truffer, spokesperson for PEA, said the case is part of the fight for the acknowledgement of those who have decided to live without killing animals.
“Society must adapt to us, whether that be in school canteens, hospitals or, as in this case, the army,” he said.
While some have questioned why a person who is against killing animals would want to join a military institution, Da Campo told The Local that the two were not incompatible since the Swiss army was primarily for defence and did not mobilize combat troops.
“My willingness to do my military service from the perspective of defending my country against exterior threats and preserving security in Switzerland is in no way contradictory with antispeciesism,” he said.
“That doesn't stop me from condemning all other forms of animal exploitation in the army,” he said.
Contacted by The Local, Swiss army spokesman Christoph Brunner said: “Strict vegans are not apt for service because it is not possible for them to fulfill their duties in respect to the current personal gear / equipment and the rations that are being served.”
He denied that there were other vegans in the army.