United Kingdom

Ban on Nazi symbols: the federal government remains skeptical, Jewish associations call for speed

Ban on swastika and Hitler salute: Federal government sees no need – Jewish umbrella organizations protest

The Federal Office of Justice is skeptical about a possible ban on Nazi symbols and other symbols that glorify violence and racial discrimination. It’s just difficult to implement. That’s not enough for the umbrella organizations of the Jewish communities. You see an urgent need for action.

Iron cross as a swastika substitute: How should Switzerland deal with right-wing extremist symbols?

David Goldman/UKTN

The federal government is skeptical about a possible ban on National Socialist symbols such as the swastika and other racially discriminatory, violent and extremist symbols. This emerges from a report published on Thursday by the Federal Office of Justice.

Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter issued the order in February as a reaction to several parliamentary initiatives on the subject. In a motion from November 2021, Central National Councilor Marianne Binder (AG) called on the Federal Council to criminalize the public display of “known characteristics of National Socialism”. The Federal Council rejected the request in February, with reference to freedom of expression, among other things.

The two SP representatives Angelo Barrile (ZH) and Gabriela Suter (AG) also called for a ban on the use of symbols that glorify violence, that are racist, extremist and racially discriminatory in public.

In its report, the Federal Office of Justice undertook a legal analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various prohibition norms. It concludes that it would be possible in principle to ban the use of such symbols at federal level and in cantonal laws.

Applicable law already offers possibilities

However, the concrete form of a ban would “pose a major challenge”. First, the norm would need to be sufficiently open-ended to allow courts to take into account the specific context of a case. On the other hand, the wording would have to be clear enough for the population to know what is permitted and what is forbidden. In addition, there would need to be exceptions for the use of the symbols for scientific, educational, artistic or journalistic purposes.

In addition, the current law already offers a handle against “discriminatory, racist, violent, extremist and National Socialist symbols”. If someone uses it to publicly advertise a corresponding ideology, the person can be punished according to the racism penal norm. The cantonal police laws mean that the law enforcement agencies have “suitable intervention instruments” at hand, for example to intervene in demonstrations when the symbols appear. All in all, the hurdles to criminal liability “may already be relatively low today”. Three practitioners from the police, the public prosecutor’s office and the court who were interviewed for the report also see no need for a new regulation.

No gray area for NS symbols

The two Jewish umbrella organizations, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and the Platform of Liberal Jews in Switzerland (PLJS), see things differently, according to a media release on Thursday. Together with large socio-political circles, they see “an urgent need for action”. The gaps in the existing law would be exploited in a targeted manner. For example, National Socialist symbols were misused to “accentuate and scandalize political messages”. This could be observed with the Hitler salute or modified Jewish stars on the sidelines of corona demonstrations.

Because broader bans are difficult, SIG and PLJS want to focus on a ban on Nazi symbols. They are calling on Parliament and the Federal Council to implement one quickly. There should no longer be a gray area in the use of National Socialist symbols in Switzerland.

First of all, the ball is in the hands of the legal commission of the National Council. This had suspended the deliberations of the parliamentary initiatives on the subject in August 2022 in order to await the findings of the report from the Federal Office of Justice.