Switzerland’s plan to ease arms export controls has been strongly criticised following press reports that Swiss-made weapons were found in the hands of ISIS (‘Daesh’) in Syria.
In June, the Federal Council decided to relax its ordinance on war materiel, a decision supported by two parliamentary committees. The move would allow arms to be exported to countries in internal conflict – provided there is no reason to believe the arms will be used in the conflict – which is currently banned.
On 2 September, Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick reported that hand grenades made by Swiss manufacturer RUAG had been photographed in an arms cache seized from an ISIS cell in Syria. According to Reuters, RUAG has since acknowledged that it produced the arms, which could have been part of a batch sold to the United Arab Emirates (‘UAE’) some 15 years ago.
‘There was indeed a case in 2003/2004 of a RUAG customer having made false end-user declarations and having failed to comply with the requirements it had accepted,’ said RUAG in the Reuters report.
The domestic arms industry is a valuable contributor to the Swiss economy. Figures from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (‘SECO’) published in July show that Switzerland exported $207m worth of arms in the first half of 2018, up from $171m for the same period in 2017.
The easing of arms exports has been condemned by the president of the Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (‘ICRC’), Peter Maurer, who said that Switzerland had ‘lost credibility and reliability as a humanitarian actor’ and called the message sent by the political establishment ‘regrettable’.