Swiss MPs reject plan to relax rules on weapon exports

The lower house of the Swiss parliament has voted in favour of a proposal that would strip the government of the power to single-handedly change rules on weapons exports.

Swiss MPs reject plan to relax rules on weapon exports
Swiss arms maker RUAG is 100-percent state-owned. Photo: AFP

The vote is a serious setback to the government which want to relax export rules to allow the shipping of weapons to countries engaged in civil conflicts.

The government says such exports would only be allowed “if there is no reason to believe that the war materiel to be exported will be used in an internal armed conflict”. It argues the move is necessary to allow Switzerland's munitions industry to compete.

But MPs in the National Council voted 97-82 handed outgoing Swiss economy minister Johann Schneider-Ammann and the munitions industry a defeat, voting for a motion that would stop the government having sole power to change Switzerland’s weapons export rules.

The Swiss upper house, the Council of States, must now vote on the motion.

Whatever the fate of the motion in the smaller chamber of parliament, the vote by lower house MPs reflects serious concern in Switzerland over the issue of weapons exports.

During a debate on the issue, MPs noted Switzerland’s humanitarian tradition was on the line and that Switzerland’s neutrality was at stake.

The motion came before the National Council just weeks after a damning report suggesting Swiss weapons firms were using loopholes to circumvent weapons laws.

That report was made public just 48 hours after Switzerland’s SonntagsBlick newspaper reported Swiss-made hand grenades had been spotted in photos of a weapons stash of an ISIS sleeper cell discovered in August in Syria.

A spokesperson for state-owned arms manufacturer RUAG stated the grenades in those images appeared to be produced by the firm.

Read also: Popular initiative to stop Swiss public money funding weapons makers will go to vote

For members


Does Austria have a problem with violence against women? 

Austria is the only EU country where more women have been killed than men in 2021. Is this a statistical anomaly or does it speak to a deeper problem in Austrian society?

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

In early May, a 50-year-old woman and her 76-year old mother were shot and killed in the Salzburg Flachgau region.

Just days before, a woman was killed in Vienna.

This led to demonstrations against ‘femicide’ (the murder of women) in the capital and prompted the Minister of Social Affairs Wolfgang Mückstein to says, as the father of two daughters, he was “sad and angry” about the deaths.

More women than men killed in Austria

So far this year 11 women have been murdered in Austria, making it the only EU country in which more women were killed than men

While across the European Union 65 percent of those killed are male, more women than men were killed in Austria in 2021 – as well as 2015 and 2016.

READ MORE: Outrage in Austria over ninth woman is murdered in 2021

This has led some to ask whether there is a problem with violence against women culturally embedded in Austrian society. 

Little consensus

Despite widespread political and academic discussion on the topic, there is no consensus on why murders of women are so prevalent in Austria. 

Austrian writer Gerhard Ruiss, who created the initiative ‘Femicide – It’s All About Us’, told Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung that violence protection projects and women’s shelters are chronically underfunded in Austria. 

Ruiss also indicated that an assessment of femicides often shows major police failings, particularly as the offenders often have long histories of violence and are “known to the authorities”. 

However, a representative of the Archdiocese of Vienna claimed in a Die Presse newspaper comment piece that Austria did not have an unusual level of femicide in a European comparison, saying the country was “only remarkable” because it recorded very few murders of men in an international comparison.

Home ‘most dangerous’ place

Speaking to The Local, Teresa Ulleram of domestic violence charity Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt in der Familie (Vienna Intervention Centre against Violence in the Family), agreed this could be the reason women seemed to be statistically more likely to be murdered than men.

“Most murders here do not happen on the streets or in public spaces, but actually at home, ” she said. “Domestic or family violence is a phenomenon that is primarily directed against women and children.”

Ulleram said in the vast majority of cases of femicide, the perpetrators are male, and are even often close relatives.

Not necessarily related to immigration

Despite claims to the contrary by some political parties, the statistics show the increase in murders is not necessarily related to immigration.

In 2020, the suspects in all femicides were Austrians in 21 out of 26 cases. In the year before, 22 of the 43 suspects were Austrians, Der Standard reports. 

Maria Rösslhumer, the Head of the Association of Autonomous Austrian Women’s Shelters, told Zett magazine that the problem was too widespread in Austrian society to be blamed on immigrants. 

“Politicians try to play down violence against women by increasingly labelling it as an “imported problem” that came to Austria through migration. But that’s not true,” she said.

“There is a problem in Austria with violence against women that cannot be reduced to migrants. Every fifth woman experiences physical or sexual violence in her life.”

Do Austria’s gun laws need reform?

The Local has reported previously on Austria’s relatively relaxed laws on gun ownership. 

In May, Austrian gun manufacturer Glock prompted outrage with an advert in which a gun was shown in a Mother’s Day advert. 

EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?

However, Ulleram was not convinced stricter gun laws would make the problem disappear. She said more gun control was “important” but perpetrators also used weapons such as knives or even their own hands to commit murders. 

Although Austria signed the Istanbul Convention (an international treaty creating binding legal norms against violence against women and domestic violence) in 2011 and ratified it in 2013, not all the conventions recommendations and measures have been implemented yet in Austria, Ulleram said. 

She called for a variety of measures to prevent femicides – such as more budgeting for victim protection institutions, and greater funding for the police and justice. 

‘Very good laws’

One positive aspect is women in Austria are protected by “very good laws,” Ulleram said women were particularly vulnerable just before or after a separation.

In Austria the Protection Against Violence Act was passed in 1997, and since then, women no longer have to automatically leave their homes and go to a women’s shelter in the case of violence in the home. Instead perpetrators can be made to leave by the police. 

Last week, a government round table took place at which a package of measures against violence against women and to strengthen violence prevention was decided.

More money will be made available for violence protection institutions and for work with perpetrators such as men’s counselling.

Violence against women can be attributed to ‘many causes’

However, these more steps will not totally address the most fundamental root cause of violence identified by domestic violence charities  – the patriarchy.

Ulleram said that violence against women can be attributed to many causes, and in Austria was “deeply” embedded in patriarchal and historically developed social structures. 

One telling statistic is that Austria is still one of the EU countries with the largest gender pay gap between women and men.