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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Switzerland

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Switzerland, 2004, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Swiss Confederation

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 7.2 million (1.4 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 3,300 professional, plus around 24,000 annual training intake1
Compulsory recruitment age: 19
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Child soldiers: none indicated
Optional Protocol: ratified 26 June 2002
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ICC, ILO 138, ILO 182

Switzerland amended its legislation in 2002 to exclude voluntary recruitment of under-18s.


Switzerland has virtually no standing army apart from a few training and headquarters staff. Its defence force is a civilian-controlled militia based on universal military service for able-bodied men.2 Public debate continued on whether to retain the armed forces and on the nature of their role. In a referendum in June 2001 there was a narrow vote in favour of allowing troops to carry weapons on peacekeeping missions abroad. In December 2001 a proposal to abolish the armed forces was rejected. In a March 2002 referendum Switzerland voted to join the UN, becoming a member later that year.3 A conscientious objector was sentenced to five months' imprisonment for refusal to perform military service; his application for alternative civilian service had been refused on the grounds that he had not satisfactorily demonstrated conscientious reasons for his objection. Amnesty International regarded him as a prisoner of conscience.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 2000 constitution states that "Every Swiss man must render military service. The statute shall provide for an alternative service.... For Swiss women, military service is voluntary" (Article 59).5

Conscription is regulated by the 1995 Federal Law on the Armed Forces and Military Administration and the 1995 Ordinance on the Recruitment of Conscripts. According to the Federal Law on the Armed Forces and Military Administration, all Swiss men are liable for military service and must register from the beginning of the year in which they are 19 (Article 2). Military service begins at the start of the year in which they turn 20 (Article 13).6

An Ordinance on Recruitment of 1 May 2002 stipulated that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment is 18.7

Military training and military schools

Recruits may receive information about training when they are 16, and generally attend an "orientation day" before being called to military service. Military service is composed of a training that in total usually lasts for 330 days, undertaken at cadet schools. Basic training, which includes weapons handling, endurance exercises and specialist training, lasts for 15 weeks at the age of 19 or 20, and is followed by ten refresher courses, each of three weeks, at two-yearly intervals.8


International standards

Switzerland ratified the Optional Protocol on 26 June 2002. The accompanying declaration specified that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment was 18 years.9 The government also announced that Swiss law, "which provides for the prohibition of the recruitment of children in all circumstances", complied with the provisions of the Optional Protocol, citing the 2002 Ordinance on Recruitment.10

1 In 2000 there were two intakes (total 24,000) of recruits for 15 weeks' basic training (International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance, 2003, (see also "Military training and military schools" section in this entry.)

2 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003, February 2004,

3 BBC, "Swiss end splendid UN isolation", 10 September 2002,

4 Amnesty International Report 2003, http://web.

5 Federal Constitution, Swiss Confederation,

6 Federal Law on the Armed Forces and Military Administration,

7 Ordinance on Recruitment 2002, www.admin. ch/ch/f/as/2002/723.pdf.

8 Information from Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport; IISS, op. cit

9 Declarations and reservations to the Optional Protocol,

10 "The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict enters into force in Switzerland", Federal Department of Foreign Affairs press release, 25 July 2002, old/2002/07.html.

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