Organisers of the “Against the export of arms to countries in the midst of civil war” referendum (here in French) said on Wednesday they had collected over 130,000 signatures in six months and that these would be submitted to the Federal Chancellery next month for approval.
Plans for the referendum were launched by a cross-party group after the Swiss government controversially announced its intention to relax rules for the sale of arms to countries engaged in an “internal armed conflict” as long as “there is no reason to believe that the war materiel to be exported will be used in an internal armed conflict”.
The government stressed Swiss arms would not be sent to countries in the throes of civil war like Yemen and Syria.
But the Swiss parliament rejected a move that would have seen the government given sole power to change weapons exports laws. And in October last year, in the face of a huge outcry, the Swiss government backtracked on the planned rule changes.
However, the committee behind the planned referendum is pushing ahead because it actually wants weapons export rules to be rolled back even further – to their pre-2014 status.
Before 2014, arms exports to countries that systematically and seriously violated human rights were banned.
However, in 2014, Switzerland changed the rules so that weapons exports to such countries could go ahead if there was only a limited risk of those arms being used to commit human rights violations.
Swiss arms exports were worth 510 million Swiss francs (€447 million) in 2018, up 14 percent on a year earlier.